Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back
Book review by Susan Syddall
I confess! When I first saw the cover of this book, "I Want My Hat Back", by Jon Klassen, I wondered why it received the award of New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book.
There was nothing about the cover that seemed very enticing.
However, the old saying "never judge a book by its cover" is definitely true in this case!
Our family loved this book - kids and adults! It truly is one of those books that can be enjoyed by people of all ages as it had us all laughing.
Why is it so successful? Every aspect of the book comes together so well.
The story is about a bear ... a very polite bear ... who has lost his hat and he wants it back. He asks every creature he meets if they've seen his hat. Patiently, he continues his search.
I love the fact this story weaves the social skill of politeness into every page. It's so refreshing!
However, there's one creature that protests too much when answering the bear. It is a rabbit wearing a bright red hat. Is that the bear's hat? Is the rabbit's abundant stream of words a cover up for a guilt conscience?
It's this subtle reflection on human behaviour, in regards to guilt and the subsequent cover up, which makes the story so funny.
Much to our surprise, the bear believes the rabbit's story and keeps on with the search for his hat.
The whole story is told simply through dialogue. The pictures are left to tell the rest of the story. Review continues.
The illustrations and the text match each other perfectly. They are both simply done yet convey a rich story full of intrigue, drama and humour.
The colours of the illustration are limited mainly to browns. However, a splash of red is used succinctly to highlight important features. This really works well by adding drama and urgency.
The other place colour is used very effectively is in the text itself. The words of different creatures are presented in various colours. In this way, the reader knows clearly who is speaking. This has been very cleverly designed as the word 'said' is conspicuous by its absence.
The layout of the dialogue makes I Want My Hat Back perfect for reading like a play. My children and I loved taking turns at reading out the words of the different characters.
Even young children are able to 'read' this story because of the repetitive text.
Repetition is an essential feature in stories for young children. It allows children to predict what the words may say and allows them to recognise words that are shown again and again.
However, the concepts in the story also entertain older readers. It's a book that is open to different interpretations by readers of different life experiences and abilities.
The underlying moral in the story is that if you steal, there are consequences. The book also opens up opportunities for discussions on lying and persistence.
As for the ending ... it's not what you'd normally find at the conclusion of a children's book. But it's done so well that it leaves you laughing ... or at least thinking!
The bear's patience and politeness suddenly disappears as he jumps into action to right a wrong ... and to get his hat back!
Once again, there's a great protest of many words - this time by the bear after he's been asked if he has seen the rabbit. Does this again indicate guilt? The bear has his hat back but there's no sign of the rabbit. What has happened to the rabbit?
Our youngest, at first, thought the bear sat on the rabbit while our oldest child had different thoughts on the matter.
The fact that there's no definitive answer as to what happened to the rabbit is terrific. The ending is left open for interpretation by each reader. It makes the reader think which is what a good story should do!
Having read I Want My Hat Back many times, this is one family who is eagerly anticipating Jon Klassen's next children's book. Can't wait!
Read more of Susan's reviews.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.