When Everybody Wore a Hat is a very different sort of children’s book for author and illustrator William Steig. This was the final book written by Steig before his passing in 2003.
Steig wrote and illustrated over thirty children’s books including the Caldecott Award-winning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Shrek! For the most part, Steig’s stories
are silly and magical and transport the reader to other worlds. But this book is a simple autobiographical collection of memories from Steig’s boyhood. He recalls the interaction between his parents and the good times the family shared, even in the face of war. The illustrations included with the author’s words will help identify the scenarios for children.
Done in his usual sparse style, the illustrations convey emotions and feelings of Steig as a boy in 1916. Today’s technology-obsessed children will marvel at the details of Steig’s childhood and perhaps wonder how he could have endured it. Would today’s children have fared as well? Clopping horse-drawn fire engines and a lack of television will perplex the younger generation. Did ladies really stuff themselves into corsets that tight? Did people really have to wind up the phonograph to hear music?
World War I was raging during 1916 and Steig paints a picture of what it was like to live through those times. Growing up in the Bronx as an immigrant, Steig had a different take on America than today’s kids might. Books like this one, and authors as well, take on the responsibility of educating future generations with their words. Often, past events fade from current memory, yet there can still be a lot to learn from their history.
The hats to which the title refers are a sign of those times and really have to do with the different walks of life that were ongoing during those times. Hats were a sign of those times.
This book is pure nostalgia and will appeal to both children and adults. The black and white photos of Steig then and now are a nice touch. All will enjoy this slow walk down Memory Lane with a much beloved author and illustrator.