Earlier this month I had the delight of meeting the talented young author/illustrator, Jon Klassen, as he promoted his new book ‘This Is Not My Hat.’ The story follows along lines similar to his most well-known book, ‘I Want My Hat Back,’ but is without a doubt its own, unique, creation.
Jon was wonderful, and while I was a fan of his work before I met him, I got even more hooked afterwards. He is kind, easy to talk to (and I can be dang awkward sometimes), but best of all, he took the time to draw a doodle into the cover of every book that passed him-which not only showcased his talent, but confirmed that he is exactly the kind of person we want breathing life into the world of children’s books.
The Plot & Delivery
A clever little fish has just stolen a hat…and openly announces this to the reader on the first page. He says he stole it from a big fish, but he is confident that he will never get caught. After all, the big fish was asleep at the time and probably will be for a long time-right? Well, not exactly. While the text is comprised of the confident narrative/dialog of the little fish, the illustrations tell a different story-one that confirms that the little fish is way off base-perhaps even a bit in denial towards the end-when it comes to escaping with the hat unnoticed.
It’s hilarious how Klassen winds 2 stories together-one told by words, the other by illustrations. The readers know something the little fish doesn’t know, and that gives us an extremely entertaining point of view. While the overly-confident (and I think on edge) little fish is bragging about his theft, the pictures show a very different story. After each claim made (“He was asleep when I stole it/And he probably won’t wake up for a long time”) is an illustration of reality-basically the opposite of what the little fish thinks. So on the page that says he won’t wake up for a long time, there is a picture of the big fish with his eyes wide open-and very much missing his hat as well. Oh little fish-if only you knew what we knew!
If you’ve read ‘I Want My Hat Back,’ ‘Extra Yarn,’ or any other book Klassen has written and or/illustrated, you will know in a heartbeat who wrote ‘This Is Not My Hat.’ The style of his drawing is simply and beautifully that unique. Starting out in the animation world, Klassen uses a combination of digital drawing and coloring as well as watercolor to create a style of artwork that is at once simple and complex, straightforward and yet still full of mystery. To me the best illustrators are the ones in which their drawings look like a stamp of their imagination on the page, and the best illustrations when you feel as though the pictures could stand without words and still be just as enjoyed-maybe they even speak to you better than words. If those two elusive components have been captured and caught between the covers of one book (as Jon Klassen is able to do with his) the result is a story that speaks twice as loud as any other-one voice the illustrations, the other the words.
There is a bit of controversy surrounding some of Jon’s books and the overall message they send to kids. Now I read a lot of children’s books, and I sway back and forth between two points of view when it comes to message/theme. Of course an overall positive message is the best, but I feel like at times we take things too literally, and we’re too cautious and critical of children’s books .
For example, in the end of ‘I Want My Hat Back,’ the bear eats the thief of his hat (the rabbit.) Just that, no frills and no follow up. Some question was raised about whether or not the message was ok to send to children-after all the bear is ‘killing’ without any repercussion. To me that is an example of picking something apart that wasn’t, in my opinion, really an issue at all. I therefore lend my whole hearted support to Klassen’s books-and applaud him for stepping outside of the box.
Remember, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ caused a tidal wave of upset in the world of children’s books when it came out, and now it is one of the most beloved stories of all time. If we don’t have authors that are willing to push the envelope and go against the grain, we’ll be hard pressed to find captivating new children’s books that steal many hearts that span many generations.
I would recommend the book. No, the ending is not what one would call happy, but it is one that will extract more than a few good laughs from kids and adults none-the-less (if we’re realistic we know that not all endings are happy, but we can still chuckle over them sometimes.) The way the illustrations weave together with the words makes this a gem of a story book.