I Want My Hat Back by J. Klassen
Klassen, Jon. I Want My Hat Back. Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2011. Print.
Jon Klassen further develops his distinctive and carefully honed aesthetic in I Want My Hat Back, the first children’s book he has both illustrated and written. His illustrations for 2010’s visually complex yet cohesive Cat’s Night Out deservedly won the Governor General’s award for English language children’s illustration. [Reviewed here in Vol.1 no.2 (2011).]
Klassen has a very well conceived style that seems to perfectly encompass what current sensibilities would deem the best of design from the 1960s and early 1970s. As a writer, he has a sharp sense of humour that comfortably inhabits his visual style. Both expressions are arch, dry and irreverent. I Want My Hat Back is, without question, a great looking book that adeptly functions on a number of aesthetic levels.
The issue remains, however, of how it functions as a visual and textual narrative for children and in order to discuss that clearly I must provide a SPOILER ALERT:
In I Want My Hat Back the rabbit who has absconded with the hat in question is eaten in retribution by a bear. The fact of this dire revenge is conveyed very amusingly but obliquely. So obliquely that it seems unlikely that a child would be able to understand (perhaps mercifully) what had happened as the bear denies that he knows what has become of the rabbit.
This presented an excellent opportunity to experiment on my children by reading them I Want My Hat Back and observing their reactions. The two year old was most distressed by the fact of the missing hat and relieved at its recovery. He seemed to have grasped that the bear eats the rabbit at the end but was unconcerned. The five year old, however, took the bear at his word and has no idea what happened to the rabbit. Perhaps the two year old in the initial stage of language comprehension had to hear and interpret the bear’s words more literally than the five year old who, while she can understand language in a more nuanced way, can’t interpret the implications that lie beyond what the bear says? Fascinating!
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Matilda Roche
Matilda spends her days lavishing attention on the University of Alberta’s metadata but children’s illustrated books, literature for young adults and graphic novels also make her heart sing. Her reviews benefit from the critical influence of a four year old daughter and a one year old son – both geniuses. Matilda’s super power is the ability to read comic books aloud.