There are a few things that endear a picture book to me and make me likely to read it over and over again, whether for story time at work or because my kids want to hear it repeatedly as kids often do with a favorite book. The top of my list for multiple readability has to be humor. Last year's Caldecott Honor winner, Interrupting Chicken written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein and Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series are funny books that I have no problem reading again and again. Add to that list the laugh-out-loud, deadpan I Want My Hat Back by the multitalented Jon Klassen, who most recently created the cover art for Sheela Chari's marvelous mystery Vanished. Klassen, who also works as an illustrator, knows how to tell a story visually. I am reminded a bit of Mac Barnett's wonderful picture book from last year, OH NO! which was brilliantly brief on text and perfectly partnered with kinetic artwork by Dan Santat. Klassen's story is short on text but simple with the illustrations as well, which actually serves to build the tension that leads to the punchline of the story.
I Want My Hat Back begins with a bear who says, "My hat is gone. I want it back." He proceeds through the forest asking his neighbors with the utmost politeness and brevity if they have encountered his hat. Like Willems' Elephant & Piggie books, the characters' dialogue is in different colors - the bear is black, the other animals' speech in corresponding colors. This makes I Want My Hat Back perfect for emerging readers.
The bear, while deeply saddened by the loss of his hat, is not effusive. Klassen's artwork illustrates the extent of his emotional expression, which, like all great picture books, exhibits the kind of opposite verbal and visual experience that makes a book compelling. Picture books are always more fun when the text is saying one thing and the pictures are telling another story, as in I Want My Hat Back. After checking with all the animals, the bear has a flash of understanding that leads him to the culprit and a resolution that is open to interpretation. However, one way or another, the thief gets his in the end and the bear tries to cover it up in the same way that the thief tried to hide his theft (Who me? Why are you asking me? Why would you even think I would do such a thing?) Is I Want My Hat Back a bit perverse? Yes. Older kids will get it one way, younger kids another. Is I Want My Hat Back for everyone? Of course not, but what book is?
For a fabulous interview with Klassen and look at more of his superb artwork, visit Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast where Jules and Jon have cyber-fried-egg-sandwiches and Jon talks about his evolving technique and works in progress including (DRUMROLL and EXCITED SQUEALING from me ......) EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett!!!!! (now shoulder slump and sigh) which is not due out until January, 2012.