Skip to main content

Magritte's Marvelous Hat, written and illustrated by DB Johnson

About twenty-five years or so ago, I became enamored of the work of the surrealist painter René Magritte. One of the main reasons that I left art school for a traditional college was that I really missed books and people who read and talked about books. Also, one of my instructors told me that I was too literal and needed to learn to express myself in a more abstract way. Copying Magritte's surreailst style was as close as I got to painting abstract. And, looking at Magritte's paintings has always felt a bit like reading a book. I have never lost my taste for his work and am delighted to see that DB Johnson, author and artist of the invaluable Henry Hikes to Fitchburg series of books is serving up Magritte the way he (miraculously) managed to translate the philosophy and practices of Henry David Thoreau into beautifully illustrated picture books that are, above all else, entertaining but also educational. With Magritte's Marvelous Hat, Johnson has fun with the surrealist's iconic images, tells a very entertaining story and paves the way for a little art lesson, if you are so inclined. Which I am.

As Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things, THE website for excellence in illustration, says of Johnson, he "always gets me excited about the picture book form, given his vibrant (and often kaleidoscopic) art work and his refusal to condescend to child readers, giving them smart, captivating books." My seven year old son definitely was captivated by Magritte's Marvelous Hat, especially when, after finishing the book, I pulled out my books on Magritte, Escher and Dalí and we explored the paintings. In fact, as I write this review he is sitting next to me drawing a picture that he says "has something hidden in it like Magritte's." Definitely sparked by Johnson's magnificent book, I think that his interest is also fueled just a bit by his (and most kids') love of Where's Waldo and I Spy books as well. But, if it draws him to the artist, as Johnson's book does, then that's what matters to me. Making connections. And Magritte's Marvelous Hat makes connections!

Magritte's Marvelous Hat begins, playfully, completely in the spirit of Magritte, and referencing one of my favorite of his paintings, The Empire of Light, "One bright day in the dark of night." We see the painter as he observes a marvelous hart in a store window. When he tries on the hat, it pops up and floats just above his head, which Magritte finds quite nice since it does not "pinch his ears or muss his hair." The hat proves to be an inspiration, a muse even, and Magritte finds that "for the first time, painting was easy. His brush danced and the colors sang. Magritte painted his best picture ever." To add to the effect, there are two points in the book when the story becomes animated, in a sense, by transparent pages that alter the illustration when flipped. Very cool! (If you click on the picture you can see the effect.)

Soon, though, Magritte's hat grows tired of watching him paint and flies out the window on a gust of air that also splatters paint all over Magritte's face while at the same time creating one of Magritte's surreal images. A chase ensues. While I had fun reading the book and searching out the echos of Magritte's work, my son had fun looking for the oddities. In the end, Magritte returns home without his hat, but the hat comes sailing through the window and lands on Magritte's head, lifting him up in the air! Johnson writes, "Of course the hat pinched his ears and mussed his hair, but Magritte's brush danced and the colors sang."
Johnson ends Magritte's Marvelous Hat with an author's note that does a wonderful job of explaining surrealism to young readers in the first paragraph while sharing a bit of Magritte's biography in the second. Johnson notes that, unlike other surrealists such as Dalí, Magritte's paintings do not "shock the viewer by appearing random, unearthly, or disturbing. Rather, he painted everyday objects (a hat, an egg, an apple, a pipe) and combined them in ways that are mysterious and surprising - the more ordinarty they are, the greater the spark to the imagination." Well said, Mr Johnson, and thank you for yet another marvelous picture book!
Take a minute to watch the delightful book trailer for Magritte's Marvelous Hat. It is a great way to see more of the magical, moving art from the book!


Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers

How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers remains the most read post on my blog since I wrote it in 2012. Because of this, I have cleaned up this post, tightened the writing and added in any pertinent information that has come about since it originally ran. When I first started in August of 2008, I was scrambling for content, finding my purpose and my voice and not always doing my best writing. How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers was one of the first articles I wrote and, as a bookseller and a book reviewer, and now as an elementary school librarian where I have gone from working with kids reading well beyond their grade level to kids reading well below, this philosophy remains my organizing principle and central focus when reading and recommending books to parents and children. 

In the interest of my mission and the attention this article continues to receive, I have updated and expanded this article and included a guide to using …

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…