I Want My Hat Back is one of those sophisticated yet simple picture books. The story, as you might have guessed, is about a bear who has lost its hat and wants it back. It's a basic premise accompanied by pretty basic dialogue and illustrations. On paper, it shouldn't work, and yet it is easily one of the most entertaining picture books I've had the pleasure of reading, and I know from the countless times I've used it for storytime that children love it too. The characters are charming and there's just something about the understatedness of it all that's really endearing.
There's this misconception that making a picture book is easy, but I actually think it's one of the toughest things to get right in publishing. Perhaps the most challenging thing about picture books is that they have to appeal to two very different types of customer. It has to be exciting and vivid enough to captivate a child, but it also has to get the stamp of approval from the parent who, let's face it, is going to spend the next six months reading it again... and again... and again. I Want My Hat Back ticks all the right boxes and it's definitely one of those books that adults can enjoy just as much as children. There's some brilliant deadpan humour in there and some reading between the lines that children might miss but adults will definitely appreciate. Let's just say the bear does get his hat back in the end and we strangely never see the thief again... 👀
I absolutely love the brush-stroke style of Klassen's illustrations and the high quality, thick matte pages gives it this crisp feeling that really complements the artwork. I also really like the sepia-style endpapers featuring all the animals and I love the way they frame the narrative (notice how the bear is missing its hat in the opening endpapers but has it back in the closing ones).
One of my favourite spreads comes after the bear is describing its hat to the deer and realises that it has, in fact, seen its hat:
The bold red background is striking against the rest of the beige pages and makes that page-turn moment really dramatic. This is where all the gasps and giggles happen during storytime and it's just such a cleverly orchestrated bit of storytelling. I love the scenes that follow and you can really feel the pace quickening as the bear runs back to find the rabbit wearing its hat. The confrontation is hilarious and I love that close up spread that comes immediately after - just look at their eyes!
I think it goes without saying that I Want My Hat Back gets a five star rating. It's a gorgeously stylised picture book filled with brilliant characters and humour. I love using it for storytime and it's a great story for performing. If you're a teacher and you're looking for a good picture book I'd definitely recommend it. And why not try getting the kids to perform it? The dialogue is easy to learn and the only prop you need is a red hat! I guarantee it will go down a treat with the kids. And don't forget to check out Jon Klassen's other books, This Is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat for more hat-based mischief!
Who are your favourite picture book authors and illustrators? I'm always looking to expand my collection so leave a comment and let me know which ones I should try next!