Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat won the Caldecott for 2012– I was shocked when I heard the announcement. I’m currently working on my PhD in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, so I like to think that I’m pretty “in the know” when it comes to great picture books I’d read (and loved) I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat and had taught both of them in my class, but I never predicted it would win one of the biggest awards in children’s literature!
I was pleasantly surprised. This is Not My Hat is a great book and I think it totally fulfills the requirements of a Caldecott winner, but I enjoyed it as an adult and I thought it seemed a little too dark to be a winner. I use both books to introduce my undergraduate students to a different side of children’s literature– they are always surprised that contemporary picture books aren’t rainbows and unicorns but instead can be suspenseful and darkly humorous.
I Want My Hat Back follows a bear who is searching for his missing hat. He asks different animals if they’ve seen his hat, and eventually finds a rabbit wearing his red, pointy hat. The bear doesn’t notice the hat, the rabbit lies, but later the bear realizes “I have seen my hat” and goes back to confront the rabbit. Children love the dramatic irony of seeing the hat on the rabbit and knowing something important to the story before the bear figures things out for himself.
But the crux of the story is in what isn’t written. The bear and the rabbit face off… and then children are left to fill in the story for themselves. The final page shows the bear sitting happily, saying “I love my hat.” What happened to the rabbit? (All the children I’ve read it to, happily scream “he ate him!!”) The absence of action provides students a place to fill in the story with their own ideas– I’ve known teachers who have used this book as a jumping point for art and writing prompts with children.
This is Not My Hat follows a similar pattern, in which a little fish admits that he is wearing a stolen hat. A bigger fish follows his path, looking for the hat, and the same gap in plot is shown when both fish are hidden in a two-page spread of seaweed. The big fish swims out of the seaweed wearing his hat and children are left to interpret what happened to the little fish. These two books are suspenseful and have children engaged and excited to turn the page, I love seeing children light up when they describe what happened to the little fish or giggle when the bear doesn’t notice that his hat is right in front of him.
I think Klassen’s drawings are brillant– the texture of the images and simple but expressive eyes of the characters set the tone for both books. I’m delighted that he won the Caldecott, even if I was surprised to hear it! Here is the trailer for This is Not My Hat— the music really gives you a good sense of the mood of the book.
Mary Miller writes picturebook and young adult reviews for Conservative Teachers of America. She has her MA in English and is studying for her PhD in Children’s Literature, while also teaching undergraduate Education courses in Ohio. You can find her at her personal blog, Travels with Mary. The views reflected in this review are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservative Teachers of America.