I Want My Hat BackA large, brown bear walks sadly along, asking other forest animals if they have seen his hat. "My hat is gone. I want it back. / Have you seen my hat?" The words are so simple that the first time I read this, they just sat on the page. The illustrations didn't jump out at me; the words just fell flat. But friends raved about it. What was I missing, I wondered. Then I asked my daughter to read it aloud, and she did it with this wonderful sad, grumpy bear voice. Voila, that's it! You've got to get the character's voices to come alive in your head!
by Jon Klassen
NY: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 4 - 8
available at your local library, your favorite bookstore, or on Amazon
Today, I persuaded Ms. Carter to read it aloud for me. We performed it as Reader's Theater - that's the school word for playing with our books, reading them aloud in voices that make the characters come alive. She was the PERFECT bear, sad, a bit bewildered, and then surprised and angry. The kids - yes, these oh-so-cool 10 and 11 year-olds - ate up every word of it.
The bear ambles through the forest asking all the animals if they have seen his hat. No one has seen it. The fox hasn't seen it. The armadillo asks, "What is a hat?" The rabbit insists that he hasn't seen it. "No. Why are you asking me? I haven't seen it. I haven't seen any hats anywhere." Hmmm... Are you noticing anything in the picture below? The bear sure didn't, and just went on his way.
I Want My Hat Back doesn't just hand you the whole story on the page. You have to bring your creativity to it as well. Klassen asks the reader to create the voice of the characters as they read this story. And he makes the readers figure out what happens. No simple answers here. As our kids said, they like it because you can talk about it, you can talk about what happened. They also just love the subverted, deadpan humor. Life is not always about the nice guys.
I Want My Hat Back is receiving much well-deserved praise, and is included in the following lists:
The New York Times list of The 2011 Best Illustrated Children's Books
Publisher Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2011
Fuse #8's Best Books of 2011
Many thanks to friends who encouraged me to read and reread this: Kathy Shepler, Walter Mayes, Mac Barnett, John Schu, and especially Jen Vincent. Here's the blog post that totally opened my mind up to trying it again at Teach Mentor Texts, by the wonderful Jen Vincent. This is really a case of my Twitter PLN (personal learning network) helping me develop to be a stronger reader, a better librarian.
The review copy was a gift from Natchez and the Lee family at Emerson. Thank you so much!! If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.