Robin just reviewed this book for the Magazine (here it is, complete with Jon Klassen’s take on his favorite chapeau), but I forgot it was already hers and rushed to claim it when we were divvying up titles. I couldn’t let her have both Extra Yarn AND this one. As you can see, we love This Is Not My Hat.
This time Jon Klassen is working as illustrator AND author in a companion to last year’s I Want My Hat Back. Robin and I don’t agree about what happened to the rabbit in that one. She says he lived and I say he didn’t, but I think we agree on the ending of this book.
Talk about tricky! The narrator here is pretty much amoral and definitely unreliable, boasting that he just stole a hat from a big fish and will certainly get away with it. The horizontal book shows him speeding away against a black deep-sea background while the much MUCH larger fish pursues. As Robin says in her review, “The eyes have it.” The perspective never changes, there are no close-up or far-away variations in point of view. The only change in the main characters from page to page is their eyes, subtly encouraging a deadpan delivery. After the first spread, the reader can’t help being aware of the narrator’s self delusion. It might be fun to pair this with Marla Frazee’s A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, another book that tells opposing stories in text and art.
As he did in I Want My Hat Back, Klassen isn’t telling what really happens. He trusts the reader to come to his or her own conclusion, but there are plenty of clues for those willing to follow them.
I guess I am drawn to books with rather simple art that doesn’t upstage the concept. The central idea here is clever, but it’s the pacing that is impeccable. Like a classic comedy routine, the interplay of text, art, and page turns allow any adult reading this aloud to make it a hit. Some books rely on speedy page turns to keep their flow, but this one works at any speed. In fact, the longer it takes to turn the page, the more outrageous the narrator’s voice becomes. Brilliant.
In the end, the big fish gets his hat back and the last three spreads have no text. Hmmm. I wonder why.
The only possible gripe I can see from the committee might be the back cover which shows the hat (larger than it appears in the book) sitting on the ocean floor. Since the front cover could be seen to begin the story and the identical front and back endpapers could be part of that progression, what does the hat mean? When we last saw it, it was on the big fish’s head. But I hope this isn’t an issue for them. These days covers have less and less to do with what the book creator wants and more to do with marketing. As a final image in the story, a completely black cover would have been perfection. The way I see it, this is just a little back cover art and not the end of the story. When I was on the Caldecott Committee, though, I remember a lot of discussion about one book and the choices made for the front and back covers.
This book got several stars, but there’s a difference between starring a funny and irreverent book and giving it an award. Does this have a chance?