Tuesday’s Caldecott post mortem entry has raised an issue in the comments that I think warrants its own post.
First, Robin provided a link to Minh Le’s NY Daily News Page Views blog entry, “This is Not My Hat: Reading (a little) too much into the 2013 Caldecott winner.”
I think Le is spot-on in his analysis of Klassen’s book when he calls it an “irreverent tale of deception and revenge” and says “the reader quickly realizes that their narrator is unreliable, delusional, and ultimately doomed.” He goes on to wonder if this book strikes a particular chord today in the same way some past Caldecott award winners did. For example, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers resonated because of September 11, while A Sick Day for Amos McGee could have something to do with universal health care. Are these fish a sign of our times? And if so, what is that sign?
Klassen’s other book involving food chains and hats, I Want My Hat Back, found Robin and me disagreeing about the fate of the rabbit. I said the bear ate him and Robin said he didn’t. When Robin put up the link to Le’s article, Erin commented that she didn’t think the fish was eaten, either. The text doesn’t tell in either book, so the reader has to rely on pictures and context to make up his or her own mind. While Klassen later admitted that he thinks the rabbit was eaten, I think there’s an even more interesting dynamic at play here. What does our response to this book say about each of us?
Then there’s Le’s main point. He asks what the book itself might reveal about who we are — not just as readers but perhaps even as a global society in 2013. Are unconventional narrators, irony, and deception skewing for a younger audience these days? Are kids becoming more savvy and growing up too fast? Or do young children simply understand and accept food chains (being low in the power hierarchy themselves) in a way that some adults would rather not (preferring to look on the bright side of classism, racism, and other issues of inequality)?
There’s a lot to think about here and my own response is still in an embryonic state. For example, I think there’s a connection between this book’s breaking the fourth wall (narrator speaking directly to the reader) and other books that play more openly with meta elements. And all the recent meta books have me thinking about how this fascination with stepping outside a format as a way to explore it more deeply might be connected to the whole smart phone connection/disconnection dilemma.
As I said, my own thoughts about this need more work, but I wanted to get something up here ASAP because I really want to hear what this group of smart blog readers and responders has to say.