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I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat BackThe bookseller at my local store was frantically restocking after the grand opening weekend and was making room to face out Jon Klassen’s wickedly funny I Want My Hat Back. After I commented on the book, she said, “I’ve read a lot about this book, but I have not had time to read it yet.”

“Come on, it’s a quick read. I promise you that kids are going to want to read it over and over, ” I laughed. I sure as heck wasn’t giving away the ending to this book. And I am not giving it away here either. I would never deprive a reader that exquisite pleasure of reading a book and guffawing at the twists and turns it takes. These animators (I am talking to you, Mo Willems and John Rocco) who write picture books have a special gift of pacing. They know when to stop putting words on the page.

According to the copyright page, these illustrations were “created digitally and in Chinese ink.” Using a brown palette with splashes of muted greens and browns and red, Klassen matched the typeface color with whichever animal is talking to the bear. When the animals talk to each other, their eyes face out at the reader, giving everything a shifty, don’t-take-us-too-seriously look. And, when rabbit enters the story, the reader notices two things: a red pointy hat and a lot of nervous red chatter. The bear barely (couldn’t stop myself) moves until he collapses, mourning the missing hat. When a deer arrives, eyes meet for the first time and we sense the shift in tone. The page turn makes it clear—a red hot page with all upper case text: Bear knows where his hat is and he is going to get it back.

Spread from I Want My Hat Back

Here is what I think the committee will love: pacing, humor, use of the color red amidst the sepia-hued pages, the color-coded text, the thick luscious paper, the hilarious ending, the scene where bear runs to the left to back track the story, the standoff (told only with the eyes), and the sly resolution. I know they will love the end papers and all the design, especially the use of white space.

Will they like the ending? Will they share this with children to see what they think of the ending? (I sure hope so!)

You have to go all the way back to 1996 to find a truly hilarious book (Officer Buckle and Gloria) wearing that gold sticker. Will this be the year for humor?

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. I haven’t heard of anyone saying that they read this book to a child and the child got upset by the ending, its moment of cryptic revenge. I know those children could exist. I’d be interested to hear from folks who had such experiences, if any. That’s to say I think the wicked humor of the book (what you aptly call “sly”) is so refreshing and also, wisely, open to interpretation. (Funny, I see the bear and the rabbit in an F&G of Mac Barnett’s EXTRA YARN, which Klassen has illustrated, so maybe he’s telling us that rabbit made it out alive, though of course the committee won’t consider that. Still, it made me laugh.)

    I’ve been championing this book all year, but I used to think the committee may not consider it. I don’t know why I thought that; I’ve never been on the Caldecott committee. Perhaps I thought the out-there humor would not get recognition. The more I looked at it all year, though, the more I saw … well, all the things you name in the what-the-committee-will-love paragraph, the choices Klassen made to make this book work. So, I hope they acknowledge that *as well as* the wonderful out-there humor.

  2. I’ve read this book in storytime a few times now, and I’ve had no complaints yet. You can definitely tell who gets it and who doesn’t, though. Some of the kids laugh their heads off while others just look confused.

  3. I LOVE to read this aloud. It’s a hoot reading it silently, but it reaches whole new levels when read aloud.

  4. Since the Caldecott is awarded for the illustrations, I’m not convinced that this book should win. Many pages are almost identical – as you say, with the bear not moving – though new characters appear. While I’ll give the author/illustrator a clever and perfectly timed turn of the eyes, overall the characters feel static to me. To be clear, it’s not that I dislike the artwork. But I don’t think it is the best we’ve seen this year. That said, Mo Willems’ pigeon wasn’t a complex, artistic creation and that book won silver.

    As for the story itself, I’m having trouble getting the hype. It does seem to need an audience to be fully appreciated though, and I read it alone the first times. Then I read it to my 5 yr old niece and she didn’t get the ending – but it was okay because she made up her own ending. But then it’s not funny. So maybe I haven’t had the full “experience” of the book yet.

  5. Adrienne, I enthusiastically shared this book with one of the Nashville Public Library’s storytellers/performers, going so far as to give him a copy, and he loved it and read it to groups of children. I should follow up and ask him about the response. Would be interesting to know.

  6. Just so y’all know, this was a post from little old me, Robin. I could not successfully post it myself so Lolly posted it for me. (thanks Lolly)
    I am sure it makes not a whit of difference to anyone, but, in the interest of honesty in the blog world, there you have it.

  7. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Oops — sorry about that! WordPress gives credit to the one who posts until you fix it manually. I missed that step but now it’s fixed.

  8. This child appeal thing is important, Adrienne, and is something the committee will surely consider. I would guess a book like this will especially need a “champion” on the committee, someone who will take apart each illustration and observe children reading and listening to the book. I only have the experience of reading it aloud with a class of 7&8 year olds–and they certainly “got it!” I was surprised that they wanted to read it over and over–well after the ending was known.

  9. Barb Gogan says:

    I read this to my 2nd graders today and they LOVED it! We critiqued it as a possible Caldecott nominee and they felt the use of color was superb.
    They were evenly divided between feeling the bear ate the rabbit and was sitting on the rabbit. Either way, they felt the rabbit had it coming.

  10. He’s Canadian, yeah? Does that disqualify him?

  11. He is. But, he lives in Los Angeles.

    So, according to the criteria, he is all set.

    From the Holy Book–er–the Manual:

    “The award is restricted to artists who are citizens or residents of the United States.”

    Resident refers to non-American citizens who are residents.
    Later, it explains:
    “Resident” specifies that author has established and maintains a residence in the United States, U.S. territory, or U.S. commonwealth as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.

  12. Although it is late to comment, I did finally see the book last weekend. I was not that impressed with the book. I did enjoy the illustrations. It might grow on me. My son (5 1/2) was not amused at all. Might be too young for him. It wouldn’t get my vote.

  13. Joanne Rubenstein says:

    I read it to 4th graders, first graders, and kindergarteners today. I agree with the comment above that you could immediately tell who got the ending. Those who did were positively gleeful about it. . Others were confused by the ending, thinking, like previously mentioned, that the bear was sitting on the rabbit.
    All of the grades paid close attention, and commented on the use of color in the text. Most liked the ending, some thought it wasn’t nice, but none seemed upset by it.

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