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This Is Not My Hat

this is not my hatRobin 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?


Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    And thanks to the Horn Book at Simmons colloquium, we now know that Klassen thinks the rabbit dies.

  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I wonder if the Caldecotters might think that the pictures are too repetitive and in service to a slender purpose. Of course, they aren’t SUPPOSED to think that way, but still.

  3. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    I really appreciate this title and believe that it will deservedly walk away with the medal this year. Is any one else talking about the echoes of (homage to?) Leo Lionni? Maybe it’s just that Klassen’s fish reminds me of a Lionni mouse?? Perhaps this fish is Swimmy’s dingbat nephew… 🙂

  4. I think it’s telling that when the little fish no longer is talking, the cream colored text spaces and pages disappear and we are just in the world of the ocean. His ongoing narration is silenced, and so the visual separation between text and illustrations disappears. The small fish is silenced visually as well.

    The repetitive pictures allow the eyes to shine and highlight the complete silliness of what the little fish is saying. The repetitive illustrations and strip of text make this book seem almost like an old fashioned film strip.

  5. I was reading this to a couple of kids, and when we looked at the back cover, they thought the big fish had been eaten. And he was too big to want that hat, so he just left it there. Loved that logic!

  6. I think the hat on the back cover shows us the story goes on–the fish was sleeping with his hat on again and this time a current whisked it away, but because of his past experiences, the big fish is going to swim off in revenge looking for whoever might have stolen his hat this time.

    The moral: Never sleep with your hat on.

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  1. […] this hysterical interview with Jon Klassen over at Travis Jonkers’ blog, 100 Scope Notes. And this post, from the Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog, written by Lolly Robinson. Both of these blogs […]

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