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This Is Not My Hat

This Is Not My Hat by Jon KlassenHere’s one of the two picture books we’re reading for our second class. What do you make of this one? For those of you who know your lit, this is a classically unreliable narrator. How do the text and art play off each other? If you can, try reading it aloud, ideally to a child. In my experience, kids who get the joke enjoy this book more than those who take it at face value. What do you make of that? (Mischief maker group, here’s another gift for your wiki page!)

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. Sunny Zhang says:

    I enjoyed this book immensely. Reading it out loud and seeing how the pictures connected, or rather not connected in this case, was very amusing. I love that when you read it out loud to a child, they will be hearing what you are saying while simultaneously very absorbed in looking at the pictures, and realize that what is going on in the narrator’s mind is not what is going on in “reality” in the pictures. Through the lens of a school counselor, I can see myself using this book to teach a lesson on why it’s not okay to take things and also, even if you think you’re not going to get caught or justify why you think something is okay even when it’s not, you should think about the potential consequences. I loved the pictures and how simple yet effective they were. The main characters did not have complex facial expressions but even the slightest ways their eyes or mouths were manipulated really conveyed what the character might be feeling. A book I will definitely keep in mind to share with my students.

  2. Carli Spina says:

    I liked the fact that this book managed to use fairly simple images to convey a complete story that worked with (and in some ways against) the story being told with the words. While it would not be as rich, the story could be read without the words and you could still understand most of the action, which is why the images are able to convey the fact that the narrator is unreliable. I also thought this was a fun introduction to a topic that children will see again and again as they continue to read. I think that picture books sometimes fall into the trap of being too straightforward, but this one manages to offer the complexity of the dueling stories (the pictures versus the words) in a way that will simultaneously entertain both children and adults. I also liked the fact that the story leaves room for children to fill in their own stories, particularly as to how the big fish gets his hat back. I also loved the artwork, which was simple, but I thought very beautiful.

  3. Jessica Jones says:

    This was my first time reading This Is Not My Hat and I admit I laughed a little when I compared the text and the illustrations. Carli, I’m intrigued by your idea of reading the book without the words. This makes me think of how you could build a discussion with children about the book and its features–the overall illustrations, the unreliable narrator, and how the words play off the illustrations. You could read the text first then do a picture walk with the students to see if the illustrations match what the students predicted certain pictures would look like (this could really bring out students’ creativity or provide lots of laughs!). I also see a potential lesson that could be created from the vagueness of how the big fish gets his hat back. Students could create drawings and writings or act out how they think the big fish got his hat back.

  4. Diwen Shi says:

    I just love the black-humor narrative style of this book. The text, from the little fish’s voice, almost always describes a different situation compared with what actually happens in the pictures, making the whole story more like a satire comedy with every turn of the page. This is the magic an unreliable narrator brings to the book. I think what’s most interesting about the pictures is the very simple but clear signs of movements and emotions: the eyeballs of the little fish and the big fish, the crab’s claw, the bubbles behind the fish… And in the end, when the hat comes back to its original place, so much is unsaid but is already understood.

    I find my peers’ comments very helpful on encouraging children to create drawings about the unsaid part of this story, fully using their imagination. This book is also certainly great because of its neat illustrations, which I think makes it a lot easier for children to imitate if they want.

  5. Jennifer Stacy says:

    I found “This is Not My Hat” to be such a fun read. I look forward to reading it with a child at some point to see how he or she interprests the disconnect between the pictures and text. The simple story and small amount of text could make this a good teaching tool to use with younger chiildren. I could see myself asking a child “what do you think happens next” to both play off the truth/lie paradox and teach about consequences.

  6. Sara Ralph says:

    This is one of my favorite read alouds. I read it to all my 1st grade classes in the Fall. I knew it was a hit by how many people have requested it since. One little girl was very, very concerned about the little fish. She asked me during bus duty if the big fish really ate him. I said that the book doesn’t specifically say that, and she decided that he dropped the hat in the reeds and escaped.

  7. Andrea LeMahieu says:

    What I liked most about “This is Not My Hat” is that the story was told from the perspective of the little fish. I think this made the story seem very playful- while reading it, I could hear the little fish’s voice in my head. I think using the little fish’s voice was especially effective because the little fish’s words on the page differ from the picture on the page which shows what happening with the big fish. This adds to the suspense of the book and I can see small children really getting excited while reading this story because they have more information than the little fish and know that something is about to happen. I can’t wait to use this story in my Pre-Kindergarten classroom!

  8. Stacy Tell says:

    I actually laughed out loud as I was reading this book, and LOVED how the text and the pictures didn’t depend on each other – a great distinction from other texts like this one. I agree with Andrea when she says that students will love knowing more than what the little fish knows – it keeps them excited to see when the little fish is going to catch on that the big fish is going after him. With respect to the illustrations, I loved the clear simplicity of the black background. Not only did it help me to envision the deep, deep sea (which I’ve always imagined as incredibly dark, so points for accuracy!) but it really allowed me to notice those minute details, such as the narrowing of the large fish’s eyes. Sometimes, I get so caught up in the multitude of images in children’s book that I miss those things, but this book was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I also love the idea of an almost-cliffhanger type of ending – what ever happened to that little fish? I babysat for a seven year old boy this past weekend, and decided to try this story out with him. I loved watching his eyes go big and wide as he saw the big fish begin to catch up to the little fish. He spent the rest of the night predicting what happened to the little fish – his favorite being that the little fish swooped down to get away from the big fish, but he swooped too quickly and the hat rose up and landed on the big fish! It was an incredibly enjoyable Read Aloud experience.

  9. AnneMarie M. says:

    This book is incredible! It reminds me SO much of Don Quijote with its “unreliable” narrator, as Carli says, and its muddled distinction between reality and fantasy. The little fish might not even BE the narrator, and that is so exciting. The pictures might tell a different element of the story, or they might tell a completely different story altogether, and we do not know which one – or whose perspective – to rely on. It would be impossible to understand this book without the pictures AND the text (even though we can’t necessarily know which one to “trust” – or maybe we should just trust both of them and call the narrator uninformed?), and that is exactly what Lolly was talking about in class the other day. That’s what makes a picture book! I question if that little hat even WAS the big fish’s hat and what happened amongst those sea leaves, and I like not knowing. I know that young children would too. In addition to this, I really like Jessica’s suggestion of having students create some art work or a writing piece to demonstrate what they think might have happened between the big fish and the little fish in those leaves! Overall, I am deeply impressed with this work because it channels the narrative sophistication of Cervantes’s Don Quijote.

  10. Marina Chan says:

    This is such a clever book! I agree with my colleagues on the simplicity and the artistic decisions, such as the powerful expression of the eyes as mentioned by Sunny and Di Wen. Like Andrea, I also appreciate the voice — presumably the fish who is talking. Who knew the fish had no idea that its plans were sabotaged! A perfect example for children that they might not always get away with certain things. An add-on to some of the great suggestions mentioned so far, I would see this book as a great companion to a lesson on perspective-taking. Question prompts such as what is the small fish thinking? What is the big fish thinking? What is the crab thinking as it betrayed the small fish? could spark some interesting conversations that might also extend into the feelings territory. All in all, a wonderful read with opportunities to spark thoughtful conversations with the little ones.

  11. Mark Loring says:

    I think the rest of my classmates have made my case for why this was my favorite book of the week. I found the color scheme of the book to fit nicely with the topic of underwater life. Perhaps my favorite aspect was how the narrator could not be trusted to tell what was really happening in the story. This made the pictures extremely important. This type of format is something I am not use to but thoroughly enjoyed. If others have recommendations, I would love to examine more books that have this same type of trait in the narrator.

  12. Cami Gordon says:

    Sara, I had the same reaction as your student! I loved the light hearted humor throughout the book with the unreliability of the narrator and the illustrations, but was really concerned about the poor little fish at the end of the book. I wonder if that reaction is common among young readers or if the readers walk away with a variety of endings in their head. I was surprised with the ending and was not sure how a group of young readers would react.

  13. Ashley Foxworth says:

    I read this week’s readings in reverse order, so I read “This is Not My Hat” after reading Molly Bang’s “Picture This.” Reading “Picture This”–which is about how illustrations can be made and the big effects that small differences in illustrative choices have on the viewer’s perception of the illustration–really informed my reading of “This is Not My Hat”. The colors in the book were so muted, and the illustrations often didn’t change much from page to page. There were about three spreads in a row of a similar picture of the big fish. The main difference was the shape of his eyes/ placement/size of his pupils. By making his pupils large or slanting them, yet changing nothing else about the picture, the illustrator conveyed the big fish’s changing thoughts/ emotions. And even though the illustrations were often repetitive and the colors were muted, the illustrations weren’t boring. I think because the illustrations didn’t always line up with the pictures, the book was more interesting and the reader is able to get both fish’s perspectives. I also found it interesting how there was no text on the final pages of the book. That allows readers/ listeners to make meaning of the final pages and guess as to how the big fish got his hat back and what happened to the small fish.

  14. Dayna Lellis says:

    I really enjoyed this book and can see myself using this as a read aloud in a primary classroom. I like how the pictures and the text are telling different stories. One of my classmates mentioned doing a picture walk first, which I like. In a classroom setting, students can make predictions about the text based off of the pictures, then compare those to the text, told from the voice of the little fish. This book could also be a great way to introduce the concept of perspectives/points of view to young children. For older students, they may even try creating their own narratives where the pictures and the text are telling different stories.

  15. Alexandra Fish says:

    This book would make a fantastic read-aloud. I love Klassen’s pictures and the amount of expression he conveys in the eyes of each character. Not only does this book lend itself to discussions about reading pictures (What are the characters’ emotions? How do you know? What happens on the page without words?), it also is entertaining and puts some of the responsibility for storytelling on the child. As others have commented already, I can imagine some students would be concerned about what really happened to the little fish. This story provides children with an opportunity to direct the story whichever way they choose – with dire consequences for the thief, or a happy ending for all the characters.

  16. Esther (Kyungeun) Lee says:

    Favorite part of the book was the changing eyes of the big fish. The pictures stay the same for 3 pages except for the eyes, and this helps the readers be engaged and feel “in on it” with a secret that the little fish does not yet know. Clever and funny!

  17. E. Ucan says:

    I appreciate how Klassen built suspense in “This Is Not My Hat,” by carefully timing of the sequence of images throughout the book. The simplicity of the images allowed the special features, such as the changing expressions of the eyes, to stand out and make the book both funny and striking. I also greatly enjoyed the subversive undertone in this book. I imagine that children could perceive enjoying/laughing at the story line as being naughty because of its tone. From a style perspective, I greatly enjoyed the choice of colors even through the subdued tones could potentially be considered less appealing to young readers. I find it refreshing to utilize “natural” colors, especially when coupled with a splash of bright color, like we see here in Klassen’s hat. Overall, darkly hilarious, suspenseful, and pleasantly different.

  18. Stacey-Ann M. says:

    This was such a blast to read! As most people eluded to, the fact that the pictures and text did not really align together was such an interesting mix. The visual humor is amazing as, it places a child in the “big dark sea” with other sea animals. I too, agree that the choice of colors may be not as appealing to young readers, but I think the sizes of the main objects: big fish, small hat, and little fish are the main focus points in this story.

    I really loved this book. It makes we wonder about teaching consequences, and if a child would understand the moral of the story especially when it is intertwined with humor. 🙂

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