If there’s one picture book that has had the kidlitosphere buzzing excitedly this year it has to be I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. I had read rave review after rave review after rave review of this book before I finally got a copy to review myself.
I read There’s a Book’s review (“I Want My Hat Back is destined to be a Classic among the finest in Children’s Literature“), Waking Brain Cell’s review (“Klassen’s wording is perfection“), the New York Times review (““I Want My Hat Back” is a marvelous book in the true dictionary sense of “marvel”: it is a wonderful and astonishing thing“) and 32 Page’s review (“A book about a bear looking for his lost hat, with simple yet breathtakingly lovely illustrations, and even simpler (but hilarious) text is a perfect creation.“) amongst others.
But when I finally read it myself, and more importantly read it with not only my children but with as many other children as I could, the reactions this book received were not what I had come to expect they would be.
The story is simple. A bear has lost his hat and asks fellow forest residents if they have seen it. Finally bear realises he himself has seen it somewhere and returns to claim his hat. It is told well (simple here = eloquent, precise, well honed), it will (probably) make you laugh. The illustrations are beautiful, fresh and full of charm. But. But…
This book turns on its dry wit. Dry wit is great for cynical old folks, but it isn’t something I think young kids revel in. An appreciation of wry humour is something that comes later in my experience, and that has certainly been borne out every time I’ve read this book with children.
My experience is that they enjoy the book, but the punch that the adults will enjoy simply hasn’t registered with my audience of 3-7 year olds. They like the story, yep, but don’t “get it” in the same way adults do (and to be honest, not all adults I’ve shown the book to have enjoyed it either – if you’ve a slightly sardonic sense of humour you’ll probably enjoy it, but otherwise….)
M and J didn’t think it was a bad or boring book but didn’t take it particularly to their hearts. Determined to find some kids who would fall in love with it, I took it to several story reading sessions at school. What worked amazingly and surprisingly well was acting out the story. The dialogue in the book is colour coded, and the text is just right for many 6 year olds to read themselves, so before I knew it, my small groups of kids had taken over the storytelling session and I was being the grumpy old bear, whilst they read the different animal parts. This was tremendous fun, but still the ending didn’t grab them as I’d hoped. Several didn’t understand the ending, and those that did reacted very matter of factly to it, as if what happens in the final pages is not at all surprising.
So you see, my review can’t be as glowing as many of the others you might find for I Want My Hat Back (although I’m relieved to see that the Kirkus review hints at the problems I think I’ve encountered with Klassen’s picture book).
Still, do I think you should read it? Absolutely. Am I confident you’ll love it? No, I can’t be. But please do go get a copy from your library, or read a copy in your bookshop and report back to me. I’d love to know what you think of it, and I’d especially love to know what your kids think of it.
Even if the kids haven’t wanted to re-read I Want My Hat Back hundreds of times, they did want to get up to “something crafty” after our first reading and so we set about making hats for the soft toy menagerie that the girls own. I liked the look of this tutorial from Oh Happy Day, but wanted something the girls could do pretty much themselves.
So here’s what we did. M and J draw round saucers on coloured card…
…then cut out their circles.
They put a dot in the middle (or thereabouts) of their circle and draw “a large pizza slice” to cut out.
The pac-man shaped card was turned into a cone, sellotaped shut and then a little bit of elastic was threaded through two holes made by a hole punch.
Hats were decorated with stickers (and lavender sticks!) and then proudly worn by all sorts of sartorially savvy animals.
Whilst we made our hats we listened to:
Instead of making hats like these we could have:
What books have you read where your opinion of them differed from that held by most other readers / reviewers? How did that make you feel?