Satoshi Kitamura is an illustrator and author we first fell in love with when we came across Igor, the bird who couldn’t sing. One of Kitamura’s most recent books is Millie’s Marvellous Hat and a marvellous book it is indeed.
One day, walking home from school, Millie falls in love with a hat she sees in a milliner’s window. She goes inside and asks to try it on. It suits her perfectly but unfortunately it is also very expensive. When Millie asks if there is something a little cheaper (in fact it transpires that her purse is empty) the shopkeeper is initially a little bemused. But he gives the situation some thought and comes up with an exciting solution: inside the hat box he brings from the back of the shop is a hat that can transform itself into anything Millie wishes (some people looking at the illustrations in this book for the first time may say that the hat box is in fact empty – just like Millie’s purse – but they would be very much mistaken…)
As Millie continues her journey home she is inspired to change the form of her hat several times. Passing a shop display of some delicious looking cakes Millie turns her hat into the most splendid looking cake hat and then into a vase bursting with flowers as she passes the florist. Suddenly Millie sees she is not the only one with a special hat. In fact, everyone around her has their own magic hat, for example a girl carrying a cello case on her back has a metronome hat, a cat has a dustbin hat, whilst a pregnant woman has a hat in the shape of a kangeroo with a joey in its pouch.
When Millie finally arrives home her mum, initially, doesn’t “see” Millie’s Marvellous hat, but she soon realises her mistake and wishes she had one too. As the book draws to a close we can see her wish has come true as Millie and her family sit down for supper each with their own magical, marvellous hat.
This inventive story picks up on several themes which reoccur in Kitamura’s stories; the power of imagination, the boundlessness of individual creativity, the importance of understanding and relishing the fact that we are all unique in some way and that there is place for us all in the world. The distinctive illustrations are a delight to pore over, always beautiful and often witty. This is simply a gorgeous book to look at and an inspiring, reassuring story to return to often. Apparently Kitamura is already working on a second Millie story and we can’t wait to read it!
The first thing we did when we’d finished reading Millie’s Marvellous Hat for the first time was to make some hats of our own; a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” hat out of paper (like this, with added feathers), then an “Astronaut” hat (using our junk modelling supplies, in this case a plastic box, some empty yoghurt pots, silver foil and pipecleaners), and finally, with some help from Dad a pair of “Flower Vase” hats with a bunch of artificial flowers and some discounted easter bonnets from the pound store.
Later in the day we rummaged through our dressing-up box and pulled out all the hats we could find. As we didn’t have anything that worked well as hat stands we turned the garden into a milliner’s shop, pegging the hats on the line.
Later in the week (or to put it another way, 38 readings of Millie’s Marvellous Hat later) we paid a visit to the hat section of our local department store, where we felt very under-dressed and under-age (the staff and other shoppers were all at least in their 60s and very much of the pearls and twin-set brigade). We didn’t dare take any photos but both girls and I enjoyed trying out VERY wide brimmed hats and lots of sparkly fascinators and I did my best to explain to M about the hats worn on Ladies Day at Ascot…
Millie’s Marvellous Hat:
We’ve been listening to Top Hat, White Tie and Tails by Irving Berlin, sung by Fred Astaire (other hat songs can be found here) and next time we feel like doing something hatty I think the girls would enjoy these dinosaur hats and in a year or two’s time learning these magic tricks (especially having enjoyed Pixar’s Presto so much).