Thursday, February 21, 2013

THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen

This is Not My Hat 
by Jon Klassen

Reading level: 3 and up
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press (October 9, 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-0763655990

I first encountered this book while doing some browsing at shop at The Eric Carle Picture Book Museum this past fall, and was instantly charmed by the ingenuity of its design and storytelling smartness. Though Jon Klassen's preceding book, I Want My Hat Back, is also funny/smart in a strikingly similar fashion, This is Not My Hat far outshines its predecessor in design, concept, and attitude. It's Jon Klassen 2.0. Here's why:

In I Want My Hat Back, the hat thief is a mystery for most of the story and the hat-hunting Bear the innocent victim. But This is Not My Hat is told from the point of view of the hat thief himself---a little fish with a BIG attitude. Self-assured and cocky, Little Fish justifies his immoral swiping of Big Fish's hat for the logical reason that it's far too small for the big fish anyway. He's certain that he's committed the perfect crime and will never be found out... 

Each sentence (few as there are) does exactly what it needs to do in pushing the story along. But where the simplistic and restrained writing truly soars is that he is able to give Little Fish such a snarky voice in so few words. The beauty of the writing is that Klassen says what should be said, and shows what should be shown. It results in one of the best rhythmically syncopated picture books to emerge in recent memory. It's picture book mastery at its best.

Stylistically the images are a bit dark for my personal taste--I'm not a huge fan of the muted color palette or flat back background. The flat black basically says "death" from page one and I just don't know if this was the only solution that could have worked. However I do love the texture and traditional collage-like feel achieved with digital media. Regardless of how I feel about this look, I give Klassen credit for being daring and for appropriately setting the tone of this darkly comic caper. It would not have worked as well if it were set in a typically colored ocean scene. The dark, muted colors definitely enhance the ominous atmosphere.

I love the flat matte paper Candlewick has chosen as well as the long shape of the pages. Klassen uses the page turn like a slow motion flip book where at times nothing differs from one image to the next besides the reactive eye of the big fish and an occasional gesture of secondary character. This makes it feel especially animated and demonstrates an enviable efficiency that many illustrators could learn from. It's super smart.

I reiterate that what Jon Klassen has done with the storytelling here is admirable. He's created the perfect marriage of text and image where both serve the story in the best possible combination.

Winning the Caldecott Medal proves many people acknowledge its merit as a significant contribution to children's literature. But I'm surprised by those who who jump to give it a poor review simply because its main character is an unapologetic criminal. They've missed their chance to read between the lines (kids are often better at that than adults). At its heart, this IS a morality tale. It doesn't encourage stealing, it supports the idea that doing the wrong thing just because you can is still wrong---and there will be inescapable consequences. Little Fish is not a bully, he just takes what he wants because he thinks it won't be missed. To me, it reminds me of the very same little-kid logic I myself once had--even if I ultimately never indulged myself into thieving anything... In a humorous, smart, and engaging way this book speaks to kids because it relates to the way they think. The harsh reminder about consequences of immoral actions is also a good one, for kids and adults alike.


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