Friday, 18 May 2012

A review of "I Want My Hat Back" by Jon Klassen

Hi Folks in the Smoke,
   The first solo venture from animator and illustrator Jon Klassen was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2011, and it features a depressed bear. The bear has lost a beloved hat and is wandering around forlornly asking a variety of creatures if they've seen it.

   Each encounter is depicted on a left-hand page, against a sepia-coloured background. The dialogue text appears on the white right-hand page. The text is colour-coded to the colour of each beast which is a nice touch.
   They all reply that they haven't seen it. However, the rabbit protests a little too much and is sporting some fetching headgear. The rabbit makes a speedy and garbled declaration of innocence - "I would not steal a hat". The bear takes each reply for granted and shuffles along.

   Only when a therapist-style deer asks what the hat looks like does our slow protagonist finally catch up with the plot. The next spread shows the character and background bathed in a raging red mist, with larger sized text to accompany the epiphany.
   Steps are retraced, passing by all the other characters on a beautifully stark double page spread. Two double pages spreads follow - one with an accusation and another with a silent, staring competition. Finally, we see the bear wearing the hat but the rabbit is nowhere to be seen.

    The story concludes with a squirrel asking after the rabbit's whereabouts, only to be answered with a mirror of the rabbit's earlier rant of innocence - "I would not eat a rabbit". Indeed.

    The dialogue has a morose, Eeyore tone, which matches the personalities and the colour palette. Klassen's minimalist, empty spreads and beautifully angular and stylish animals give this book a wonderfully retro feel. Combined with the lovely end papers and the richly textured paper, this feels like a classic read from 30 years ago - in the best possible way. I'm looking forward to his follow-up "This Is Not My Hat" due later this year.

    Thanks for reading,

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