This Is Not My Hat

by Jon Klassen

So I love this book. Like, the “well, why don’t you marry it?!” kind of love.

I read it in June at the Candlewick Booth at ALA. The people were lining up to meet Gary Ross (Big! The Hunger Games! Seabiscuit, even!) and I was huddled over F and Gs of this book with my friend, Dianne de Las Casas. We giggled and poked and and pointed and just delighted over this thing.

And then in August at the SCBWI Illlustrator’s Intensive, Jon Klassen shared an earlier draft of this book. It had a different title, different characters, but the same charm and an even more wicked sense of humor.

It was like I had run away with the Hope Diamond and the Smithsonian security guards just nodded and let me escape. (Ask me about the time my dad chaperoned the 5th grade field trip and one of the boys smuggled a whoopee cushion into the Natural History museum.)

Anyway. Seeing his process was capital UNREAL.

A fish. A stolen hat. A sleeper. Awakes. A chase. A resolution?

Jon Klassen’s art is both dazzling and understated. This book, like I Want My Hat Back, has a desaturated and limited color palette. But here, the black and white helps tell this stark story.

The gutter separates the white space for the text from the black of the ocean depths. Or on a spread dominated by the deep, the text is bound to a crisp horizontal stripe at the top.

And the characters themselves are quite a different pair. The massive victim fish that quietly exacts revenge contrasts the tiny, hat-stealing, filmflammy fish.

Would the story be as fantastic if their size was more similar or if the colors were not so vastly different?

Knowing Jon Klassen, probably. But do those decisions perfect this book? Absolutely.

Check out this hysterical interview with Jon Klassen over at Travis Jonkers’ blog, 100 Scope Notes. And this post, from the Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog, written by Lolly Robinson. Both of these blogs should take up residence in your mess of bookmarks, by the way! Always smart, always impeccable taste.

And the trailer! Mesmerizing.

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16 thoughts on “This Is Not My Hat

  1. I am crazy in love with this book, too. So awesome. I just shared it with all of my colleagues. When Colleague #1 returned the book, she was laughing her butt off. Colleague #2 walked in my office, eyes wide, and demanded, “Is the fish dead? Where is he in the plants? I can’t see him! I want to find him!” Colleague #3 set the book on my desk and said, with a grim look, “That’s not a very nice book.”

    I was equally pleased with each reaction.

  2. Carter. I just love your brain. You better get to give lots of input on the design of your picture book someday. They would be silly not to let you. I would love to know more about you and this brain of yours, like how long it has been studying this stuff. I think you need to be interviewed for the good of the cause. =)

  3. Carter,
    Nicely done!
    And that trailer IS mesmerizing.
    I thought I might see you at the launch party for this at Skylight, but alas ran into you here instead.
    Got one copy for me and one for a friend who actually has the kids the age of the intended audience. :)

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  5. I got an email from a friend….who was appalled at the choice. Okay for the fish to steal…? and to be chosen for the Caldecott? I only saw a bit of the trailer, it’s cute but I had the same reaction. Who can set me straight so I can tell her why it’s been chosen #1 for kids….or is it cute from the standpoint of a grownup? how to explain to her grandkids that it’s okay to steal?

    • I think of it more as a madcap modern fable, rather than a moral tale.

      And the fish who has stolen the hat doesn’t exactly get away with it in the end after all. Actually there are some pretty dire consequences for that little guy, right? So it’s not really in the grandkids’ best interest to steal after all!

      It’s a tad on the dark side, which I don’t mind at all, and what Jon Klassen does so well is create a storytelling medium that asks the reader to wrestle and ask questions and infer from the pictures just what exactly IS going on?! Since the Caldecott goes to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book, I think one of the things they are recognizing is the marriage of art and text that happens in this book. The big fish doesn’t have a single line of dialog, but his reactions and the tiniest of changes in his eyes, tell his story. With the pictures telling the reader one thing and the narrator telling the reader another, the story is a multi-sensory experience, one totally unique to picture books. I heard Marla Frazee (another Caldecott winner!) say once that kids are experts at reading pictures, and I think that is one of my favorite things about this book.

      But also…art is definitely subjective, and what one person or committee’s taste is might vary widely from another’s. And isn’t that kind of awesome, too?

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