I spend a lot of time reading to my daughter. It’s one of our favorite pastimes. But despite the dozens of books we have on hand at any given moment, Audrey has her favorites. And those favorites, well, she makes me read them over, and over…
And over again.
It can get to be tiresome. And as a result, I have learned to be a bit critical with their content, ranking them on the following parent-centric criteria:
- How fun is it to read?
- What is the quality of the artwork?
- How high is the reading level?
If a book scores highly in all three, I’m much more likely to indulge Audrey’s book reading whims and drive a particular book into the ground. So with that in mind, let’s search high and low through Jon Klassen’s “I Want My Hat Back” and see what we find.
How Fun is It to Read?
It’s a lot of fun. That’s because “I Want My Hat Back” is funny. Real funny! I know there aren’t a lot of picture books that adults would consider humorous, but this one is the exception.
The book’s premise is simple: A bear has lost his beloved hat and begins asking the other forest creatures if they have seen it. One of the animals he questions—a low down, no good rabbit—is the culprit, of course, but the bear doesn’t realize it until much later, with humorous results.
Despite the book’s repetitious nature—the bear interviewing animal after animal, for example—the humor keeps the level of fun high here. The laughs stem from the varied responses of the other animals—such as one that doesn’t even know what a hat is—and the bear’s polite handling of them.
The defensive reply of the guilty rabbit is also a highlight, which is paralleled in the book’s surprise conclusion.
You will laugh at this book. I promise! And while I will admit that Audrey doesn’t find the text in and of itself funny, she does laugh time and time again thanks to the book’s true highlight: the artwork.
What is the Quality of the Artwork?
I love Jon Klassen’s art. I first encountered it at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum and immediately found it to be beautiful and charming in its simplicity. Not unlike “South Park”—although designed for distinctly different tastes, of course—Klassen derives a lot of humor from the simple nature of his art, mostly through the eyes of the characters:
And a bold use of color:
Audrey and I laugh every time those two pages appear. I don’t need to prompt her either. She finds it funny on its own, and that is something that does NOT happen with any of her other books. Other books may showcase artwork that is more technically proficient too, but that doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t elicit an emotional response. I’m happy to say that this book does.
How High is the Reading Level?
If there is a place this book falters, it’s here. There’s nothing complicated or advanced about the text in “I Want My Hat Back”. The sentences are short, straightforward, and comprised of text that won’t give you pause. But to stop there sells this book short, because the true joy of the text is in the delivery. It’s there that the true sophistication of the book’s text shines through.
The aforementioned defensive reply of the rabbit is a good example. Odds are a 2-year-old doesn’t know much about being defensive. I have certainly never heard my daughter adopt that tone and way of speaking, and I doubt she really understands why I read that section in that manner. But that’s exactly why I give this book a commendable score for this category despite its brief and basic text. Its ability to easily convey emotions more complex than happy, mad, and sad is a rare one and I give it high marks as a result.
I had to return “I Want My Hat Back” to the library yesterday and I am missing it already. In fact, I went straight to the “K” section to see if I could find another from Mr. Klassen. I didn’t find one, but that won’t stop me from trying again next time. To say I am a big fan of his work is an understatement. It’s simply a joy to read and a joy to look at. And that combination doesn’t come around as often as you might think. Highly recommended.