This is not My Hat cover
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

This is Not My Hat

written and illustrated by Jon Klassen

In Klassen’s brilliant I Want My Hat Back (BCCB 11/11), a large and disgruntled bear searches for his hat, stolen from him by an unrepentant rabbit. Here Klassen flips the storyline and presents a thief’s-eye view of a hat theft, as the tiny fish narrator confides on the opening pages, “This is not my hat. I just stole it.” He goes on to explain that he purloined it from a much bigger fish who was asleep, then proceeds to helpfully describe where he’s now headed (“I am going where the plants grow big and tall and close together”) and why he took it: “I know it does not belong to me. But I am going to keep it. It was too small for him anyway. It fits me just right.”

What the tiny fish doesn’t know (and what Klassen cleverly portrays through the illustrations) is that the bigger fish has awakened, has overheard the little fish’s narration, and is now after him. As the tiny fish thief heads into the thicket of plants, the larger fish silently tails him. While the little bowler bandit confidently claims from offstage, “Nobody will ever find me,” the larger fish is shown slipping into the plants as well. A page turn reveals . . . nothing but the thickly growing plants. What’s going on in there? The following spread shows only the tail of the larger fish as he heads out of the plants and off the page, but the final spread presents the satisfying answer as the big fish is now soundly asleep with the minuscule hat perched atop his giant head and the tiny fish nowhere to be seen.

This is picture-book storytelling at its best, as Klassen’s minimalist illustrations, rendered digitally and in Chinese ink, are not only gorgeous but also absolutely integral to the understanding of the story’s plot. There’s a hint of Leo Lionni’s art in Klassen’s illustrations, as the splotchy gray-brown fish float in an inky matte black sea sprinkled with Matisse-like water plants in pale neutral tones. The hat—a tiny derby in the palest of blues—and a wide-eyed crab in muted reds provide some notes of color, and spatters of white bubbles accent each fish. Subtle details add drama and humor, with the larger fish’s increasing umbrage adroitly depicted through the simple but highly effective change of his eye shape from circle to narrowed oval; the crab is not only witness but informant, mutely pointing a claw in the direction taken by the hat thief. Page layout effectively paces the story: wide full spreads that make the most of the book’s long rectangular trim size and sport the text in surtitles above the visuals are interspersed with more staccato spreads of art opposite text page; the climactic events speed into a suspenseful glide in a sequence of textless full spreads.

The naughty fish thief and his comeuppance, the stunning pictures, and the thrill of knowing more than the narrator will make this appealing to kids of a wide range of ages and interests. The book is also remarkably useful, as the text-picture relationship (and textually unexplained disappearance of the tiny fish) is perfect for teaching about inference, while the tightly focused art, simple vocabulary, and short sentences printed in large type make this perfect for novice readers as well. This is, quite simply, an outstanding book—and that ain’t no fish tale.

--Jeannette Hulick, Reviewer

Thi is Not My Hat cover

Cover image from This is Not My Hat ©2012 by Jon Klassen and used by permission of Candlewick Press.

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This page was last updated on November 1, 2012.