Way way back when, in the days before either of my girls were even a twinkle on the horizon, I was sat in my office when a dear friend and colleague came back from a lunchtime shopping expedition:
“Look, look at this book!”, she said. “I’ve just bought it for L’s second birthday!”
She handed it over, and together we turned the pages, giggled a little, and then came to the denouement. I stared, she chuckled and as I lifted my eyes from the page I could only speak the one thought running through my brain:
“Is it supposed to be a children’s book? Are you sure it’s not a spoof?”
“No, no”, she assured me, “it’s from the children’s section. It’s an actual genuine children’s book!”
“But the bunny ….!”
And that was how I came to be introduced to I Want My Hat Back.
It turned out that L, the small son of a mutual friend, absolutely adored it, and so when our time came we duly added it to Kitty’s library. She loved it too, and so do I to be honest.
It taps in to the kind of children’s story telling that peppers the original Grimms fairy tales, in which baddies are dispatched at the earliest opportunity, with none of the messages of forgiveness and redemption brought into play by their subsequent Disneyfication. Bear has lost his hat, and he wants it back. A wrong has been done and that wrong is righted, albeit with what to an adult sensibility might be a bit of overkill. I suspect that to a toddler, with such a clear black and white view of the world, and none of those confusing grey areas, it’s a straightforward conclusion (I nearly said shades of grey but that would just be too many puns in one paragraph!). And yet it’s subtle, it doesn’t spell out precisely what happens, it’s up to the reader to make that leap, and be in on the joke.
The darkness in the humour is mirrored in the illustrations too. They aren’t all brightness, sweetness and light, but sepia tinged, the colours of a woodland at dusk, with only Bear’s bright red hat standing out against the gloaming. And they convey the story beautifully; the figures are detailed, but the background is simple, and Jon Klassen never uses words if he doesn’t have to, something I adore in children’s books for Kitty’s age group (Penguin being another great example).
It’s not all dark humour either; each of the animals along the way has a real and distinct personality, from the tortoise who has spent all day trying to climb a rock, to the aardvark who asks “what is a hat” (always in the broadest West Country accents in our house).
It’s a perfect book for curling up with Kitty, and while it’s not exactly aimed at Elma’s age group, and I’m certain that most of the story goes flying past her, but she loves the pictures, and the funny voices that we do for each of the animals,
and the chance to attack the snake with my hairbrush obviously!
It’s the start of a new year so we have a new What We’re Reading badge, a new bundle of Christmas presents to talk about as the year goes through, and still just that little bit more space on the bookcase. I really hope that you’ll come and share your favourites here; each linky will stay open for a week so there’s plenty of time to join in. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you. I’ve told you what we are reading, now tell me what we should be reading!