Thursday, 22 May 2014

This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen

I love Jon Klassen’s first ‘hat’ book, I Want My Hat Back, the simple tale of a bear who is trying to track down his lost headwear. The bear is so sweet (‘I love my hat,’ he tells us), yet edgy too (check out the ending), while the subtlety of the story and the way it’s told is pure genius - and it never ceases to be funny. Honestly, no matter how many times I read I Want My Hat Back (and that’s a lot), I always laugh.

For This Is Not My Hat, Klassen has taken all the same elements from the first book, refined them, boiled them down and simplified them even further, creating a book that is just as tongue-in-cheek, funny and clever as the first, and with a similar concept to I Want My Hat Back and yet simultaneously entirely different.

Little Fish has, ahem, stolen a hat. The Big Fish he took it from was asleep at the time, and Little Fish is pretty sure Big Fish won’t notice, but just to be on the safe side, he’s going to go over here and hide in these big tall reeds where he’s sure nobody will find him...

The brilliance of this book, for me, lies in the characterization: Big Fish through the drawings; Little Fish through his words. Only Little Fish speaks, but the fabulous illustrations let you know exactly what Big Fish is thinking – all through, pretty much, just Big Fish’s single visible eye.

It’s just… well, brilliant. How Klassen creates so much character in such a simple way is really extraordinary. Not a lot actually happens in the pictures – it’s mostly just black water, a fish, and some plants – and yet it conveys so much all at the same time. This is combined with Little Fish’s words, which tell a story slightly contradictory to the pictures: ‘He probably won’t wake up for a long time,’ says Little Fish above a picture of Big Fish who is very much awake.

The silence at the end of the story – which tells you all you need to know – perfectly reflects the fact that pictures often speak louder than words, and that when it comes to telling stories, less if often more, something that Klassen clearly understands well. This wonderful ability is reflected by a rare double nomination for the 2014 Kate Greenaway Medal: This Is Not My Hat along with The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket but illustrated by Jon Klassen. I like the work that Klassen has done with other writers, but the techniques he applies to his own stories are exemplary, showing his wit and understanding of the world and how people think.

This Is Not My Hat is succinct, clever, funny and immensely enjoyable no matter how many times you read it, a picture book that is as much for adults as it is for children. My (metaphorical) vote is cast.

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