Simple text, twisted humor, deadpan expressions and sublime illustrations, the cover of Jon Klassen's recently released picture book won me over before I even cracked the spine. Half way into it, I was completely infatuated. Oh yeah, and the kids were pretty nuts about it, too. A bear has lost his beloved hat. He walks around politely questioning a variety of woodland creatures whether or not they've seen it. Apparently no one has seen his hat, although a rabbit (who happens to be sporting a red, pointy cap) appears suspiciously on edge regarding his inquiries. When deer happens upon bear lying on the ground, crestfallen and dejected, he asks bear what his hat looks like. As bear begins to describe his hat, "It's red and pointy and," he sits up at attention, the page turns red, and his eyes widen as it dawns on him: "I HAVE SEEN MY HAT."
By the end of the book bear sits among a tangle of broken twigs and grasses, reunited with his hat. And a squirrel asks him, "Have you seen a rabbit wearing a hat?" I don't want to give away too much, but for the sake of those with pet rabbits, it's understood the bear has devoured the unscrupulous bunny.
Klassen's I Want My Hat Back is a rare picture book that makes restrained, subtle humor approachable for little kids, with all the comedy and emotion conveyed in simple dialogue and subtle eye movements. His muted palette and sparse Chinese ink illustrations have an effortless charm about them, like a perfectly buttered slice of toast.
If only there were more wonderfully weird, darkly humorous, and beautifully inked picture books in the world.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, $8.79
(Interior Images: I WANT MY HAT BACK. Copyright © 2011 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. Photos: Ben Partridge)