'A small fish has stolen a hat from a big sleeping fish, and boasts about how easy it will be for him to get away with the theft, because the big fish will not wake up any time soon...except it does.'
Why don’t you own this book yet? ‘This Is Not My Hat’ and the other books of what I am going to collectively refer to as Jon Klassen's 'Hat Trilogy’, deserve to be on every decent bookshelf. It was very hard to choose whether to write about ‘I Want My Hat Back’ (2011), ‘This Is Not My Hat’ (2012) or ‘We Found A Hat’ (2016). They are all perfect and all three are currently gracing my book shelf at home. Damn bookshelf you lookin’ fine.
There is a dark edge to every tale in the 'Hat Trilogy'. Acts of revenge or deceit are subtly implied, rather than shown - something that is not lost on younger readers. In 'This Is Not My Hat' we see the small fish enter some dense foliage with his stolen hat on. The bigger fish follows, then emerges again wearing the very same hat with a look of quiet triumph. The small fish is not seen again. I’ve witnessed a child cackling with maniacal satisfaction upon calculating what has probably just transpired - the untimely end of a small, hat-thieving fish.
As a picture book illustrator, there is often the temptation to cram as much variation and detail as possible into any given spread - you only have so many pages with which to tell your story after all. Klassen however, takes an effective minimalist approach to composition and visual storytelling. The reader is shown only what is absolutely essential for understanding the key points of the story and attitudes of each character. He plays with visual repetition too. The difference between two full spreads might be as simple as the eye of a giant fish, narrowing in suspicion as he realises who has taken his hat. In the hands of a lesser illustrators, this technique could be a catastrophic waste of prime story-telling real estate - not so with Jon Klassen.
Stylistically, Jon Klassen's work has always made me think back to 'Mr Gumpy’s Outing' (John Burningham, 1970). The restrained palette and use of texture is beautiful. Each character is ludicrously endearing. I'm on the brink of sending Klassen fan mail at this point.
Buy it? Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your friends. Buy it for your cat.
Candlewick Press, 2012. Paperback edition now available at Ekor Book Shop Cafe.