This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

'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.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

'There was once a little gardener and his garden meant everything to him. He worked hard, very hard, but he was just too little (or at least he felt he was).'

If, like me, you spend a good deal of time wondering what it might be like to be shorter than a blade of grass, Emily Hughes' ‘The Little Gardener’ is a very gratifying read. The story follows a gardener who is, as the name suggests, very little. Alone but for the company of an adorable pet worm, the Little Gardener has a pretty tough time getting his garden to grow. Gardening is difficult enough for a semi-adult human, so imagine how hard it must be when your hands are so small that you can pet an earth worm as if it were a dog. One day, a single flower is enough to inspire an act of kindness that ultimately changes the Little Gardener's circumstances. Without giving too much away, in the end he gets a badass garden and you get left with a warm feeling in your heart space.

Emily Hugh’s illustrations are decorative and full of detail. Even the illustrations that depict a dying garden have an eerie beauty to them. She employs what looks to be a combination of graphite, pastel, watercolour and digital illustration. Lush drawings feather out to a clean white edge with the text placed below; a layout reminiscent of more traditional picture book designs like 'Orlando the Marmalade Cat'.

Emily Hughes has some other super cool stories out including ‘Wild’ and ‘A Brave Bear', both well worth a read.

Buy it? I already did...

Flying Eye Books, 2015. New paperback edition now available from Ekor Book Shop Cafe.

SHACKLETON’S JOURNEY BY WILLIAM GRILL

'The epic true story of how Shackleton and his crew managed to survive crossing the frozen heart of Antarctica, a testament to their great courage and endurance'.

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill has a big golden award medal stamped on the front of it - so I knew from the outset that it was probably going to be a solid pick. Make sure you have clean hands because the cover of this thing is super white.

Shackleton’s Journey is a potent addition to the increasing number of contemporary picture books that straddle the genres of both fiction and non-fiction. Combining fact-based storytelling with beautifully stylized illustrations, Shackleton’s Journey reads like a classic (yet suspiciously informative) adventure story.

The pages jump between lush double page spreads, comic book-like paneling, and something that more closely resembles infographic design than classical illustration. The drawing style is imaginative and endearingly simplistic. At times it verges on pure abstraction - perfect for depicting the surreal landscapes of the South Pole.

For any adult who doesn’t want to read a dense novel chronicling Shackleton's every move – you’ve got a wonderfully easy-to-digest and visually compelling read in Shackleton’s Journey. It will also look slick af on your coffee table.

Meanwhile, Shackleton’s Journey will fool younger readers into thinking that they are reading something resembling an epic adventure comic. In reality, they have been tricked into learning a bunch of facts about a real explorer. Pretty ideal really. I’d say kiddos around the age of 8+ will enjoy it.

Go buy it? Yep.    

Flying Eye Books, 2014. Available now from Ekor Book Shop Cafe.