…and this is not a sequel to I Want My Hat Back, although the parallels are striking, especially as both books are hat-centric larks drenched in the dry humour and exquisite art of Jon Klassen. Not since Andy Warhol walked through the canned goods aisle has an artist squeezed so much out of a single object. Yes, every artist needs his muse, and Jon Klassen has found his in headgear. I’m being facetious of course; neither book is about the hat, per se…it could have been something else entirely. Nevertheless, it is the incongruity of such an object in an unlikely setting, on an unlikely head, and in particular, the lengths animals (and fish) will go to find, keep, steal, and display such a prized possession that makes a hat the perfect muse for Jon Klassen. This is Not My Hat does not begin where I Want My Hat Back ends, but it is an alternative expression of a similar concept.
Fish, meet hat.
In This Is Not My Hat, a tiny fish tells the reader on the first page that he is a thief. The blue bowler hat on his head belongs to a much bigger fish. The little fish is boasting. He believes he has gotten away with it because he is clever and the big fish was asleep and won’t notice his hat is missing. Also, the little fish is headed to a place where ‘the plants grow big and tall and close together.’ A perfect hiding spot, in other words. However, as we learned in I Want My Hat Back, thievery will not go unanswered. Poor little fish, so confident, so guileless, and ever so fetching in his feloniously acquired hat.
Like the spray of bubbles trailing the fish, the story swims along quickly, with most of the narrative revealed not in words but in the forward momentum of the little fish and the shifting (and shifty) eyes of the big fish, hot in pursuit. Through minimal illustrative detail and a precisely timed application of wit, Klassen has carved out a unique place in children’s literature. There is no one like him. The style of his illustrations in This Is Not My Hat, and other books such as House Held Up By Trees have a flat, retro feel, with colours (in the fish and plants) evoking the autumnal paintings of Andrew Wyeth. This is an unusual choice for a story set in an ocean environment, but the subdued earth-tones work beautifully, especially against the black background. In this sense it is the opposite of I Want My Hat Back where characters loom and impose on the vertical white space. Life in dark water may be different, but it is equally expressive and just as determined to right a perceived wrong. Pay attention to the crab. The bug-eyed crustacean watching incredulously as the drama unfolds is more than just a pretty face
In Jon Klassen’s world, there are no innocents.
Where did this guy come from, other than Niagara Falls, Ontario? In a few short years Jon Klassen has established himself as one of the top illustrators in the world, and certainly one of the most original writers, appealing to readers of all ages. Even his Twitter feed (@burstofbeaden) reads like one of his books: quietly observant and ever so slightly askew. Sometimes a lot askew. After studying at Sheridan College in Toronto, Klassen moved to California in 2005 to pursue a career in animation, working as an illustrator on projects such as Neil Gaiman’s film Coraline. In 2010, he won Canada’s highest illustration honour, the Governor General’s Award for Cat’s Night Out (Caroline Stutson) and in 2011, I Want My Hat Back was the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. Finding his niche between 32 pages, Klassen has been creating perfectly funny, and perfectly beautiful picture books ever since.
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick Press, October, 2012.
Watch the awesome trailer for This Is Not My Hat here.