I Want My Hat Back by Governor General Award Winner Jon Klassen is my favourite book of the year. Yes, there are still three months left in 2011, and yes, I have lost my heart to several wonderful books in the last nine months, but I stand by by my statement. A book about a bear looking for his lost hat, with simple yet breathtakingly lovely illustrations, and even simpler (but hilarious) text is a perfect creation. And I kinda knew it would be just from the cover. Some books, like some people, have a charisma that precedes them. Maybe it’s the bear, who looks like a beaver, all alone on the cover, with a slightly accusatory expression on his face. Bears already hold an esteemed place in children’s literature. Who doesn’t love Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle, or the perpetually troubled Berenstains? We may fear bears in the woods, but in picture books, a bear is a slam dunk, and in I Want My Hat Back, the bear is a star in the making.
It’s sheer coincidence that two back to back posts are picture book biographies of the early lives of famous people. Last week, it was Jane Goodall. This week, it’s Dr Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel. It’s fascinating to look back at a childhood and pluck out the experiences that in hindsight are the set pieces for an extraordinary life. This could be said of any life, famous or otherwise, but with someone like Dr Seuss, whose stories and illustrations are so idiosyncratic, so recognizably Seuss, it’s downright thrilling. In The Boy On Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss, Kathleen Krull does a masterful job of distilling the formative experiences of the great man’s early life. Interestingly, the pictures accompanying the story are not by Seuss but by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, the husband and wife super duo responsible for some of the most beautiful picture books of all time (in my opinion), including Peach & Blue, a 32 Pages favourite. It’s a coalition of amazing talent, and even if you don’t know a Who from a Sneetch, The Boy on Fairfield Street is a witty and moving account of growing up odd in a factory-issue world.