Our family is, I believe, somewhat late to the Jon Klassen party. We first happened upon him as the illustrator for the wholly fabulous and not to be missed picture book, Extra Yarn by author Mac Barnett. Both Mariam and I immediately found ourselves completely taken in by Klassen's quirky and incredibly clever illustrations, so when we came upon I Want My Hat Back, a title both written and illustrated by Klassen, it only made sense to get our hands on a copy right away. I Want My Hat Back appears to be a simple book about a bear looking for a lost hat. But for readers with an eye for detail and a mind for finding the story within the story, this book makes for a very fun read indeed. I did not intend for that last sentence to rhyme, but let's go with it.
There are at least a dozen reasons to thoroughly enjoy I Want My Hat Back, but perhaps foremost among them is the fact that the book works so well on so many levels. The smallest of the small can just enjoy the animals parading by with each turn of the page, while slightly older readers will begin to pick up on some of the hints that Klassen drops about just where this story is headed. And, the more astute kid readers (and their associated grown-ups) will get a good chuckle out of the fact that the story boasts a suprise ending that demonstrates a slightly wicked sense of humor. Mariam was both mock-horrified and unable to stop giggling at the final moments of the story. "Wait!" she said, "He didn't eat the rabbit did he? No. He didn't. Oh, I think he did. That bear ate the rabbit!"
Which brings me to another reason why this book landed itself on our list of favorites for this year: it is one of those rare picture books where the words and images work together seamlessly in telling the story. The dialogue between the animals is that much more clever and humorous because of the wry expressions on the animal faces gracing the pages, and in return, those expressions give the dialogue an entirely different meaning than it might otherwise have. This book doesn't feel written, or even drawn, it feels like a three-dimensional creation and I love that it manages to be multi-layered, even though it is still short enough to be a super quick read on those nights when you are behind schedule on bedtime. Like in Extra Yarn, Klassen's unique illustration style makes the book a visual joy and the fact that the pictures here are expressive enough to change the meaning of the story altogether only gives further evidence that more than just an illustrator, Klassen is very much an artist.