- Craig Graziano
"This hat is not mine. I just stole it."
This is Not My Hat invites us into the mind of a tiny fish who cares nothing for his underwater brethren. The fish offers many reasons why he will succeed in his crime, why he deserves the hat over the much bigger fish he snatched it from. Obviously, we are dealing with a sociopath here.
The hat fits him better. Its original owner was sleeping and will not know who took it. Overconfidence is our narrator's fatal flaw as he swims to the tall grass that will hide him, securing his success.
Klassen's book is a follow-up to I Want My Hat Back, his 2011 effort where a bear used his powers of deduction to find his stolen hat at any cost. I loved that book quite a bit. It was dryly funny with a underlying sense of darkness. The perfect blend of humor and swift justice.
This book is similar, but by providing the perspective of the thief, it connects us to an unreliable narrator who is persuaded by his own delusions of grandeur. Like Poe's narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart, he lets us know every detail of his crime, in hopes that we will relate to him rather than the big fish.
"There is somone who saw me already. But he said he wouldn't tell anyone which way I went."
There lies our antihero's tragic mistake. So he lies to us and to himself because the alternative would be giving up in hatless despair.
The humor is in the details, such as when the large fish awakens. There are several page spreads dedicated to the wronged creature discovering that his hat is gone and that someone probably took it, despite our tiny friend's assurances that he would not figure this out.
Klassen makes a decision to not have his text interact with his images. It is the right choice to make. His visual world recreates nature's delicate balance of life. I applaud his preference in making the background of his underwater setting pitch black, as it would be at the bottom of a lake or ocean. It is no wonder that Klassen won the Caldecott Medal this year for the book's pictures, for its visual style is daring and distinctive compared to the hyper-colorful, over-caffeinated frenzy of so many picture books.
Klassen's works are must-reads. They are understated little miracles, like nature documentaries with an interior monologue, deceit... and hats. Never forget the hats.