|Would you deny this bear his hat?|
A simple enough story. But read between the lines, and you will discover a book which can be appreciated as a funny read-a-loud or a sly peak through the fourth wall. I Want My Hat Back, the first picture book to have been both written and illustrated by the supremely gifted Jon Klassen, is a dead-pan pantomime starring an unlikely cast of woodland creatures. Like Pirandello's six characters in search of an author, they seem to have stumbled into a story by accident. One of them has stolen Bear's hat. One of them does not even know what a hat is. One is stuck behind a rock. Little dramas; big laughs.
It all starts with the cover. Klassen has stated that his first idea for this book was, in fact, an image in his mind for a cover. (You can read more of his insights in the Q&A at the end of this post.) Just look at that bear--he's on a mission! Focused and determined, he wants his hat back, and readers should be in no doubt as to whether or not he will find it (and woe to the one who stole it!) But once the story begins, and the bear proceeds to ask of each character his simple, unfailingly polite question--"Have you seen my hat?"--the negatives begin to pile up. Yet the bear's ignorance is the reader's bliss, because the thief of the hat is immediately evident. Once discovered, it is just a matter of giggling at each misstep until the bear finally realizes his error and does, indeed, find his hat. It is a storytelling technique which works remarkably well.
Klassen's previous experience with video (he did design work on a BAFTA nominated ad for the BBC, the film Coraline, and the video for U2's I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight,) is evident in the theatricality of the book. In some ways, the action of the story is a direct result of the reader's perspective. The reader sees what happens, but needs to provide the context. There is no back story, no motivation, other than the intensity of the bear's desire to get his hat back. It is a sentiment to which children can instantly relate. And because they can see the hat before the bear does, you can be sure that holding this book up during either a storytime or a one-on-one reading will elicit cries of, "There it is! It's behind you!" Not to mention, plenty of scope for trying on a multitude of voices. Storytime as reader's theater!
The book weighs in at an economical 253 words, but the images speak volumes. With visual laughs for the kids, and a touch of black humor for adults, I Want My Hat Back is a cross-generational hit.
As part of this blog tour, author and illustrator Jon Klassen kindly took some time to answer a few questions.
NJFK: In creating this book, did you have an image first or the story? Did you enjoy the freedom of creating both, rather than working from a story written by someone else?
JK: I had the idea for the cover first, but not the character or the story for a little while. Just the title, and somebody not wearing a hat. I did enjoy working on both the writing and the pictures, though I was nervous about it, because I don't usually write things. There are less ways to hide in writing than there are in illustration. But when it became just dialogue, I got more comfortable because it's less formal.
I was also glad to work on something very simple. When you get something from someone else, it's often harder to make it simple.
NJFK: Despite the fact that little seems to happen in the story, there is a sense of theatricality because of the perspective of the audience. Reading the book reminded me of watching a pantomime (“He’s behind you!”) Did your experience of working with film and video influence the creation of this book in any way?
JK: Yes! I'm glad you noticed that. Because I was nervous about the writing, and also because I like drawing characters that aren't doing very much, I wanted to try and make it seem as though it was a badly rehearsed play with animals who were sort of brought in for the day to read these lines. That's why they are looking at the audience instead of each other, which is how the bear misses seeing the hat early on. Later, once he's found out what has happened, it's like the bear forgets he's in a play and gets as mad as he would if this had happened to him in real life and goes and does what a bear would do.
I think the way the end is done is a little more like a storyboard from a film instead of maybe how a book would be. It's hard to stop thinking about stories that way if you've been doing it for a while.
|Author and illustrator Jon Klassen|
NJFK: How is a book created both digitally and in Chinese ink? One process seems modern and the other traditional.
JK: Those two things are how I like to work best. I like working with traditional mediums at first, to give a looseness to things, and then bring what's been done into the computer to work over it and tighten it up. It's nice because you can make all sorts of mistakes and experiments with the traditional materials and know you still have that last stage to use whatever you're doing. In this case all the characters and plants were done in silhouette with chinese ink on paper, and then scanned in and the color and smaller details, like eyes and other features, were added digitally.
NJFK: Will there be a sequel involving a blue, round hat, by any chance?
JK: There might be a blue hat, though I'm pretty happy with the shape of the red one. I might keep it pointy like that.
NJFK: And finally, I have to ask--what was it like working with U2?!
JK: Well I didn't get to meet them or anything. David O'Reilly, the director, got to meet them afterward because he was working from Europe and they came through, and it really was David's video. But it was still pretty surreal sending them illustrations and getting approval and stuff. It was such a small production, it was weird knowing it was for this huge band that we'd all grown up with. They liked the video though! They even let us make the cover for the single afterward!
A big thank you to Jon Klassen for the interview, and to Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of the book. Be sure to visit the other stops on the (global!) tour for more interviews with Klassen:
Tuesday, Sept. 20 – UK: Playing by the Book
Wednesday, Sept. 21 - AUS: Kids' Book Capers
Thursday, Sept. 22 - US: Not Just for Kids
Friday, Sept. 23 – UK: Bringing Up Charlie
Saturday, Sept. 24 - AUS: My Book Corner
Sunday, Sept. 25 – UK: Wahm Bham
Monday, Sept. 26 - Canada: Pickle Me This
Tuesday, Sept. 27 - US: There's a Book
Wednesday, Sept. 28 - AUS: My Little Bookcase
Thursday, Sept. 29 - US: Chris Rettstatt