THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick Press, 2012, is approximately 200 words and spread over 32 pages, 18 with first-person text (and illus.) and 14 with pictures only. Out of the pages with text, 14 have only a single line; some just a clause rather than a complete sentence.There is no dialogue throughout the book, but using first-person narration, it feels and sounds like dialogue.
The book opens with an illustration of a tiny fish swimming in a large stretch of dark water, wearing a hat. It’s easy to wonder what’s up with this cute little guy. The first page with text (Pg. 2) grabs the audience because it’s an admission of doing something wrong—stealing a hat.
The next spread with text doesn’t bear the load of winning over the reader alone, even though we already know the little fish did something underhanded. The illustration takes a bow, showing a humongous fish who is the hat’s true owner. It isn’t hard to empathize with the little fish, knowing there’s a chance he may get caught by such a big opponent.But the little fish is cocky and thinks he won’t get caught. The rationale is adorable because it’s that of a child—the idea that if you do something wrong, the person you wronged won’t know you did it.
Klassen uses more childlike logic when the little fish explains that even if the hat owner knows who stole his hat, he’ll never find the culprit.The story increases in tension because Klassen ups the probability of the little fish getting caught. Remembering the size of the huge fish, readers can’t help but feel for the little one when a witness sees him and promises not to give his whereabouts. After that, through illustrations, we see the double-crossing witness direct the big fish to the hiding place. Talk about tension—yikes!
One way Klassen keeps the mind-frame of a child while increasing tension is through repetition of specific words or ideas. The first line is, This hat is not mine. The next sentence—I just stole it—reemphasizes the fact the hat doesn’t belong to the narrator, while simultaneously giving us more information: how did he get the hat?The word “stole” is used again in the only sentence on the next page: I stole it from a big fish. So again, the fact the hat doesn’t belong to the narrator is reemphasized (reminding us what’s at stake—getting caught by a BIG fish), and again the reader is getting more information: stole it from whom?
Moving along, the little fish narrates that the big fish was asleep when it happened. The page that follows this reemphasizes it by stating: And he probably won’t wake up for a long time.On the next two pages, along with illustrations, repetition is used again when the narrator says, And even if he does wake up, he probably won’t notice that it’s gone.
So, in this spread, the words “wake up” are purposefully echoed along with the reminder that the little fish has someone else’s hat. And here we have no doubt that the narrator thinks he’s going to get away with this little misdeed. It’s cute and realistic, but because of the reminder, readers suspect the little fish will most certainly get caught, despite his confidence.What could happen when angering such a big fish? This is a question that will haunt the reader until the end of the story.
Klassen furthers the tale with another statement of the little fish’s rationalization. The little fish decides the hat was too small for the big fish anyway, and it fits the little fish so it should be his.What is not told in the end is shown in the illustrations. A double-page spread gives a visual of the little fish entering a cluster of thick weeds, but he’s not seen coming back out. Then the big fish’s tail is swimming into the thicket of weeds, and the last picture is the big fish swimming away, wearing his hat.
I admire the absence of text on those last few pages, because it enlists the listener to examine how the story ends by following the sequence of illustrations and drawing conclusions.Who could not love this book? The story not only beautifully portrays the heart of a child, rationalizing a misdeed, but I t speaks to all of us. Everyone has, at some point, tried to justify doing something they probably shouldn’t have done. It’s human nature. And when a writer can capture human nature so precisely while maintaining a child’s world, he’s got a successful picture book.