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I Want My Hat Back

Jon Klassen

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 05, 2012
Category: Children

There’s a big fight raging over a very small — 120 words, 40 pages — book for kids.

Some people say — along with the New York Times, which named “I Want My Hat Back” one of the best Illustrated children’s books of 2011 — that this book is wickedly funny. An instant classic. And perfectly acceptable for kids 4 and up. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here.] 
Other people say: If a crime occurs in a kid’s book and the victim figures out who the criminal is and “solves” the problem for himself, isn’t that frontier justice? Doesn’t the victim become a vigilante?  And doesn’t that encourage kids not just to be self-reliant but to be tough, unforgiving and — say it — violent?
More questions: Is this book just funny, or does it subtly endorse Old Testament values? Don’t we want kids’ books to appeal to our better nature — that is, don’t we want to teach kids about the rule of law, so they don’t grow up to be mouth-breathing, gun-toting yahoos capable of turning an accidental shove in a bar into a crime scene?
In short, is “I Want My Hat Back” about its terrific pictures and witty punch line, or  is all that just a delectable candy cover for its message — whatever its message turns out to be?
In a word: The Times be damned, is this book safe for kids?
You tell me.
Here’s the story: A bear has lost his hat. He asks other animals if they’ve seen it. He suddenly remembers that he has seen his hat — on a rabbit. In the next image, the bear is wearing his hat.  End of story.

Ok, we can, I think, agree on this: In his first solo book, Jon Klassen — an illustrator on the animated feature film, “Coraline” — is a very tasty artist.
Now let’s consider some of those 120 words, which are entirely dialogue.
Bear: My hat has gone. I want my hat back…. (to the Fox) Have you seen my hat?

Fox: No. I haven’t seen your hat.

Bear: OK. Thank you anyway…. (to the Frog) Have you seen my hat?

Fox: No. I have not seen any hats around here.

Bear: OK. Thank you anyway…. (to the Rabbit, who is wearing a hat) Have you seen my hat?

Rabbit: No. Why are you asking me? I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don’t ask me any more questions.
And so on….right to the end, when the Squirrel asks, “Excuse me, have you seen a rabbit wearing a hat?” and the Bear answers, “No. Why are you asking me? I haven’t seen him. I haven’t seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me any more questions.”
Fit for kids — or for the trash?
You decide.
My view: Our kid got it. And laughed.  And then I put “I Want My Hat Back” on the coffee table so the grown-ups can enjoy it. too.