I Want My Hat Back
Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen
This is a tale of anthropomorphic animals with a surprisingly unanthropomorphic (and highly controversial) ending (spoiler alert!) in which the main character, a bear, eats the rabbit who stole his hat.
There are very few words on the pages of these books with most of the story being told through the illustrations. I actually like this aspect of the book a lot because it encourages readers to fill in details and make connections imaginatively, which is an important skill for continuing to enjoy literature throughout life. Not to mention that imagination is the foundation of all forms of creativity and higher orders of abstract thought.
As for the illustrations themselves, they are simple but still highly appealing. They make me want to make prints.
Overall, I think that this book is funny and encourages reader participation. It’s a good read for kids who are ready to appreciate all the humor of anthropomorphic animals.
The Controversy Around I Want my Hat Back and My Opinion
In fact after looking over this book again in detail as I was preparing to write this review I became curious about how these illustrations were actually made. So I looked the book up hoping to find more.
I didn’t come up with any leads on the illustrations, but apparently there are hordes of parents out there who find this book morally reprehensible because one character eats another in an act of revenge and then lies about it. Despite the ending of the story being part of a joke, many parents still seem to see the humor as unfit for children.
This book is obviously silly, so I have no fear that it would teach my children to try to take revenge for theft through murder. The fact that the death occurs by eating, especially mitigates this as a point of concern.
One thing I am confident about is that we should not let any of these outraged parents near the folk tales section. Just what would these parents think of the Big Bad Wolf who eats not just one character but TWO? Gobbling down Granny and Little Red Riding Hood. Granted, he is meant to be a villain, but by the same logic as want our children learning to murder for sport.
Monsters in stories eat all kinds of things without public outcry, for one thing. But I think that the act of eating as a means of destruction (or often transformation) in folk tales is not related to murder. Eating is part of play across human cultures. In fact it’s thought that play eating of young children and babies is so ubiquitous because the smell of our children produces the same hormonal rush of oxytocin that we get from enjoying a good meal. Eating is also different than murder because it plays into cycles of nourishment that are fundamental to life on this planet. This makes it distinct even from other forms of cartoon violence. With that said, this book is clearly light hearted enough that it takes a lot of reading into it to come up with these kinds of issues.
Critics also claim that the book is not imaginative or detailed and that the illustrations are too simplistic. As I mentioned earlier in my review portion of this post, the simplicity of this story what makes it good. Instead of the author filling in the book with all of his imagined details, he leaves that work to the child.