Every now and then, you run into a book that establishes its author—someone whose work you weren’t familiar with—as a force to be reckoned with. It happens with books for adults, and it certainly happens with kid lit; we’ve all heard the stories of Maurice Sendak’s meteoric entry into the pantheon with Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, while Brian Selznick’s about-to-be-a-Scorsese-film The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a more recent example.
Well, allow me to nominate Jon Klassen as another entry in the ledger. His first picture book, I Want My Hat Back, has such a strong, whimsical yet black-humor-laden voice to go with its striking, lovely illustrations that it immediately places Klassen among the leading lights of his field.
It’s all the more remarkable for its plot’s simplicity: An exceedingly deadpan bear has lost his hat, and goes from animal to animal asking if any of them has seen it. They are, in various ways, of little help—one has seen a hat but not the bear’s hat; another has seen no hats at all—but one rabbit’s manic response that he’s seen nothing, nothing at all, strikes our protagonist in retrospect as suspicious. His reaction to this realization leads to the book’s delightful, unexpectedly dark punch line, which will fill the wicked minds of kids and parents alike with glee. (Lemony Snicket is a fan, which may be all you need to know.) Klassen has created an instant classic, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Photos: Whitney Webster