Monday, December 12, 2016

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Two turtles. One hat. In Jon Klassen’s world, that’s a recipe for disaster. In this book, two turtles find a hat in the middle of the desert. Both turtles want the hat. Does one of them want it more than the other? In its deceptive simplicity, this book does a lot of things well when considered as a book for beginning readers. The text is large and clear, set in New Century Schoolbook, a standard serif font. As such, letters like “a” and “g” do not look like the ones children learn to write, but they do look like ones children will consistently encounter in print materials, including many beginning reader books. Most of the sentences are short, and the author eschews contractions. Nearly all of the words are simple one- or two-syllable words (the only three-syllable word is “together”), and repetition is used to great effect in the dialogue between the two turtles. Text is uniformly placed on an off-white background, either at the top of an illustrated page, or on a page facing an illustration.

The palpable longing that one turtle feels for the hat is deftly portrayed in Klassen’s illustrations, rendered in his signature palette of sepia and earth tones relieved only by the orange of the sunset. Also prominent in the artwork is some gentle humor: the hat is much too big for either turtle, but both are convinced that it looks good on them. Klassen’s art is bound to garner some attention from those who enjoy speculating on the Caldecott, but it brings up an interesting question for Geisel consideration. At one point in the middle of the book, and more extensively at the book’s conclusion, the storytelling relies entirely on wordless two-page spreads. According to the Geisel criteria, “The book must also contain illustrations, which function as keys or clues to the text,” and “The illustrations must demonstrate the story being told.” In the case of this book, the illustrations take over the storytelling at the end of the book. Does that run contrary to the Geisel criteria?

I would argue that this book does fall within the criteria, and it exemplifies many of the elements that the committee is charged with recognizing: short, simple sentences, gradual introduction of new vocabulary reinforced by plenty of repetition, and intriguing subject matter that will motivate children to read. What do you think? If you were on the committee, would this be one of your top picks?

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