Nathan is on vacation this week. Just for fun he decided to to short reviews of his three year old’s favorite books. It should have been simple and quick. But if there is one thing Nathan is good at it is Over-thinking It.
Though it hides it within its simplicity, the messages held within I Want My Hat Back are no doubt integral to its recent success. While much of the decade showed children’s books written purely for the masses, often tied into popular TV shows such as Chuggington, Jon Klassen risked losing his audience by forcing them to think. Lucky for all of us an audience looking for something deeper responded with enough support to give the author the means to follow this outing up with a semi sequel, This is Not My Hat.
The story, for those that are unaware, involves a large bear (unnamed, as are all the characters in this story) who has lost his hat. He roams the countryside asking the other animals who if they have seen it. Upon meeting the rabbit, who claims to have not seen said hat, the reader is immediately made aware that not only is the rabbit lying but the bear is blissfully unaware of his blind spot. After a few more false starts he is forced to reflect on the situation. A frightening final third leads to the ultimate confrontation its aftermath.
One of course cannot discuss this legendary work without delving into its frank look at sexuality. The entire book revolves around and is defined by a large pointing red object. That cat and mouse game that exists between rabbit and bear show strained signs of an already unhealthy relationship. While the rabbit keeps hold of the large red ‘hat’ the bear is forced by his deceit to seek comfort with other animals in the woods. Obviously the rabbit is taking advantage of the control he holds over bear, but the text leaves it unclear on if the bear is a willing participant in this power play or merely a pawn. Whichever it is the disastrous final act shows that the game was taken too far. While the murder of love is shown off screen, its effect on bear can be seen in his haunted look in the final pages.
It is worth noting that while this article refers to the bear as ‘he,’ in fact no gender is assigned to any of the characters. It is up to each reader to make assumptions of gender based on their own biases. This gives the book another level of complexity as different readers reach different conclusions based on what they read into the story, then are ultimately forced to face the fact that it doesn’t even matter. The story is one of love, lust and power; a universal theme.