This hat is not mine. I just stole it.
So opens Jon Klassen's morbid tale about a fish who thinks he can get away with stealing—and the bigger fish that proves him wrong. This controversial picture book won the 2013 Caldecott medal for its minimalist illustration and subtle use of contradiction. It's a darkly hilarious story with great tension and some laugh-out-loud moments, but whether or not it's appropriate for children is another matter.
Here's the story: a little fish has stolen a hat from a much bigger fish. As he swims he rationalizes his decision; after all, the bigger fish could not possibly have use for a hat this small. The fish will probably not even notice, and won't come after him even if he does. As the little thief narrates in words, the illustrations show the bigger fish waking up and caring very much indeed. The contradiction between what the little fish says and what is actually happening is hilarious, especially with Klassen's use of tiny eye movements to show expressions.
The ending, however, is the controversial part. The little fish attempts to escape in the field of seaweed, thinking he is safe. The next page shows the big fish following him in. Then, in a great move, Klassen shows a whole two-page spread of just seaweed. The page after that has (spoiler alert!) the big fish leaving with his hat and a pleased expression on his face.
You can assume whatever you want, as this book leaves the fate of the thief more ambiguous than Klassen's previous (equally morbid) book I Want My Hat Back. But knowing the fate of that thief (who was explicitly eaten) casts this book in a darker light. Of course there is a message, somewhere in here, that crime doesn't pay, or perhaps that stealing is only wrong when you steal from someone bigger than you. There's no denying it's a well done story, worthy of the Caldecott medal for the way its illustration plays off the story. But that doesn't necessarily make it a story worth reading to a child, especially with a message as murky as the seaweed the two fish enter.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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