I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Published by Candlewick.
I think the best way to tell you about I Want My Hat Back is to describe my family’s reaction to it. I was sent a review copy by the publisher (the official pub date is Sept. 27), and I began reading it right out of the package, standing in the living room. A bear has lost his hat, and he wants it back. He asks a fox; the fox hasn’t seen it. He asks a frog; no luck there either. He asks a rabbit—a rabbit who happens to be wearing a pointy red hat.
“No. Why are you asking me,” replies the rabbit. “I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don’t ask me any more questions.”
By this point I’m laughing out loud and I have to go right away and show the book to the rest of my family. This book is begging to be read aloud by a daddy like Scott.
They’re in the kitchen, Scott and my three older girls, ages ten, twelve, and sixteen. I thrust the book before their faces, you’ve got to read this, and we stand there turning the pages together. At the rabbit’s remarks, the girls burst out laughing. The animals’ deadpan expressions and terse, uninflected dialogue make this exchange viciously funny.
We’re huddled around the book, reading on silently. The bear asks many more animals, with no success, and finally flops down in the grass and stares at the sky. My poor hat. I miss it so much.
And then the bear remembers where he’s seen it. I’m not going to say what happens after that, but it made my daughters shriek with laughter and shock, even the teenager. My husband gasped. I howled. Rilla, when we read it to her later, chortled wickedly.
I don’t think everyone will approve of the ending. I’ve had three-year-olds who would be very upset by the turn of events. Most six-year-olds I’ve known would, I think, embrace it with glee.
Today I tweeted, “I really want to write about a certain book but various children keep spiriting it away from my stack.”
And my husband replied: “I have not seen that book. I would not take that book. I don’t know what a book is. Stop asking me questions about a book.”
Today: My Very First Mother Goose, the Iona Opie/Rosemary Wells collaboration. A gift from my sister when Jane was tiny, so thoroughly loved by all six children overlappingly and in succession that the binding is cracked and peeling. Huck carts this one (and its companion, the red one, called something like “More Mother Goose” or “My Very Second Mother Goose” and yes, I’m being lazy) all around the house, loving on it, talking to the bunnies and cats, naming the nice big initial letters. Today Rilla chose it for our “quiet reading time” (it is seldom very quiet) and she basically read/recited the whole darn book to me, bearing out Charlotte Mason’s theories about using nursery rhymes to teach reading without actually teaching.
Yesterday: Dinosaur vs. Bedtime at least a dozen times. And then three or four more rounds with Huck. This was one of my favorites from the Cybils nominees two years ago, and it is enjoying renewed popularity now that Huck is prime dinosaur material.
I can’t remember if we read anything but Dino v. Bed yesterday, but then again it kind of dominated the whole day, didn’t it? ROAR! DINOSAUR WINS!
The day before that: Diary of a Fly, another repeat request, and I know everyone already loves Doreen Cronin’s hilarious insect diaries so I won’t say much beyond: Cronin’s a riot and Harry Bliss’s art is a delight. I especially love the way this book and its mates (Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider) suck my older kids in too and engender such animated discussion afterward. Same goes for Click Clack Moo, which, as someone pointed out on my Goodreads page recently, provides a most excellent jumping-off point for talking about collective bargaining rights.
And finally, two books I pretty much need to mark down for every day this past week: Grumpy Bird and Boo Hoo Bird, both by Jeremy Tankard of Me Hungry fame. I was so enchanted with Tankard’s art in Me Hungry that I absolutely had to track down more of his work. The two bird books do not disappoint. The crabby-face of Grumpy Bird—who wakes up one day too grumpy to fly—actually makes us laugh out loud. We’ve seen that face around here before. Great twist at the end, too. I probably can’t say anything that tops Huck’s endorsement, though. I snuck some video of him ‘reading’ these books after dinner the other night and if I get my act together I’ll try and post it. Made me laugh.
If I really had it together, I’d have pulled some of these books out last week in anticipation of the Supermoon. Truth is, I didn’t even think of these in connection with Saturday’s moon until, well, just now. I did think, sometime Sunday afternoon, Ooh, we should read Owl Moon to Rilla and Wonderboy, but I forgot about thinking that until just now.
What did happen is I was hunting for a package of address labels I thought I’d stashed on a shelf in Wonderboy’s room (which doubles as Scott’s office), and although I didn’t find the labels, I found half a dozen picture books I really love and don’t remember reading in the past year. I gave up my label hunt, addressed the darn package by hand, and snagged Rilla for a readaloud.
That accounts for the first two books in this post. The third one is a quiet marvel of a book and we met it for the first time the weekend before last, when my perfectly scrumptious wee goddaughter came for a visit.
This, along with its companion, Alphonse, Where Are You?, has enchanted each one of my children in turn. I actually kind of squealed when I found it yesterday because I hadn’t seen it in a while and I knew Rilla wouldn’t remember it and it’s such a delight to share it for another first time. Alphonse the goose is the friend and protector of Little Bird. They gaze at the great round moon together, and Alphonse remarks that it’s made of swiss cheese, and Little Bird would like to eat it but alas, it’s glued to the sky. Except—they round a bend and there’s the big swiss-cheese moon floating in the pond. All the geese crowd around, commencing a frenzy of splashing and diving, and though their efforts don’t capture the moon, they do dredge up a swiss cheese sandwich—and if it weren’t for Alphonse, Little Bird would be left without so much as a nibble. I love the gentle interplay between the big goose and the little one, and I wish I had a record of Rilla’s deep chuckle the first time she heard the words “moon sandwich.”
It’s funny how you connect books with the people who introduced them to you. Just as I always think of my friend Joan when I read one of the Alphonse and Little Bird books—I think she was the editor of them, and I know they were, like Brave Georgie Goat, gifts from her—my original Little House editor, the great Alix Reid, comes to mind every time I pick up When Moon Fell Down. “You’re going to love this one, Lissa,” she told me. “It’s one of my favorite books I ever worked on.”
fell upon a farmer’s lawn,
rolled about in sheer delight
on fields he’d only shined upon.”
Before long he encounters—who else?—a cow, and the two of them take off for a stroll through town. Moon has never seen the world from this vantage point before; until now, he “didn’t know a horse had knees.” There’s a lush, hushed, magical quality to this book—and thinking over past Rillabooks entries, I think that’s something I’m often drawn to in a picture book, partly because the magic holds my little ones rapt. This art is, well, luminous, and the combination of whimsy and wonder seems to appeal to the children just as much as it does to me.
I’m a big Kevin Henkes fan but somehow I’d missed this book until my pal Kristen pulled it out of her bag last weekend! It’s a great favorite of my little goddaughter, who is just eighteen months old, and Huck and Rilla swooped in upon it immediately. The black-and-white art is magnificent. Like Little Bird above, Kitten spies the big white moon and wants a taste. It looks, after all, just like a gigantic saucer of milk. Kitten climbs a tree, splashes in a pond, tries everything to get to that bowl, to no avail…We were almost as sad to say goodbye to Kitten as we were to Vivi and her parents. This is a book I might just have to add to our collection.
(Which is funny because as godmother, I consider it one of my responsibilities to help curate Vivi’s collection. But on this visit, it was Vivi who introduced us to two keepers. The other was Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, which I keep wanting to rave about here. I fell madly in love with that book. I mean like A Visitor for Bear level, The Maggie B. level, Christina Katerina level—that last is a particularly apt comparison, as you’ll see if you check it out. It’s the kind of deceptively simple artistry that really takes massive talent to pull off, and it speaks so exactly to a child’s sensibility. “What are you doing in that box?” asks the narrator. “It’s NOT a box!” replies the bunny, blasting off in its spaceship.)
(Here, I was going to save it for another post, but now that I’ve gushed about it this much I might as well show you the cover. Only you’ve all seen it already, I bet. I don’t know how I missed it. I mean, look, it’s got the Geisel honor medal! Where’ve I been?)
Now I’ve gone and blown my whole moon theme. This is what happens, though; one book leads to another. I suppose the common thread for all the books in this post is that they came to us by way of dear friends. We can pretend that’s what I was going for the whole time.
Oh but I was going to mention two other moon books we love but haven’t read in a while…I mentioned Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon at the top of this post, and When Moon Fell Down reminded me of The Moon Jumpers, a strange and lyrical little book by Janice May Udry, gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I remember Rilla going through a Moon Jumpers attachment about six months ago, but I haven’t seen it in a while. This might be the week to pull it back off the shelf.
I don’t know who gave us those two books. I think I bought Owl Moon when I worked at a children’s bookstore, or if not I bought it because it was part of Before Five in a Row or something. The Moon Jumpers, I must have just picked up myself because I loved the art. I really am crazy about all that early Sendak work.
These are books Rilla has wanted to hear over and over this week. One of them was written by a beloved friend of mine, but honestly that’s a coincidence—Rilla (alas) has never actually met Ellen in person, and I don’t know that she remembers her Lola book was written by Mommy’s pal.
You may recall that I wrote about Lola when I interviewed Ellen Weiss last year. Rilla rediscovered the book recently and is completely enchanted with this bratty little shrew. I mean:
“If Lola was given mayflies for breakfast when she wanted slugs, she had conniptions.”
Mayflies for breakfast? Conniptions? Prose like this, my friends, is how to win Rilla’s literary affections. She relishes the furious battles between Lola and her equally bratty cousin Lester (especially the name-calling); she is fascinated by the insect-dominant cuisine portrayed so charmingly by artist Jerry Smath; and she is downright crazy about the interjections of a certain crotchety grandmother shrew who is the narrator of this five-act tale about the summer Lola met her match.
(I don’t know what I was thinking, though, the day I launched into a spontaneous Barry Manilow parody out the outset of this book. I am now required to begin each reading with a performance of that timeless song, “Her name was Lola,/ she was a shrew-girl/ with stripey ribbons in her hair/ and a super-grumpy glare…”)
This is my favorite of the Carl books. I think it’s the only one Rilla’s read—it’s the only one we own, I guess. I need to remember to put the others on our library list. I love the conversations we have when we’re reading wordless stories like this.
This particular Carl story, in which Good Dog Carl is left in charge of a rambunctious baby, is especially sweet because of the impish puppy who has also been left in Carl’s care. Our favorite bit is where the dogs and baby find themselves surrounded by half a dozen earnest artists, and we can see on the easels all the different art styles with which the various painters are portraying our friends. (My older kids enjoy that part too.) Rilla is also fond of the part where they look through binoculars, one gazing up, one down at the ground, and one off to the side, and then on the facing page you see the three views and can figure out who is viewing what.
The park itself looks an awful lot like our own favorite stomping grounds, Balboa Park! Anyone know if that’s what Alexandra Day had in mind?
This was one of the books I received for review as a Cybils panelist in 2008, and it was a hit with my family. Big Bad Bunny is on the loose, and Mama Mouse has just discovered her littlest mouse-baby is missing. She’ll brave any peril to find her baby—even Big Bad Bunny’s long sharp claws and fierce yellow teeth. Rilla loves the repetitive text and watches each page for the chance to shout “No!” when I ask if something will stop Mama Mouse. It’s very comforting, when you’re three, to know that Mama will face danger to find you and bring you safely home.
And here’s what I wrote today (somewhat ungrammatically) in my notes on Diigo: “I don’t know who is crazier about this book—me or Rilla. It’s a tie, I guess. She just loves it to pieces. Such suspense: will Mama Mouse find Baby Boo before Big Bad Bunny attacks with those sharp, scritchy claws? Hey wait, who IS Big Bad Bunny anyway? Rilla likes to do the sound effects (stomp, splash, skritch, pitter-pat) and she is positively in love with the page that reveals the truth about those bunny ears…”
My big bad boys are crazy about this one too. Something new I’m going to try: I’m really enjoying the way these Rillabooks posts serve as a journal of my four-year-old’s literary experiences, but the record is somewhat incomplete because of the role of repetition in a small child’s romance with books. If we read, say, four picture books on a given day, odds are that two or three of them are repeats from earlier in the week. Me Hungry has been requested almost daily for weeks, for example. Also, in a house with this many big sisters and a work-at-home daddy, I’m far from the only person reading picture books aloud. So, in order to keep a complete record of Rilla’s reading, I’m going to start adding unannotated lists at the bottom of these Rillabooks posts, recording the titles of all the books we read that day—many of which will undoubtedly be repeats from the days and weeks before.
Books I read to Rilla today:
• The Little Rabbit by Jody Dunn
• Cherry the Pig by Utako Yamada
• The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowery
• Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
• Madeline and the Bad Hat, ditto
• and the aforementioned Big Bad Bunny
Scott is reading her the ever-popular My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett—our family’s favorite choice for that first jump from picture books to a longer read-aloud with chapters (first mentioned on this blog in January 2007).
(Y’all keep writing to ask me to include affiliate links, which is incredibly sweet of you. Here are portal links, if you’re inclined to use them, but you know you’ll just be feeding my habit. My overstuffed shelves would appreciate it if you shopped at your local bookstores.)
So far, I’ve read 19 of the 76 titles—most of them in the Fiction Picture Book and YA Fiction categories, the former because I have three picture-book-devouring younguns at the moment (and some of their big sisters have been known to listen in), the latter because I was part of the panel that drew up the list. We’re doing pretty well with the beginning readers, too; there’s another batch arriving for us at the library any day now.
Since we’ve now had the pleasure of reading all seven books on the fiction picture book shortlist, I thought I’d do a little roundup here.
Rilla and I are in love. What a sweet, gentle, quirky story. Amos is an elderly fellow who works at the zoo, where he always makes time to visit with his friends. Chess with elephant, a race with tortoise, a quiet moment shared with a shy penguin. When Amos stays home sick one day, his animal pals (and a floating red balloon) set off to find him. Rilla giggled the whole way through this lovely, quiet book. “Again, again!” she begged the moment we finished. The second time through, she lingered over the pictures, murmuring over winsome details. It was this year’s Caldecott Winner, and I see why. The art is delicate and sweetly atmospheric, and full of tiny surprises. I’ll be giving this one as a gift, often and often.
Fantastic. A chicken lass can’t help but chime in when the stories her Papa’s reading get tense. Papa keeps trying new fairy tales—Hansel and Gretel, Chicken Little, Little Red Riding Hood—in hopes the little red chicken will settle down and get sleepy, but every time the story gets rolling, the energetic chick catapults herself into the tale and warns the main characters before they stray into danger. Wonderfully funny and absolutely true to life (except, of course, that they’re chickens). 2010 Caldecott Honor book and the winner of the CYBIL in this category.
Here’s the book trailer if you’d like a peek between the pages:
Gregory’s dad tells him not to go into the water, and not to stray too far away from the lion Greg has drawn in the sand. Gregory draws the lion’s tale longer and longer, veering around a jellyfish and a horseshoe crab, swooping over an old sandcastle and beyond. When he realizes Dad is lost in the mass of beach umbrellas, Gregory follows Sandy Lion’s tail back to its body—and there’s Dad, watching all the while. Gorgeous art and simple text; both Rilla and Wonderboy took a real fancy to this one. Just now, as I was writing this, Rilla peered over my shoulder at the cover and asked if we could get it back from the library.
I’ve already written about the other four Cybils picture book finalists here, but I’ll paste those notes in this post just to keep them all in one place.
Jiminy crickets, what art! Amazing expressions on the kids, especially when they’re running in terror from the T Rex…Rilla and Wonderboy were transfixed by this one. The magic of chalk that brings drawings to life, the dramatic turn of events, the clever solution. A wordless story, which is something Rilla always enjoys.
Rilla and I were quite surprised to find ourselves and Huck in the opening pages of this book. I mean, really, it’s like Matt Phelan was peeking in the window. A charming story, quite appealing to the four-year-old big sister in this household. (She wouldn’t let Huck blow away either.) Flora is frustrated when baby brother Crispin gets into the paints and ruins Flora’s picture. Their frazzled mama sends them outside to play, despite Flora’s protests that the wind is too strong and will blow them away. Sure enough, a hearty gust scoops Crispin into the sky, and Flora must abandon her boots and go rescue him. Seems every high-flying creature in the big blue and beyond wants to claim Crispin—who is, admittedly, utterly irresistible in that long-tasseled hat—for a helper. Dragonfly, sparrow, eagle, rainbow, cloud, even the moon! Flora’s exchanges with these entities quite enchanted my Rilla. And my goodness, Matt Phelan’s art just blew me away.
A perfect picture book, I tweeted the day I read it. “A perfect marriage of art and text” is a reviewer’s cliche but by golly it’s no overstatement in this case. Two little boys run for a toybox and brandish their selections in triumph and challenge. Shark vs. train—who wins? It depends…what’s the competition? Pie-eating? Diving? Marshmallow roasting? The stakes keep escalating, to hilarious effect. Rilla and Wonderboy sit and pore over the art, which is sharp and comic and enchanting. I find myself wishing my nephews and nieces hadn’t all grown up so much: this would be my birthday book of choice this year. (From this post in September 2010.)
After last week’s startling discovery that Rilla had not yet made the acquaintance of Miss Rumphius (that she remembered, at least), I realized there were a number of unmissable picture books that she has, in fact, missed up to now. This is what happens when you’re the fifth child. She listens in on the older kids’ read-alouds—The Hobbit, The Strictest School in the World, Tom Sawyer—and there has been a steady stream of newly published picture books in her world, thanks in large part to the review copies I often receive. But even for a reading family, there are only so many books you can cram into a day.
Which is why Rilla made it almost to her fifth birthday without meeting Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and the Lupine Lady.
I’ve been combing through the shelves in search of other must-reads, and there’s now a two-foot-high bookstack in front of the (never used) fireplace. Several of those appear in this week’s list of recent reads.
• Miss Rumphiusby Barbara Cooney. Top of the list in every respect. “I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more…though I know that IS the noblest ambition…but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me…to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.” That’s Anne Shirley, not Alice Rumphius, but they’re kindred spirits, aren’t they?
•Make Way for Ducklingsby Robert McCloskey. Okay, I’ve been reading this book aloud for fifteen years, and I’m still undecided. Ouack: “Oh-ack”? Or “Wack”? I usually opt for the latter, but that kind of throws off the whole alphabetical rhythm. Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack…Wack?
• Hairs/Pelitosby Sandra Cisneros, illustrated by Terry Ybanez. The text of this gorgeous, lush, evocative book is a paragraph from Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Rilla, like all three of her older sisters before her, is spellbound by its rich colors, rolling cadences, and the comfortable family warmth of this unusual book that is more prose poem than story, a little girl’s description of all the kinds of hair in her family. “My mother’s hair, my mother’s hair like little rosettes, like little candy circles…”
• Koala Louby Mem Fox, illustrated by Pamela Lofts. Honestly, I think my little ones care less about the plot of this book than they do the mama koala’s cooing refrain: “Koala Lou, I do love you.” Me, I’m crazy about the colored pencil drawings.
• Bub: Or the Very Best Thingby Natalie Babbitt. I pulled this one off the shelf for the aforementioned big stack of classics, but I knew I wouldn’t be reading it to Rilla myself. This one is reserved for the daddy of the family. It’s a special favorite of ours, and if I gave things stars, I would give it as many as I possibly could. An out-of-print gem. The king and queen want the “best thing” for their young prince, but what does that mean? Their quest for the answer takes them all over the castle—but it seems the young prince has known the answer all along.
• Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Bruce Degen. All you Five in a Row mothers out there just got a wave of nostalgia, didn’t you? 😉 Rilla faintly remembered it—it had been perhaps a year since it last found its way off the shelf into our laps. My little boys adore Jesse Bear too. Reading this with Rilla the other night was a particularly sweet moment for me; the text’s rhythm and repetition gave her just the right footing for a sudden spurt forward in reading. She took over on page two and what-will-you-wear-in-the-morning’d her way through the book. I could listen to that a hundred times in a row. (As long as you don’t make me count the stars.)
• Brave Georgie Goatby Denis Roche. When I open this book, it doesn’t matter which child is on my lap: I’m 27 again, and Jane’s a two-year-old in a hospital bed. Our dear friend Joan Slattery, a Knopf editor at the time, brought Jane this book on one of her visits to the cancer ward, and we both fell head over heels in love with it. Scott too, actually. It’s difficult to convey the sweet simplicity of these three short stories about matters of vital importance to very small goats and girls. If Mommy Goat goes, how can you be sure she’ll come back? What do you do when your best friend and constant companion, your beloved red coat, doesn’t fit you anymore? And what are all those ominous shapes and sounds in your room when the lights go out? The grownup goats in these brief tales (Mommy and Grandpa) are a gentle and steady source of comfort for a little kid who is beginning to take notice of a very big world.
My very favorite book when I was a preschooler, made all the more wonderful by the art of the inimitable George Booth. “Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice. A weasel wouldn’t like it, and teasing isn’t nice!” This was one of the first books I learned by heart. Loads of fun with language, and that refrain is irresistible.
Bink reminds me of Tib: tiny, fluffy, determined. Gollie is just this side of an Edward Gorey character. Which is to say: I adore ’em both. Rilla won’t let me read this one to her just once. Gotta be two or three times in a row. A smart, funny, sophisticated Early Reader—which sounds like an oxymoron but isn’t. Rilla is captivated by the intense personalities of Bink and Gollie, and by the ups and downs of their relationship. Every time we read it, she wants to discuss and discuss. In a way, this is her first book-club book: that book you love so much you just have to talk about it.
My SIL recommended this one and I bet I’ve read it a hundred times so far this week. No exaggeration. Huge hit with the three youngest, especially Rilla who is in a big rhyme phase. Bonus: vacuum cleaner sucking noises.
One of my favorites from my stint as a first-round CYBILs picture book judge in 2008. Now a repeat request from Rilla, who loves the quiet, earnest tone of this story about a boy who rescues an injured pigeon. The kind of book you pore over and talk about, heads together.
A family favorite. Grandma Jo loses her glasses the night before Little Lloyd is due for a visit. That’s how she happens to bring home an escaped zoo lion instead. She plies her furry visitor with ice cream and dancing, and they have a fine old time, managing to thwart a burglar while they’re at it. Big belly laughs from my littles over this one.