Stylish Bears & Thieving Fish: The Grown-Up Kid Lit of Jon Klassen
You can only read Goodnight Moon so many times before it starts to put you to sleep – even if it doesn’t work on your kids. With his children's book This Is Not My Hat, Silver Lake resident Jon Klassen has the necessary corrective to treacly kid lit. It’s already on the New York Times list of best selling children's books, following in the footsteps of his first book, I Want My Hat Back. Both feature a simple but charming writing style and expressive illustrations. Both also end in revenge.
Klassen, who just came off a national book tour for This Is Not My Hat, started out as an animator working on the film Coraline and illustrating other author's books. Eventually, he decided to do his own. His first book, I Want My Hat Back, follows a polite, blank-faced bear as he asks various woodland creatures if they’ve seen his chapeau. Spoiler alert: He gets it back.
His second book, This Is Not My Hat, switches species and follows a small fish who has stolen a hat from a larger fish. The aquatic grifter then lists all the reasons why he won't get caught, even though the pictures tell a different story.
With their subtle humor and unexpected endings, it’s easy to see why people are drawn to Klassen’s books. But they’re not universally popular. Parents who read them tend to fall into two groups: They either love the surprise endings or are upset by them. "I think people are looking for lessons in these books," Klassen says. "I think the people who have gotten upset are looking for characters who will tell you what the lesson is at the end of the book, so that they're aware of the lesson, you're aware of the lesson, and you've had the character tell you what to learn. These books don't have that."
For every peeved parent there are legions of fans. I Want My Hat Back has won several major prizes including a Theodor Seuss Geisel Award and has been translated into 15 languages. Perhaps in children's books, as in life, everything isn't rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes there's a lesson to be learned; sometimes bears just eat rabbits.