It would be difficult to find a person possessed of even the slightest interest in children’s books published during the past decade who isn’t familiar with Jon Klassen. His two Hat books (2011’s I Want My Hat Back and 2012’s This Is Not My Hat) have a combined 1.5-million copies in print worldwide, have together spent more than 90 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and have collected some of the most prestigious children’s literature awards and accolades in the world.
The release of Klassen’s third (and likely final) book in the Hat series is sure to inspire a cascade of reviews with “hat trick” in the title. All three books take place in the same world (attentive readers will spot the foreshadowing in the first story: the bear speaks to both a snake who describes the hat in the second book and a turtle who stars in the third), but cast a spotlight on different protagonists. Where the first book has an undertone of impish violence, and the second of wilful ignorance, the latest is empathetic and redemptive.
Two turtles are making their slow progress through the desert when they come across a big, white, tall-crowned Stetson hat. They try it on. They determine it looks good on both of them. And here we reach our conflict: two turtles, one hat. What will they do?
Klassen’s art is deceptively simple, and has become progressively economical with each title. Perfecting the subtle expressiveness he exhibited in his previous books, the author-illustrator is able to convey the protagonists’ excitement, temptation, longing, treachery, epiphany, and ultimate contentment simply by changing the direction of the turtles’ glances or position of their heads.
But there are differences here, too. Klassen expands the story to 56 pages from 40, breaking the text into three chapters. Creating a believable relationship takes longer; more time is needed to establish a friendship than to introduce strangers. The slower pace lends the story gravitas, but what’s really different is that the stakes are higher. There is something to lose: friendship. Eating a stranger, no big deal. Losing a friend? Now that is devastating.
While We Found a Hat absolutely stands on its own, it and its hat-themed predecessors are best consumed as a set. The tension in We Found a Hat comes from familiarity with the previous books. You’re waiting, expecting, for things to go wrong. The surprising, open-to-interpretation ending is much more satisfying when you know the stories that have come before.