In his first outing as an author, Klassen's (Cats' Night Out) words and artwork are deliberately understated, with delectable results. Digitally manipulated ink paintings show a slow-witted bear asking half a dozen forest animals if they've seen his hat. Unadorned lines of type, printed without quotation marks or attributions, parallel the sparse lines Klassen uses for the forest's greenery. Most of the answers the bear gets are no help ("What's a hat?" one animal asks), but the rabbit's answer arouses suspicion: "I haven't seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don't ask me any more questions." In a classic double-take, the bear doesn't notice the hat on the rabbit's head until several pages on: "I have seen my hat," he realizes, wide-eyed. Readers with delicate sensibilities may object to the implied conclusion ("I would not eat a rabbit," the bear says stoutly, his hat back on his head, the forest floor showing signs of a scuffle), but there is no objecting to Klassen's skillful characterizations; though they're simply drawn and have little to say, each animal emerges fully realized. A noteworthy debut. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
You know, bears may stand for adults in some way, because they're big, they're ungainly, they're goofy. They're like most of us grownups. But the bear in this book paws down; he's got to be the dimmest, most slow-witted, brilliantly stupid bear to come along in years. I really love him.
—NPR Weekend Edition
A marvelous book in the true dictionary sense of "marvel": it is a wonderful and astonishing thing, the kind of book that makes child laugh and adult chuckle, and both smile in appreciation. A charmingly wicked little book.
—The New York Times
Four pages into this charmer, every kindergartner will know where the bear's missing hat is - but they'll never predict the hilarious revenge he takes on the thief.
Deliberately understated, with delectable results... Skillful characterizations; though they're simply drawn and have little to say, each animal emerges fully realized.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
“Did he, or didn’t he?” That question has been the focus of more than one conversation since the children and I first read Klassen’s investigative tale together. Bear, a nondescript fellow with a flat affect, it looking for a hat he has lost. He proceeds through the area, asking one woodland inhabitant after another. Unlike the many cumulative picture books that rely on repetition, this book relies on novelty. Each creature replies to Bear in a different and unique way. Fox tells him “No. I haven’t seen your hat.” Turtle tells him “I haven’t seen anything all day. I have been trying to climb this rock.” (Bear genially offers to lift him on top of the rock.) Rabbit perhaps protests too much“I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat.” is only part of itbut Bear accepts his words at face value and ambles off to ask the next animal. Later, a few minutes’ reflection causes him to recall that he has seen his hat. The background is awash with an angry red and the font all caps as Bear realizes just who has his hat. Later, Bear has his hat. And, when Squirrel asks if he has seen “a rabbit wearing a hat,” Bear has the perfect response: “I haven’t seen him. I haven’t seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit.” Or would he? Narrator Daniel Pinkwater creates a sense of drama in his reading of this delicious, vaguely menacing tale. This book has been recognized by the New York Times Book Review as a “Best Illustrated Children’s Book,” and it has been named a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. The honors are richly deserved. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green; Ages 2 to 8.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Our narrator, a stodgy bear, discovers that his hat is gone and wants it back. As he searches for it, he politely asks a fox, a frog, and finally a rabbit if they have seen it. They insist that they have not; the rabbit is even annoyed at being asked. The bear keeps searching and asking, fearing he will never find it. When he describes his lost hat to a reindeer, however, he suddenly recalls where he has seen it. And of course, so do we. Back he runs, past all the other animals, to the rabbit. "YOU STOLE MY HAT," he declares. Back on his head it goes. "I love my hat," he contentedly remarks. On the final text page, however, a squirrel is asking him whether he has seen a rabbit in a hat. In a role reversal, the bear denies it, the squirrel thanks him, and we wonder. A sort of abstract image of a bear confronts us on the jacket, created digitally and in Chinese ink, as are all the other animal characters. Aside from a few rocks and woody plants there is no setting. The bear speaks in large dark type; the others answer in different colors. This makes the small red triangle of the hat very easy to spot. The front end pages depict all the animals, including the hatless bear, in tones of brown. The scene is repeated on the back end pages with the red hat back atop the bear's head. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1–3—Readers may be too young to know Nixon's famous line, "I am not a crook," but they'll surely figure out that someone here is not telling the truth. Bear has lost his hat and asks various creatures if they have seen it, with pronounced civility. Snake goes offtrack (and will also throw inattentive listeners offtrack) by announcing he's seen a blue and round hat. Rabbit vigorously denies having seen anything like it, despite evidence to the contrary. Armadillo asks, "What is a hat?" Bear is flung into despair until a young deer asks, "What does your hat look like?" Bear starts to describe it and immediately realizes he has seen it. The following page is painted red with anger. Readers realize they have seen it, too! Bear confronts the culprit and what happens next is a matter of interpretation. Violence is implied, but only indirectly. The Chinese ink illustrations are understated and stylized, and the pages are a natural sandy hue throughout. The dialogue is not in quotations but in contrasting colors. Wisps of grass, rocks, small branches, and specks of dirt compose the setting. Read aloud, this story will offer many sublime insights into how young readers comprehend an illustrated text that leaves out vital information, and will leave young sleuths reeling with theories about what just happened.—Sara Lissa Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School PS 347, New York City
Klassen's coy effort combines spare illustration, simple, repetitive text and a "payback's a bear" plot.
A somber, sepia-toned bear longs for his missing hat and questions a series of forest animals about its whereabouts. While everyone denies seeing it, a rabbit (sporting, readers will note, a pointy red chapeau) protests a bit too indignantly. Ten pages on, as the bear describes his hat for a solicitous deer, realization hits: "I HAVE SEEN MY HAT." The accompanying illustration shows the indignant bear suffused in the page's angry red. There's the subsequent dash and confrontation, followed by bear in hat and rabbit—well, nowhere to be seen. Klassen's ink-and-digital creatures, similarly almond-eyed and mouth-less, appear stiff and minimalist against creamy white space. Foliage is suggested with a few ink strokes (though it's quite bashed-up after rabbit goes missing). The text type, New Century Schoolbook, intentionally evokes the visually comfy, eminently readable design of 1960s children's primers. Font colors correlate with the animals' dialogue as well as the illustrations' muted color palette, and the four-sentence denials (first rabbit's, then bear's) structurally echo each other. Indubitably hip, this will find plenty of admirers. Others might react to a certain moral vapidity. And the littlest ones will demand to know where the heck that rabbit went.
Cynical on wry. (Picture book. 4-7)
I Want My Hat Back is a marvelous book in the true dictionary sense of "marvel": it is a wonderful and astonishing thing, the kind of book that makes child laugh and adult chuckle, and both smile in appreciation…It may take younger children a few readings to understand the story in full, but when they do, they will savor it all the more. Adult readers, for their part, will surely anticipate Klassen's next picture book in the same way they yearn for a new Mo Willems or relish a William Steig classic. This is a charmingly wicked little book and the debut of a promising writer-illustrator talent.
The New York Times