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I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published by Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN # 978-0763655983
Grades K and up

Book Review

Understatement, simplicity, and subversion comprise a formula for success in Jon Klassen’s debut picture book, I Want My Hat Back. Narrated only through characters’ dialogue, the premise is straightforward: a bear has lost his hat and wants it back. And so, a pillar of politeness and perseverance, he roams the forest interrogating its inhabitants about the whereabouts of his hat. It is when he finally begins to despair that he realizes his diligence has paid off and he recalls a clue discovered during his rounds of questioning. Do not let the simple text and unadorned illustrations lull you into believing this story is commonplace, however. Teachers and parents should be prepared for an irreverent resolution to the bear’s predicament. What happens next is subtle and wickedly funny, although adults who want children’s books to present admirable protagonists, teach morals, and have sweet, happy endings might not think so. When the bear realizes the rabbit lied to him, he seeks revenge in the worst way. Klassen uses Chinese ink and digital media to render illustrations in a muted palette that masterfully convey so much with so little. The characters are depicted without any mouths, leaving so much expression and personality to be interpreted through the slightest variance in their eyes. Read this one aloud to students, or encourage them to read it on their own, and watch them light up and giggle when they finally figure out Klassen’s clever joke.

Teaching Invitations

Grades K-3

  • Humor and High Frequency Words. Using children’s literature to help students practice recognizing, decoding, and spelling high frequency words often means turning to bland books with predictable plots. Use I Want My Hat Back to show students how learning high frequency words can be a fun and funny experience. Use this book for shared reading, partner reading, and independent reading. Then, have students write their own funny stories with the high frequency words they’ve already mastered. Look to the Cat the Cat, the Pigeon, and the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems for other mentor texts that combine high frequency words with humor.
  • Concepts of Print and Reader’s Theater. The fact that the text of the book contains only dialogue makes it ripe for reader’s theater activities. Klassen helps us along, too, with different font colors, capitalized case for certain sentences, and even a specific change of page color. However, he does not always punctuate sentences conventionally, which makes determining what kind of sentence each is and how it should be read aloud a worthwhile exercise for students as they prepare their reader’s theater performance.

Grades K and up

  • Inferring Character and Plot through Illustration. Before reading this book with students, do a picture walk of the illustrations, emphasizing that attention must be paid to the characters’ eyes. What do they notice about each animal’s gaze? At whom is each animal looking? What inferences can they make about the personality of each? How does Klassen also use color to convey character? Finally, make sure that students look closely at the bits of scenery that Klassen provides. What changes do they notice? Can they figure out why those changes occurred? In other words, what happens in the story that isn’t narrated or revealed directly through the text? Some of the texts listed below in Further Explorations, such as Officer Buckle and Gloria and Wolves are also useful for teaching how important content is conveyed only through illustration.
  • Animal Relationships in Stories. The use of animals to represent humanlike characters in picture books and early reader books is a common practice among authors and illustrators. However, Klassen wittily reminds us that animals also have primal instincts, that food chains exist, and that often the relationships between animals depicted in picture books could never really exist in real life. Have students investigate what the bear’s relationship to each animal he meets might really be. Would he really help the turtle climb the rock? Would he ignore it? How about the deer? And, of course, don’t forget the rabbit!

Grades 6-8

  • Thematic Study on Irony. Irony is a tough concept for many students to grasp and therefore isn’t usually taught until middle school or high school. If your students are ready to learn about irony, gather a text set of picture books and short stories about irony. You might want to stick to a single definition of irony or introduce the different types of irony that can be found in literature: verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony. Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who and Emily Gravett’s Wolves work well for dramatic irony. How to Lose All Your Friends, by Nancy Carlson, can be used to explain verbal irony. Use Chris Van Allsburg’s The Sweetest Fig, William Bee’s Beware of the Frog, and, of course, I Want My Hat Back for situational irony. See the Further Explorations section for more picture book titles that highlight irony.

Critical Literacy

  • Interrogating the Rabbit’s Reasons. As children, we are taught that stealing is wrong. In many cases, as depicted in I Want My Hat Back, the consequences for stealing can be quite grave (pun intended). But are there ever times when stealing can be reasonably justified? Although we only hear the rabbit’s guilt-ridden response, perhaps his motive for stealing the bear’s hat can be justified—at least from the rabbit’s perspective. Have students explore this issue and retell or rewrite the story from the rabbit’s point of view. Make sure that the reconstructed story remains true to the plot of the original story. You might want to use Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park, or any fractured version of a tale that’s familiar to students as mentor texts showing how a story can be retold from a more sympathetic lens of an otherwise despised character.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Jon Klassen’s website
Jon Klassen’s blog

EcoKids Chain Reaction food chain activities

Other Books

Bee, W. (2008). Beware of the frog. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

  • A quirky picture book with a situational ironic ending about a pet frog who protects its owner by swallowing menacing villains whole, turning traditional tales on their heads.

Carlson, N. (1997). How to lose all your friends. New York: Puffin.

  • A picture book that stresses verbal irony by listing a number of rules to follow to ensure you lose your friends.

Donaldson, J. (1999). The gruffalo. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

  • In this picture book of dramatic irony, a mouse invents a friendship with a monster to scare away predators that might eat him.

Gravett, E. (2006). Wolves. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

  • Like I Want My Hat Back, this picture book offers minimal text, an ironic plot, and a delightfully sly conclusion.

Henkes, K. (2007). A good day. New York: Greenwillow Books.

  • A sweet, soothing picture book about how losing things can sometimes result in happy outcomes.

Van Allsburg, C. (1993). The sweetest fig. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

  • In true Van Allsburg fashion, this beautifully illustrated picture book tells the unorthodox tale of situational irony, in which a despicable dentist receives magic figs that can make his dreams come true.

Willems, M. (2010-present). Cat the cat series. New York: Balzer & Bray.

  • A humorous series for early readers by the multiple award winning author and illustrator.

Willems, M. (2007-present). Elephant and Piggie series. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

  • This early reader series about two animal friends involved in silly situations boasts loads of laughs and multiple Geisel Medal winners.

Willems, M. (2003-present). Pigeon series. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

  • Another award winning picture book series in which the humorous plot is told only through dialogue.
Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.


  1. Hi! I'd like to include your teaching invitations for I Want My Hat Back in a session that I'm presenting at our state librarians' conference in November. Would this be okay? I'll give you full attribution and link to your site.

  2. Jann, we are more than happy for you to share our Teaching Invitations at the conference, with attribution. We would love to hear from you after the conference to hear how things went and what the reactions were! Please email us!