Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review(s) and Rumination: Jon Klassen's Hat Trilogy and Teaching Inference

Heads up, this is going to be a long and rambling post. I hope you stay. A series of events occurred that led up to my decision to revisit I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat before reading Klassen's latest, We Have Found a Hat

I was attending a meeting of the valley librarians (seven towns send to two high schools and we all meet several times a year), when an email popped up sent by a colleague whose students I work with daily. She was attending a dyslexia workshop. She went to a breakout session on teaching inference and the presenter recommended the picture book, Widget, to teach inference. J. wanted to know if we had the book in our library. We did not but I offered to borrow it from the public library for her. Neither of my two home libraries owned it so I submitted an ILL request. When it arrived a few days later, I picked the book up and popped it in her box. I must have been busy because I did not stop to read it first. 

A week or so later, I had to go to her classroom to work with her kids because the book fair was being held in my library and they couldn't come to me. Since it was the first day of picture book month, I brought a couple of picture books to read and told the kids we were reading picture books all month to celebrate. There was still time after I read the two I brought, so J. asked if I would read them Widget. (by Lyn Rossiter McFarland. Illustrated by Jim McFarland. Square Fish, 2006. 978037448369.)

It is a sweetly humorous story about a stray dog who has to masquerade as a cat in order to stay in a nice cozy home occupied by a grandmotherly lady who owns six cats. The "girls" do not like dogs so Widget meows and otherwise adopts cat behaviors in order to fit in. The illustrations are appealing. The climax is cute, if a tad predictable. I enjoyed reading it and could see why it was recommended as a text for teaching inference, but I wasn't bowled over.

And that got me thinking.

First, it got me thinking that I could think of many other books that teachers could use to teach inference. That if I were presenting, of course I would share my favorite; but I would also provide a list of possibilities because my favorite might not be a universally good fit. 

Then, I thought of all the pre-service and early service teachers studiously jotting this title down and trying it with their kids. I thought of myself in my early years of school librarianship, studiously jotting recommendations down at conferences and trying them with my kids. Some worked some did not. What I did find was that, if I felt passionate about the recommended title - it worked. If I used it because x, y, or z said to and I didn't love it? Well, it almost always fell flat. 

And that made me think about "required" or "all-class" reading. I've had four sons go through a highly rated high school that dictated what books were to be read in LA classes. The sons who had teachers that were passionate about the book got the better deal. 

I told you this would be rambling. 

I did like Widget very much. I would have no problem teaching inference using it. It's a fine example. But I would suggest others. My personal favorites are:

The Hat Trilogy by Jon Klassen:

I Want My Hat Back. Candlewick Press, September, 2011. 9780763655983.

Klassen's authorial debut won a Geisel Honor and made the ALA Notables Books list. In it, a big lug of a bear has lost his hat and he plods through the woods politely asking each animal he passes if they have seen his hat. All of them answer tersely and truthfully except rabbit whose word vomit ends with, "I did not steal a hat." It takes a solicitous deer's request for a description of the hat for bear to realize that he HAS seen his hat! He sure does get angry! There are quite a few opportunities to infer in this darkly hilarious tale.

This is Not My Hat. Candlewick Press, October, 2012. Candlewick Press, 2012. 9780763655990.

Not only did this win Klassen a 2013 Caldecott Medal, he also snagged an honor for Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. In This is Not My Hat, there is a theft and the gleeful little thief is the narrator of the story. The tiny fish has swiped a blue bowler hat from a large lunk of a fish claiming it was too small for him and anyway, he won't even notice it's missing. Big fish does though and the chase is on. The deadpan humor is delightful as is the underwater environment - a black background with collaged aquatic plants and streams of bubbles indicating movement. As in I Want My Hat Back, we must read the eyes. The crab is especially hysterical, ratting out the fish.

We Have Found a Hat. Candlewick Press, October, 2016. 9780763656003.

The trilogy concludes with another hat, this time a found hat. Two turtles find a white Stetson hat on their travels. They each covet it, but since there's only one hat and two turtles, they decide to leave it. Only…Again, astute readers will check out the eyes. As one turtle's eyes narrow, they will wonder what it has in mind. The story is told in three acts and readers who think they know what will happen are in for a surprise. 

Not surprisingly, this title is showing up on quite a few "Best" lists of 2016. Also not surprisingly, not everyone feels the love for this. Some just don't get the humor. 

I love everything about these books from the dark, deadpan humor to the minimal, almost monochromatic, gritty art. They tickle me to no end and I never tire of reading through any and all of them.

And that's the point I'm longwindedly trying to make. Because I adore these books, (hopefully) my enthusiasm for them will entice my students to go along for the ride. Folks who don't like or don't get the books will have a harder time using the books to teach inference. The moral? One size does not fit all. If you are recommending books, it is fine to model the one that speaks to you but provide a list of others that do the job as well.

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