Little Fish is a thief. He stole a hat that belonged to Big Fish, but he thinks it isn’t so bad because the Big Fish will never find him. Plus, the hat is too small for Big Fish. Little Fish isn’t afraid, though. He will swim and swim until he reaches a place where the plants grow tall and thick and Big Fish definitely won’t find him. It doesn’t even matter that Crab saw him, because Crab says he won’t tell Big Fish. Little Fish hides in the tall plants, but guess who has followed him and wants his hat back?
From the illustrations to the text, Klassen is the master of subtlety; he knows how to follow the generally accepted writing rule of show, don’t tell. The illustrations are crafted using a blend of digital art and Chinese Ink, which is also known as india ink or ink wash painting. The muted tones of sepia, charcoal, and pale blues and reds add to the subtlety of the overall piece. The images are flat, but full of texture. Although the two fish and the crab have no mouths, a great deal of expression is visible in the placement and shape of the eyes. Movement of the character is indicated by faint splatters of white that are meant to be bubbles in the water. The darker tones add to a sense of foreboding as the story progresses. “It’s no surprise that the dominant color of the spreads is black. Tough times call for tough picture books” (Publishers Weekly 2012).
In first person point-of-view, Little Fish speaks directly to the reader and is never shy about revealing the awful truth. In a refreshing twist, readers follow the story mostly from the antagonist’s point of view. The text is simple and straight to the point. In fact, this book would be a good choice for a beginning reader who is ready to begin moving up a level. Klassen makes use of repetition, which is an important early literacy device for children and helps build tension as the illustrations reveal the Big Fish opening his eye, squinting in determination, and swimming in hot pursuit of Little Fish.
There is a dark, almost macabre humor that permeates the story. Little Fish is cocky and sure of himself. Kids will giggle when they see him wearing a little, blue hat. The expressive eyes of Big Fish and Crab act as clues in telling children what will happen next, and are amusing in their simplicity. Klassen is never didactic and allows the overall theme and moral to reveal itself through the actions of the the two fish: stealing is wrong and you reap what you sow. The conflict is presented at the onset, tension rises, and the climactic moment when Big Fish watches Little Fish swim into the tall plants leads to a quiet and extremely clever denouement.
Most children ages 4 and up should enjoy the humor in this story, but some may worry about the safety of Little Fish and the eventual outcome. This is a great moment to stop and ask the children why they are worried and how they feel about Little Fish’s actions. Teachers, librarians, and parents can also take this time to discuss alternatives to theft, such as sharing
Jon Klassen is quickly becoming one of my favorite picture book authors and illustrators. I love his spare style, the muted tones (which are somewhat surprising in a picture world of bright, bold colors), and his clever wit. This Is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott Award.
Publishers Weekly. August 2012. Publishers Weekly.com. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7636-5599-0. Accessed September 8, 2013.