John Klassen and Proverbs: A Guest Post from Sarah Hartman*

John Klassen’s Hat trilogy beautifully illustrates timeless truths from the book of Proverbs.

I Want My Hat Back (2011), This is Not My Hat (2012), and We Found a Hat (2016), by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick Press

Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 0-4

Recommended for: all ages

The book of Proverbs begins with an exhortation “to receive instruction in wise behavior,” and one of the easiest ways to help children understand wise instruction is through story. Jon Klassen’s Hat trilogy consists of three tales that exhibit some of the themes in the book of Proverbs, using elegantly simple illustrations paired with deliciously deadpan humor.

In I Want My Hat Back, a bear searches for his missing headgear. Each spread involves the bear asking a different creature if they have seen his hat, and their response hinting at their innocence or involvement in the bear’s problem. At the last, we see clearly that “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death” (Prov. 21:6).

The dark tale of This is Not My Hat takes place at the bottom of a body of water (and thus the lack of light). But it also points out that “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov 12:15a). A fish has stolen a hat, and has the perfect plan or justification or excuse (or “D. All of the above”) that he needs to convince himself he’s going to succeed. The illustrations show that the arrogant fish’s foolish talk is actually blinding him to the truth of what is happening. “A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (Prov 18:7).

In We Found a Hat, two turtles (siblings? friends?) come upon one hat. They discover that the hat looks good on both of them! Fortunately, in this story we see some good choices being made, encouraged by the bonds of love and affection. Because after all, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). A beautiful conclusion to the trilogy of hats.

While excellent, these books are not sweet, cuddly, feel-good bedtime stories (with the possible exception of the last one). What they are is an enjoyable (and frankly, hilarious) way to foster discussions with your young and middle grade children about foolishness, lying, consequences, stealing, coveting, and arrogance.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview Rating: 5
  • Artistic/Literary Rating: 4.5

Read more about our ratings here.

*Sarah Hartman reviews books on her Instagram channel, Modern Living Books.

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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4 Comments

  1. Alison Fairfield on November 13, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    I bought these three books on the strength of this recommendation. That was a mistake. I think RR guest reviewer is giving far, far too much credit to this author. She is bringing the wealth of her own “theological insight” to this writing where none exists, at least not intentionally. Klassen is novice author who claims Cormac McCarthy as an inspiration generally. That tells me something. Apparently these books may well appeal hipster, ironic, edgy parents or older readers. But this tone in a book styled for the preschool set? No thanks. They are too dark for the readers I had in mind.

    • Janie Cheaney on November 17, 2021 at 10:43 am

      Alison, thank you for your comments. I can’t make any judgments about our guest reviewer’s post, but I trust readers will judge for themselves between her thoughts and yours.

      • Alison Fairfield on November 20, 2021 at 5:54 pm

        Thanks for your irenic response, Janie. I should not write comments late at night, and I should definitely proof read them if I do!

        I will offer an amendment to my comments. I had less difficulty with the last book in this trilogy which is set at night in the desert, so Klassen’s taupe, brown and black palette is more understandable. And the “solution” to the story’s dilemma in the final book is lighter and magical. (In the other two stories “sinning characters” are just killed off, which strikes me as a rather harsh comeuppance. Some reviewers I’ve read deride this concern as “pearl clutching.”)

        I would recommend watching the You Tube interview with Klassen about his writing process for this series. It’s not that I “have it in for the guy” — he seems nice enough. But I see no way that he was “smuggling in” some good theology into his writing. He’s main value seems to be “millennial authenticity” — as in, sugar coating reality presumably disrespects children who deserve tales that are a matter of life and death.

        • Janie Cheaney on November 22, 2021 at 6:49 am

          Alison, thanks for the additional insight, especially recommending the YouTube video. In fairness, I often get out of a writer’s work something I doubt he or she intended–perhaps it’s an aspect of “Take every thought captive.”

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