Bear Wants Hat Back; For More, See Kids Book

Jon Klassen's latest book, I Want My Hat Back, is the delightful story about a bear who loses, and then finds, his hat. Scott talks with Weekend Edition's ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater, about the story and the importance of art in children's books.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a new book for children about a bear who's lost his hat. The book is called "I want my Hat Back." It's by Jon Klassen. Daniel Pinkwater joins us. He's our ambassador to the world of children's literature. He joins us from his home in upstate New York. Daniel, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL PINKWATER: Scott, it's always my great, great pleasure. And I wish to make a statement to no particular purpose.

SIMON: Sure.

PINKWATER: Over the years, I have looked at - Scott - thousands of picture books.

SIMON: Right.

PINKWATER: I have written, and-or written and illustrated, dozens of picture books.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

PINKWATER: Plus, I have worked on books with some of the finest illustrators. And I want to share with you what I have concluded about picture books with all this experience.

SIMON: Yes?

PINKWATER: They've got to have pictures.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PINKWATER: The book we're going to do is a book that relies heavily on art. Listeners can't see it. We have to do our best to convey it.

SIMON: Well, let's begin to read and describe the pictures for...

PINKWATER: OK. I understand I am to give voice to the bear.

SIMON: You are always the bear, I've noticed. I play the rest of the forest, but you are always the bear.

PINKWATER: Well, there's reasons for that. For one thing, I can wear a bear suit without any padding.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yes.

PINKWATER: This is a great bear. He's standing there.

EDWARD LIFSON, BYLINE: Yeah.

PINKWATER: He's looking as - dumber than any real bear could be and he says, my hat is gone, I want it back. Meets a fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALKING, CRUNCHING NOISES)

SIMON: Yeah.

PINKWATER: (as Bear) Have you seen my hat?

SIMON: (as Fox) No. I haven't seen your hat.

PINKWATER: (as Bear) OK. Thank you anyway. Moves on.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROG)

PINKWATER: Now it's a frog. (as Bear) Have you seen my hat?

(SOUNDBITE OF FROG)

SIMON: (as Frog) No. I have not seen any hats around here.

PINKWATER: (as Bear) OK. Thank you anyway. Now he runs into a rabbit who strangely is wearing a little, pointy, red hat himself and he says, have you seen my hat?

SIMON: (as Rabbit) No. Why are you asking me? I haven't seen it. I haven't seen any hats anywhere. I wouldn't steal a hat. Don't ask me any more questions.

PINKWATER: (as Bear) OK. Thank you anyway. Here's a turtle. Have you seen my hat?

SIMON: (as Turtle) I haven't seen anything all day. I have been trying to climb this rock.

PINKWATER: (as Bear) Would you like me to lift you on top of it?

SIMON: (as Turtle) Yes. Please.

Next page. The bear encounters a snake. I identify with snakes; I don't know why. Maybe it's all the prominent S's. And of course, the snake - as is their wont - is upside down, hanging from a tree.

PINKWATER: Which you often do.

SIMON: Yes. Yes, just after lunch.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PINKWATER: (as Bear) Have you seen my hat?

SIMON: (as Snake) Saw a hat once. It was blue and round.

PINKWATER: (as Bear) My hat doesn't look like that. Thank you anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: The suspense is really building, yeah?

PINKWATER: I don't know what this animal is. What do you think?

SIMON: Or...

PINKWATER: I was thinking maybe an armadillo.

SIMON: Could be an armadillo.

PINKWATER: Maybe a muskrat. Anyway, the bear talks to this animal.

SIMON: A muskrat would have more fur. I think it might be an armadillo - although...

PINKWATER: All right. Let's...

SIMON: ...what would an armadillo be doing in a forest?

PINKWATER: He could be just visiting.

SIMON: Yes.

PINKWATER: Yeah. (as Bear) Have you seen my hat?

SIMON: (as Armadillo) What is a hat?

PINKWATER: (as Bear) Thank you anyway. Now the bear is lying on his back in the weeds; he's thoroughly depressed. Nobody has seen my hat. What if I never see it again? My poor hat. I miss it so much.

SIMON: All right. There's an elk standing over the bear.

PINKWATER: Or a deer or a moose, I don't know.

SIMON: A good - a great rack, in any case, which is what they say in the forest.

PINKWATER: It's an ungulate, and that's OK to say, too.

SIMON: All right. And the elk opens the conversation. (as Elk) What's the matter?

PINKWATER: (as Bear) I have lost my hat, and nobody has seen it.

SIMON: (as Elk) What does your hat look like?

PINKWATER: (as Bear) It is red and pointy and - the bear sits up. I have seen my hat!

SIMON: And suddenly...

PINKWATER: Now he's running. He runs past the Turtle. He runs past the Fox. He runs past the Snake. He runs past the Armadillo - or whatever it is that, we are not sure; confronts the Bunny. (as Bear) You, you stole my hat.

Double-page spread. The Rabbit looks at the Bear, the Bear looks at the Rabbit. Now the Bear is sitting. He's wearing the hat. I love my hat. Here's a squirrel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUIRREL NOISES)

SIMON: (as Squirrel) Excuse me. Have you seen a rabbit wearing a hat?

PINKWATER: (as Bear) No. Why you asking me? I haven't seen him. I haven't seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don't ask me any more questions.

SIMON: (as Squirrel) OK. Thank you anyway. Last page.

PINKWATER: Nothing.

SIMON: The Bear is sitting there, just a look of quiet post-perandial satisfaction, I think it says.

PINKWATER: Well...

SIMON: Yeah?

PINKWATER: ...it's fantastic art and it's minimal text.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

PINKWATER: And as a bear author artist myself, I have to tell you, I'm a little jealous of this bear. Now, bears, they loom large in children's books.

SIMON: Well?

PINKWATER: Goldilocks, no end of successors.

SIMON: Yeah. No, no, Winnie the Pooh.

PINKWATER: Oh, yeah. 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 grown-ups. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: The book we read, "I Want My Hat Back," is by Jon Klassen. Daniel Pinkwater, the voice of the Bear, is the author of many fine books for children, and for adults. His latest is "Bushman Lives." As a matter of fact, he's serializing it ahead of publication, for free - what a deal - on pinkwater.com. Daniel, thanks for speaking with us.

PINKWATER: Scott, a joy and a pleasure. Look out for bears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL NEVER FORGET THE DAY I READ A BOOK")

JIMMY DURANTE: (Singing) I'll never forget the day I read a book. It was contagious, 70 pages. There were pictures here and there, so it wasn't hard to bear, the day I read a book.

SIMON: Jimmy Durante, again. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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