We Found a Hat: Jon Klassen’s Minimalist, Maximally Wonderful Parable of Transforming Covetousness into Generosity and Justice
By Maria Popova
“If you perceive the universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be. If you think of the universe as one of scarcity, then it will be,” legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser observed in his conversation with Debbie Millman. One might say that it is difficult, perhaps even delusional, to elect perception over the hard facts of physical reality — after all, if there is only one apple in front of you, how could you perceive your way to having two? And yet the great physicist David Bohm, a scientist grounded in the fundamental building blocks of physical reality, articulated a parallel truth in contemplating how our perceptions shape our reality:
Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.
Beloved children’s book author and illustrator Jon Klassen explores this disorienting paradox with great subtlety, simplicity, and sensitivity in We Found a Hat (public library) — the conclusion of his celebrated hat trilogy, following I Want My Hat Back (2011) and This Is Not My Hat.
The story follows two turtles who discover a hat together — a very winsome hat, they both feel — and are suddenly faced by a practical predicament: There is one hat to be had, and two of them who want to have it.
Carrying Klassen’s minimalist, maximally expressive illustrations — entire worlds of emotion and intent are intimated by the turn of the turtles’ black-and-white eyes — are his equally spartan words, which envelop his protagonists’ interior worlds in sweetness and gentleness as he tells this touching story of covetousness transformed into generosity and justice.
We found a hat.
We found it together.
But there is only one hat.
And there are two of us.
How does it look on me?
It looks good on you.
How does it look on me?
It looks good on you too.
It looks good on both of us.
But it would not be right if one of us had a hat and the other did not.
As the sun begins to set and the predicament remains unresolved, the turtles decide to leave the hat where it is and forget they found it.
But as they retire to sleep, the hat occupies their restless imagination. Like Dostoyevsky, who discovered the meaning of life in a dream, the turtles arrive at their solution via the nocturnal imagination.
Are you all the way asleep?
I am all the way asleep.
I am dreaming a dream.
What are you dreaming about?
I will tell you what I am dreaming about.
I am dreaming that I have a hat.
It looks very good on me.
You are also there. You also have a hat.
It looks very good on you too.
We both have hats?
Pair the warmhearted and wonderful We Found a Hat with Lemony Snicket’s Klassen-illustrated story The Dark, then complement its central sentiment with Annie Dillard on why generosity is the greatest animating force of art.
All page illustrations © Jon Klassen courtesy of Candlewick Press; photographs by Maria Popova
Published December 9, 2016