Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Magic Hat by Mem Fox

Fox, Mem (2002). The Magic Hat. Orlando: Harcourt. ISBN 0152010254.

The Magic Hat is the story of a hat that comes “from out of town” and moves “like this” and “like that” and every time it lands on someone, it turns them into an animal indicative of who the person was before. Finally, a wizard comes to town and makes the hat “STOP.” With a wave of his magic wand, the wizard turns the animals back into people and then quietly, “with a mischievous smile” leaves town with the magic hat on his head.

In my interpretation, the hat is indicative of the filter through which people see when they travel “into town” from somewhere else (figuratively speaking)—meaning we have our own little magic hat we impose on people when we look at them. Just like the hat turned a grumpy old man with a cane into a “warty old toad,” a fat sleeping man with a sandwich on his belly into a “sleepy old bear,” and a mother carrying a baby in her arms into a “kangaroo,” our own “magic hats” turn people into whatever we want them to be. To me, this means that we have the power to decide who people are, and since we are essentially ALSO the wizards who come into town and change the animals back into people, we are the only ones with power to stop our own filters and change our own minds (and, in essence, STOP the stereotyping).

The story is told through rhythm and rhyming, giving the entire book a snappy cadence, making it fun to read and easy to remember. The cartoonish line-drawings, brought to life through watercolor fill (by Tricia Tusa), add to the liveliness of the book. Both of these elements—the language and the illustration—work together to make the story a fun, engaging book. BUT, it is the underlying message that is important. The problem is, that because the book is presented in such a humorous way, the message (at least my interpretation thereof) may not come through (for younger children anyway, and this IS a picture book) without the guidance of an adult.

Therefore, this is an incredible book on its own and serves the purpose of being an amusing read for children as well as an exposure to fun and simple poetic verse. However, for a more in-depth purpose, a teacher or storytime leader could easily ask the probing questions like “What do you think the hat represents?”, “Why does the man on the bench turn into a sleepy bear?” or “Who do you think the wizard is?” to lead children to a discussion about the filters we see through and the power we have to change/control them.

Reviews (per

Publishers Weekly:
The titular topper of this rollicking, rhyming read-aloud is indeed magic: when it blows into town one day, it plops down on the head of resident after resident, instantly transforming each person into an animal. Each time the chapeau lands, Fox (Time for Bed) reprises the refrain, "Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat! It moved like this, it moved like that! It spun through the air!" At this point the author inserts a varying line (e.g., "Like a bounding balloon"; "For a mile and a half"), and a flip of the page reveals what animal the new hat-wearer becomes (in the above instances, a baboon and a giraffe). Kids will eagerly join in the guessing game, which Tusa's (Camilla's New Hairdo) fittingly silly, bustling ink-and-watercolor illustrations whip up into high-octane action. Her clever details add to the clues; for instance, a fruit-stand seller juggles bananas as the hat transforms him into a baboon. A supporting cast of animated children witness the zany goings-on, reacting gleefully to each transformation. These characters' unbridled enjoyment will almost certainly evoke the same response from readers. Ages 3-7.

School Library Journal:
Preschool-Grade 3--A whirling, magical hat sweeps into a bustling park, transforming each adult on whom it alights into a fun-loving animal. Rhymed verses add to the humor and allow listeners to predict what will follow as the page turns. A group of delighted children takes up the path of the hat's swirling confetti, until, at last, a large, but impish wizard appears. He restores the characters to their former selves and leaves a large, spotted egg that hatches, distracting the crowd as he turns to leave. But that's not the end. Donning the hat himself, the wizard becomes a high-spirited boy, framed by starlight, kicking up sparkles. Tusa's ink-and-watercolor images dance with life (even the flowers seem to be in motion); kinetic, double-page designs spill off the pages. Add this to your favorite headpiece storytime. Children will be bursting to participate.

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