Give me a mystery to read and I’m set. From age 5 to now, I’ve been obsessed with mysteries.
But can they work in a picture book?
Yes. Yes. YES!
Consider Jon Klassen’s HAT trilogy.
Each is a mystery at its very core.
I WANT MY HAT BACK is a film noir. It evokes darkness and scheming. The main character does not change. In fact, he continues on his revenge path to the absolute final decision. The reader is left with a feeling of fatalism, but in its purest sense. There was a theft. There was also a consequence. NOTE: Editors/agents discussed this book a LOT; did someone die at the end or not? What do you think?
THIS IS NOT MY HAT is a similar feel, but it takes us darker. We’ve seen the first book and we know what to expect, but do we really know? The background sea is ink darkness, much like the darkness the author is trying to convey, and as the book progresses, we find ourselves worrying, but then not. After all, how dark can this get? It’s a picture book.
But it’s also a horror film. It’s not knowing or seeing what happens. It’s more pronounced. You get a sense that Klassen is taking us somewhere and making us feel the most authentic of feelings. The big fish has his hat. And then there is a cluster of seaweed. And the story is done. What happened?
WE FOUND A HAT is the third in the trilogy. It’s about two turtles who find a hat in the desert. This reminds of an old western where there’s going to be a duel and you’re not exactly sure if one will overcome the other and get the girl and become the sheriff and ride off into the sunset to battle another day.
Sometimes in this book, the hat is a mirage. Sometimes, it is a dream. There’s a threat of danger as the two protagonists discuss the hat. As Klassen wraps up his picture book trilogy, what do you think? Does it work for you?
And just because it’s a much lighter sort of story, I’d also like to mention an upcoming picture book by my client, Jason Gallaher. WHOBERT WHOVER comes out July 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, and it’s a classic whodunit. Whobert has to solve the mystery and engages all of his forest friends to help find out what happened.
It’s much cheerier, in illustration and in textual form. It’s like resurfacing after a long, deep swim of Klassen. Try a mystery format and see how it works for you!
Tricia is the "Pacific Northwest branch" of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 22 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids books to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.