This is a very stylish retelling of the familiar tale of a hat (sometimes a mitten in other stories) which is lost by its owner and inhabited by creatures of the forest. In this version, a branch knocks the hat off the head of an elf as he hurries through the woods. The elf continues on, not noticing that the hat is missing and in turn a frog, mouse, hare, hedgehog, crow, fox, boar, wolf, and bear all come to inhabit the house together! When a flea tries to move in, she squeezes out the larger creatures. The story comes full circle when the elf returns for his hat and finds it, unaware of its previous occupants or the new tenant inside the flea, who has a new home.
The text is lyrical to the young ear. As each animal finds the hat it exclaims, A home-in-a-hat? Imagine that! After making an appropriate growl or squawk, it asks, Hello in there. Do you have room to spare? The creatures ask for entrance and are welcomed into the bright red cap with repetition that children will quickly learn and recite.
John Rowe's rich, slightly eccentric illustrations can stand alone and tell the story without the need for text. The arrival of each animal encompasses a two-page spread of text and artwork. Each picture is brimming with illustrated discussion-starters: tracks of the animal, the present and future occupants of the hat, and more. Most interesting to this adult eye are the playful insects that also populate the pages: ants who fish, and crickets who play . . . cricket, of course! The Elf's Hat retells a charming tale that adults will enjoy reading as much as children will enjoy hearing. And stylish? Its classic design is sturdy enough to withstand all the love a child can give. And that's a good thing, because who can resist the charm of a jaunty red hat?Sarah McMenamin Kim is a teacher and early childhood education consultant in Philadelphia.