Saturday, August 7, 2004
When Everybody Wore a Hat
Steig, William. 2003. WHEN EVERYBODY WORE A HAT. New York: Joanna Cotler Books. ISBN 0060097000 [Suggested Grade Levels 1 and Up]
SUMMARY and ANALYSIS
This picture book takes a nostalgic and generalized look at the year 1916, when 96-year-old author and illustrator William Steig was eight years old. In this book, he crafts brief lines of text, which offer up interesting tidbits about his life and the ways of the world at the time. Whimsical watercolor cartoons illustrate the people and events that still live in his memory.
Children will get a glimpse at a world gone by, where “boys never played with girls,” the doctor came to the patient, and a nickel made a fine birthday present. Steig’s casual mentions of ephemera of the past such as by-gone women’s fashions, hand-cranked phonographs and old-style cameras will pique the interest of inquisitive children and make them want to learn more about this era.
This book isn’t entirely lighthearted however, with mentions (albeit brief and rather detached ones) and illustrations depicting World War I and events such as getting sad news from the Old Country. Sensitive children may ask “Why is his mom crying?” or “Why is that man bleeding?” For more mature children, this could provide an entrée for a history lesson. The absence of explanation in the text could prompt a dialogue between a child and an older person (ex: “Why do you think his mom is crying? When have you cried like that?”).
The glimpses that are provided into a variety of events of 1916 will intrigue readers of all ages and make them want to learn more about the era when everybody wore a hat.
Children can discuss the elements, innovations and events of their own time period that they feel will be interesting to children of the future as they reflect back. They can use Steig’s art as a guideline for illustrating the descriptions they come up with, or as a group project these illustrations could be done on a mural.
Picture books featuring autobiographical or biographical aspects of an author’s life:
Lester, Helen. AUTHOR! A TRUE STORY. ISBN 0395827442
McElroy, Lisa Tucker. MEET MY GRANDMOTHER: SHE’S A CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR. ISBN 0761319727
By Shannon McGregor