Saturday, September 26, 2009

Uncle Lester's Hat by Howie Schneider

Once again, not the cover of this book, but as I mentioned before, there must be a picture. This was a very amusing book. It is all about a seemingly lazy old man who never goes anywhere or does anything. Then he finds an old hat that once belonged to his uncle Lester, the adventurer. He decides to take a walk with the hat and he ends up chasing it all over the world. The best part of this, is that the illustrations show the old man running all over the world, through the desert and Paris and Russia etc. Meanwhile, the text is the old man's family talking about how he never goes anywhere, and how he says that travel is a waste of time. The contradiction is where the humor comes in. I know that this is a popular technique in theater, where the audience knows something that the actors do not, but I have never seen it in a book. I must say it was very effective and I like that it would be a great conversation starter for students; asking them about the apparent contradiction. The illustrations themselves were simple yet detailed. Simple perhaps in their application, colored pencil with pen and ink. They were detailed in that they are busy at times, showing bricks on the buildings and shingles on roofs. That having been said, there were some issues too.

There is one thing that almost ruined this book for me, and it is due I think, to the fact that it was published in the early 90's. Here it is though. There is a picture where the old man is flying over the desert looking for his runaway hat, and he finds it perched on the end of a rifle. The person carrying it appears to be of Middle Eastern decent and is wearing the traditional Muslim red and white head scarf. I was disturbed to find this image here. I do not have a problem with the presence of the Middle Eastern man, what isn't right here though is the way that he is depicted. Not only does he have the rifle, but he looks mean as he scowls straight ahead. I have to wonder if this has anything to do with feelings left over from the Gulf War or general feelings of bias or dislike. It was published in 1993, so it wouldn't have been that long after the conflict. I am really not sure, I suppose I would ask that of the author/illustrator. Yet another disturbing image in this book is of Russia. Rows and rows of soldiers are depicted marching through the streets of Moscow (I know because the Red Square is shown in the background) with rifles on their shoulders. Behind them appears to be a tank and several missiles. In the background, five people stand above them on top of a wall or building perhaps. Now the Cold War had been over a while when this book was published, but since this author was alive during that time I suppose this image could have been inspired by it. Again, it seems political. I am not crazy about putting your own political thoughts into children's books, even though it would raise questions and conversation. It is giving students the wrong idea about other citizens of the world that aren't good. I'm also not crazy about the depiction of so many weapons.

So in the end I have very mixed feelings about this book. It is recommended for students between 4 and 8 and I suppose that sounds about right. I just worry still about students getting the wrong idea, so you would have to allow time to talk about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment