Written and Illustrated by D. B. Johnson
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
One bright day in the dark of night, the painted Magritte saw a marvelous hat in a store window. When he tried it on, the hat popped up and floated just above his head. “Oh, my!” said the hat maker.
The plot in a nutshell: A special hat helps Magritte become a wonderful painter
Magritte (depicted as a particularly well-dressed dog) loves his new hat, which hovers over his head all the way home. With his hat on, he finds painting much easier and paints the best picture. The next day, on his walk, the hat jumps into a fountain and Magritte has to jump in after it. Later that afternoon, he paints an even better picture. He gets so busy painting that he forgets the hat, which tries to get him to play. When Magritte won’t play, the hat flies out the window and the painting unpaints itself. He realizes he needs his hat to paint and goes out in search of it. He wonders if the hat would come back if he plays hide and seek, and hides in a rainstorm under his umbrella. The hat comes out to look for him and finds him at home, but this time it actually lands on his head, which lifts Magritte up into the air. Painting becomes easy again. He never forgets his hat again.
Author/illustrator D. B. Johnson specializes in books that introduce children to the concepts and styles of artists and writers that he admires, including George Orwell, Henry David Thoreau and M. C. Escher. This one is his ode to surrealism and the paintings of Rene Magritte. Magritte is an excellent subject because his work includes so many common objects, making it very accessible to even young children. Both the story plot and the writing style fit snugly within the surrealist genre (check out that opening sentence, ‘one bright day in the dark of night’), and I think kids will enjoy the distinctive style of it.
Of course, the book is essentially about art and Mr. Johnson packs this book full of mixed media imagery inspired by Magritte’s collected work. As a particularly interesting touch, there are four places in the book where he’s included a sheet of clear acetate with some objects strategically placed to either hide or reveal things on each facing page. A note about Magritte and the surrealist art movement is included in the back of the book. After reading this book, I searched for images of Magritte’s paintings and then went back and read it again, picking up on new references I hadn’t noticed before. This is a great pick for budding artists.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you should always make time for play and whimsy in your life, especially if your career is in the creative arts.