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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Magritte's Marvelous Hat, written and illustrated by D. B. Johnson. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"For fun, the hat kept pretending to blow away and Magritte had to chase after it. He had to climb trees and jump over walls. And that afternoon Magritte painted a picture even better than the one before. He began to paint day and night."

Surreal art is beyond my understanding most of the time. That is exactly why I need to read books like this amazing tribute to Rene Magritte. As I read through it once, then twice, then three times, I started to appreciate his particular vision of the world.  It wasn't an easy lesson; but, most worthwhile;

"One bright day in the dark of night you look at your reflection in a window and see the back of your head. You try on a hat that floats in the air and leads you to a place where anything is possible and everything is impossible. This is not the "real" world. You have entered a "surreal" world of visual surprises."

Inspired by Magritte's work, D. B. Johnson has created another masterpiece for his readers. It begins with Magritte's fascination with a bowler hat in a store window. He goes in but something very unusual happens...the hat floats above his head. Turn the plastic overlay page and you are in for a surprise, as is Magritte:

"He liked how the hat did not pinch his ears or muss his hair."

Reversible images and unexpected illusions fill the pages and will leave readers awe-struck. Cloud-cutting, hat-chasing, and hat-topped fountains with children revelling in the spray are all images that will encourage careful attention to the many details in each wonderful illustration. From the hat  Magritte draws inspiration and finds great pleasure in the work he is doing. When the hat finds itself forgotten because of Magritte's attention to his painting, it begins acting out to encourage play. Magritte tries to temper its playfulness with a warning to be a hat; his advice is not taken. The hat flies out the window.

The artist runs after it, worrying that he will lose his muse and reason for success. Through the streets of Paris Magritte chases the bowler, always wondering how to get it back. Will anything entice it? Can he find the way to make it come home? Knowledgeable art students will recognize much from the artist's canvases in the scenes created here. When the hat decides to return, it has its own surprise in store:

"It landed right on Magritte's head and floated him up into the air! "Perfect!" said Magritte. Of course, the hat pinched his ears and mussed his hair, but Magritte's brush danced and the colors sang. Once more, painting was easy."

There is so much to see here; it will take many readings and much discussion to learn about the most notable elements of Magritte's legacy to the art world. This book honors his work.

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