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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mr. Zinger's Hat, written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Tundra Books, Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Leo ran. He turned this way and that as the wind swirled the hat about. At last it started to come down, dipping lower and lower. Leo held out his hands. The hat came down right over Leo's own baseball cap. Leo took off the hat and gave it to Mr. Zinger. "So much excitement," Mr. Zinger said. "It makes me tired."

Leo is a very busy boy. As Mr. Zinger takes his daily constitutional around the courtyard, Leo practices throwing and catching his ball. Leo notices everything about Mr. Zinger, a published writer. He has been told by his mother not to bother him: those long walks allow him thinking time. Mr. Zinger's mind is at work.

When an errant throw has his ball knocking Mr. Zinger's hat off, and the wind takes it on an adventurous journey, Mr. Zinger asks for assistance in getting it back. Leo is happy to oblige. With great good luck, the wind blows the hat right back. When they sit to rest, Mr. Zinger tells Leo that there is a story inside his hat and it's trying to get out.

Leo is intrigued, and then enticed into helping his new friend create a new story. As it unfolds, Mr. Zinger encourages Leo to take part in the telling. He stops often, with questions about the characters, the setting, the action:

"What was it? What did he hold up?" asked Leo.
"You tell me," said Mr. Zinger.
"But, I don't know," said Leo.
"You don't know? Are you sure about that?
You knew the story was about a boy and not a
man. You knew that he was rich and not poor. You
knew that he didn't want a gold watch. You even knew
the name of the boy who ran up to the door. So maybe
you do know what this Leo held up. So? What is it?"

At the end of the story, Mr. Zinger returns home to write his own story and Leo is left to continue throwing his ball against the wall. Pretty soon, Sophie makes her presence known and Leo is able to pass on the lesson learned from his old friend, using his baseball cap.

What a wonderful book this is! I love it and will be taking it with me to all of my school visits this month. I can't wait to see how the children react to it. Perhaps they will be able to pull a story from their hats, too!

It is no surprise that I love the artwork as much as the story. Dusan Petricic uses bright colors and cool shadows to accompany the telling. His art differs completely for the story-within-a-story; his characters are cartoon-like, the colors are brighter and the backgrounds filled with action. Through it all, he creates feelings of warmth and charm for readers and listeners.

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