Grandpas and Hats

I read children’s books for the same reason I read anything else: the title or cover grabs my attention or I hear about it somewhere and it piques my interest. Here are two I recently discovered.

Very Good Hats came to my attention in a Very Bad Way. The author, Emma Straub, was set to visit two Texas classrooms in January when she was abruptly cancelled. I read about the cancellation* and it turns out that – brace yourself – she previously used the “F-word” and other “foul language” on social media. Whew! Thank goodness the school district acted to save the children, that was close!


Straub handled it with grace:

I was sorry not to be able to read my silly book about hats and imagination to those kids. The only F words in the presentation: funny, feline, feelings.

Very Good Hats is so cute! It’s intended for ages 2-5 and I liked it so much that I bought a copy for a work friend’s baby shower gift. It’s 30 pages of colorful fun and silly (yet insightful) text.

It begins: “Do you know what a hat is? I bet you think you know what a hat is.”

And off Straub goes with creative example after example of surprising hats. Raspberry hats for fingers are fun and reminded me of my niece Mallory, who I remember putting black olives on every single one of her fingers at dinner many years ago. She gets it!

The humor can be in your face, like a two-page bathroom scene with pajamas and towels as hats… and on the edge of the page is the back half of an adult in the shower, soaping their bare bottom with a pink pouf. It had me giggling hard and therefore will have kids in hysterics.

Then there’s the tongue-in-cheek humor of cats and other furry creatures being great hats in the wintertime. Not the Cat in Hat but the Cat as a Hat.

The illustrations by Blanca Gómez are simple, colorful, and diverse. She created the images digitally and with paper collage which is interesting; they do have a cut-and-paste quality. I think children would enjoy the pictures and see themselves and their families on the pages.

Some of the best hats come from grandparents.

Yes they do, and here is where we segue to the second children’s book in this review: Shapes, Lines, and Light: My Grandfather’s American Journey by Katie Yamasaki. I found it on the New Books shelf at the Architecture + Fine Arts library at UF. The cover caught my eye, mostly because of the smiling grandfatherly face in the center surrounded by plants and buildings.

The story of Minoru “Yama” Yamasaki is uplifting with a side of struggle. It’s intended for ages 6-8 but I don’t know… perhaps mature kids only. It is very real and heartbreaking at times. The illustrations (by the author) are grown-up as well – there is nothing childish or cartoonish in these pictures. If a child can’t yet understand history and context, it might be a lot to take in.

The author’s grandfather’s name was Minoru but everyone knew him as Yama. And I mean everyone in the world, as he was a famous architect known for incorporating light and nature into his buildings to evoke feelings of serenity, surprise, and delight.

He designed the World Trade Center buildings – an architectural feat – but in a sad note Yamasaki says it was a good thing that he passed away before the 9-11 tragedy. It is starkly depicted on a two-page spread of sky blue with a small image of the smoking buildings in the bottom right corner and just one sentence: Many years later, a terrible thing happened.

If he had been alive, his heart would have broken into one million pieces… for all the people who went to work there in peace. For all their families.

Yama endured many hardships. He was born in Seattle to Japanese parents and when he finished college – paid for by working summers on an Alaskan fishing boat – it was the Great Depression. In addition to the bleak economic situation Yama encountered racism against Japanese people while looking for work. Then WWII came and with it the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. He and his wife sheltered many family members in their NYC apartment.

Yama came through and gifted the world with his ideas and designs. I’m glad I got to know him a little through the eyes of his granddaughter. At the end of the book are line drawings of many of his most famous buildings. The author also expands on his life with a short biography.

Yamasaki mentions being surprised that aside from the World Trade Center and his one major mistake – a public housing complex in St. Louis, her grandfather’s work is barely mentioned in architecture schools, mainly due to the emphasis on white male architects. It’s a shame and I hope that’s not the case here at the University of Florida.

If you haven’t guessed, my grandpa Sidney is in the photo at the top and below. He’s the fellow on the right, hand in his pocket. Uncle Sam is leaning against the tree, both of them cool as can be in their three piece suits, cigars, and of course, their hats. They wore them well, don’t you agree?

* Here’s an article about the kerfuffle:

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