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Winner of the 2013
Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award

Mr. Zinger’s Hat

written by Cary Fagan
illustrated by Dušan Petričić

Tundra Books, 2012 | 978-1-77049-253-0 (hc) $19.99 | for ages 4-8

Picture Book | Creativity

“Don’t disturb Mr. Zinger. He’s making up stories. He’s working.” These cautionary words are spoken by a mother to her son, Leo, as he plays ball in the courtyard where Mr. Zinger, a renowned writer, walks and muses. One afternoon, the youngster’s ball accidentally knocks Mr. Zinger’s hat off his head. When Leo returns the hat, the elderly storyteller examines the inside of it to see what made it fly off. “I can see it now,” he declares. “It’s a story. A story trying to get out.”

And so Mr. Zinger begins with “Once upon a time there was a man...” As the tale unfolds, Leo’s interjections and suggestions gradually transform the narrative. Without his knowing, Mr. Zinger has adroitly encouraged the lad to contribute the significant details. The man becomes a boy, a boy who is bored... and rich... and lonely... until he makes friends with another boy named Leo. As they part at the story’s conclusion, Leo asks Mr. Zinger if he will write about Leo and the rich boy. “No,” the old man replies. “That’s not my story, that’s your story. But maybe another story will try and get out of my hat. There’s no end of them, you know.”

Mr. Zinger’s Hat is a marvelous story, beautifully crafted by Cary Fagan. The distinctive personalities of the two protagonists, as well as the humour and poignancy of their situation, are expertly depicted in a most charming manner. The exchange between the elderly author and the boy is so vivid, that it feels as if one is eavesdropping on a real conversation. This is exceptional writing!

Dušan Petričić’s delightful watercolour illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment to the text. Two distinct styles are interwoven throughout. The sombre tonality depicted in the scenes between Mr. Zinger and Leo is juxtaposed against the bright, cartoon- like approach used to illustrate the story they create together.

Readers and listeners alike will be captivated and inspired by Mr. Zinger’s Hat, which not only recognizes the power of words and the imagination, but celebrates a budding friendship spanning generations.

This review originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News (Vol. 35, No. 4)

Reviewed by Senta Ross