When my parents came back from a visit to England, they brought my daughter a very silly book. A charmingly, absurdly, delightfully silly book. I love my parents, and the Changeling, my husband, and I all love giggling through The Queen’s Hat, written and illustrated by Steve Antony.
Here’s the story: it’s a sweet little tribute to the birth of Prince George, as the Queen puts on her favourite hat to pay him a visit, but the wind sweeps the hat off her head and she has to chase it all through London until it falls right onto the new baby prince. Celebratory tribute? Yes, all right and, as such, it’s a nice book. But what makes it something more than that is its whimsy. It’s also a gleeful, unabashed romp through all the top spots in London. It’s fun, that’s it, and it doesn’t try to be anything other than pure, whimsical, giggly fun. It’s like running through the sprinklers while eating cotton candy, and I love it.
So, what makes it so much fun? Well, like Swan, the text is spare and the illustrations are packed. In this case, though, the text is there to give you fun sound effects: “Swish! Woosh!” and drag you recklessly all through London: “and all through… London Zoo… and all along…” If you’re like us, your kid will have no idea about most of these places (although it’s a nice intro to them, I guess), but you’ll get a little rush of glee when you see the lions at Trafalgar Square or flip the book to accommodate the length of Big Ben.
The fun really comes with the sound effects and the pictures, though. The illustrations are energetic but spare, with a muted background and brightly limited palate for the foreground. Each page has little details to watch out for: the Queen’s men help in the pursuit, but lose hats and shoes along the way. Can you find the sock? A servant joins the chase, bearing a tea tray which remains miraculously intact throughout– where is he on each page? The Queen is accompanied by a corgi! Can you find him? What’s he wearing? Do you like dogs, too? And so on. These keep you busy hunting, page by page.
The Changeling and I enjoy this book at almost exactly the same level, which is a genuine pleasure: sure, I have a better knowledge of London and I know the backstory, such as it is, to the book. But, in the end, that’s not where the book’s success really comes from. It comes from energy, detail, and all the opportunities to gleefully hunt through the book together. Her favourite page is London Zoo, where she finds and names as many animals as she can: “Pelican! Let’s find the puffin. Is that a tiger?” And on most other pages she gets excited about finding the hat and the corgi. The end of the hunt, for her, is finding the baby and touching his fingers.
This isn’t a deep or brilliant book, but that’s exactly where its brilliance lies: it knows where to stop. Too much more about the Royals would have resulted in dull pandering. Too much more of a story would have been boring. Steve Antony hit precisely the right balance of landmarks for the adults and treasure hunt for the family, and that’s what makes this book such a fun little adventure, just like a spontaneous Sunday trip to the ice cream parlour. Have fun!