judy palaferro dishes about horace’s big hat!

Hats On, Hats Off — to Judy Palaferro for creating this brand new uber cool emerging reader picture book!

You may remember how much the alphabet soup kitchen helpers loved her Color Bears board book that came out last year. Well, ever since Horace’s Big Hat (Umbrage Books, 2011) arrived, they’ve been oohing and ahhing over all the delightful spreads and trying on every hat in the house.

In this exuberant riff on the “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  theme, our boy Horace tries on 12 different hats — yes, BIG ones, as he imagines himself in various professions (construction worker, baker, referee, fireman, cowboy, and artist, to name a few).

In each scenario, he’s surrounded by the “tools of the trade,” a colorful, endlessly vibrant, highly detailed smorgasbord of discovery. His adventures take him to a prairie, India, London, even the high seas. Whether he dons an artist’s beret, a turban or hard hat, he has loads of fun exercising his imagination, while the objects in each spread provide valuable visual clues to help the emergent reader figure out the words in the text.

Judy’s here to tell us a bit more about Horace and the fun she had working on this book. We thank her for sharing some finished art as well as early drafts.

Judy, could you briefly explain how you created the illustrations?

I truly experienced process in terms of arriving to the final look. I started with vector art as a sketch and calling my character Mr. Hat. I wanted the art to look a bit vintage and included the pencil line scanned into Photoshop. While I did create the book digitally,  I wanted to step back from gradients and hard edges.

(Early “Mr. Hat” incarnations:)




I arrived at the final state by having the time to draw every day and taking the drawings through a process. I wanted Horace the character to be a combination of cartoon and reality. I wanted to create a learning experience, drawing from real life objects, places and things in a fun setting. Hopefully children will want to engage and learn in a joyful state of mind.

Artist Beret in progress: “He likes to wear a wild moustache as a disguise.”
Beret in progress 2
Beret in progress 3
Final Beret
Early hard hat spread
Final hard hat


What’s your favorite spread and why?

My favorite spread is the Baker. This is the first spread created and I delighted in the baking theme and the cookies. Thinking about how some children enjoy baking and eating cookies. A joyful time working together, the child enjoying helping mom or learning something new on their own, creating. My cousin, Nathan Mayo, created the baker’s hat. He is a wonderful human, artist and interior designer. It’s a wonderful thing to have that bit of him in the book. I think it’s the best hat in the book.

Early baker sketch #1
Early baker sketch #2

The baker piece was a good opportunity to use pattern and I remember my childhood kitchen with tiled walls and the old style mixer. I wanted to add a bit of irreverence so I placed Horace inside the bowl. In order to combine the fantasy and reality, I played with scale . . . the giant spoon and egg and miniature stove. I made the sifter pink and yellow so the book does not appear to be too masculine. The baker page along with the crown page have fun with multiples, the stacked cookies and the many sheep. Children often enjoy exaggeration and can practice counting. The clock for telling time.

Final baker spread

At first I wanted the text to be interactive, let’s pretend . . . asking questions, what is your favorite treat, but it eventually evolved into the patterned text as a means of organizing the book as well. This gives the parent the opportunity to ask their own questions about treats and baking and telling time.

What was your criteria for determining the age range for this book, with its patterned, repetitive text?

The age range for this book is 2-5. At two the parent can include this book in the nighttime read selection and the child can enjoy the pictures. Horace’s activities can be discussed. At age 4, some children are learning to read and will associate the image with the look of the more difficult words like gnome, referee, photographs and beret. By age 5, they can start to work the sentences by themselves and write out the names of some of the images in the book as well.

Final turban spread

Finally, do you like to wear hats? ☺

I wear hats for protection. I enjoy knitted hats in the winter and I like style. Hats were so very common until the 1950’s. In fact, it was almost unheard of to be out without a hat. Hats have played a minor role in the history of man and the design of them bespeak culture and history. I enjoyed discovering obscure cultures in their ethnic garb and hats. Utilitarian hats are also interesting, especially the history of military hats. My father, at the end of his life, wanted to wear a Turkish fez, the kind made of sheep’s wool. I never found a fez for him; later I discovered the fez was banned by Ataturk in Turkey during their reformation as a way to modernize the people.

Judy in a favorite hat.

Can’t help but agree with Judy — the Baker is my favorite, too ☺. Overall, I love the funky way she juxtaposes small details, the little humorous touches (big toe wearing a hat; tomato wearing glasses), and since I’m a diehard Anglophile, I swooned a lot over the London spread (purple top hat, unicycle, and red polka dot teacup). And I love the inclusion of all those patterns (Judy’s also a textile designer)! Kids will definitely have a ball poring over all the pictures as they identify the objects, learn new words and fantasize over which hat they’d like to someday wear in real life.

Big Hats = Big Imaginations = Big Adventures = Big Fun!

Don’t wait another minute — put on your buyer’s or borrower’s hat and pick up a copy of Horace soon!!

written and illustrated by Judy Palaferro
published by Umbrage Books, 2011
Emergent Reader Picture Book for ages 2-5, 32 pp.
On shelves now!

Cornelius loves his big clown hat!


*Spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2011 Judy Palaferro, published by Umbrage Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “judy palaferro dishes about horace’s big hat!

  1. All these delightful hat books remind me strongly of another favorite of mine: Do YOU Have a Hat? I chose it on a whim from the public library when the girls were in preschool, but I was charmed immediately. 🙂


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