Today, we are delighted to welcome back favorite author/illustrator Elisa Kleven to talk about her brand new picture book, Hiro’s Hats (Wild Swans Publishing Cooperative, 2019).
In this whimsical wintry tale set in the mountains of Japan, an adorable snow monkey finds a colorful hat “flying like a bright bird through the sky.” Soon after Hiro waves hello and the hat waves back, it flutters down to play, jumping in the leaves and flying like a kite in the wind.
Although his siblings tease him, Hiro loves the hat and considers it a friend. The hat seems to love him back, too. When it begins to snow and the world turns “as white as the moon,” the hat keeps him warm.
Only a friendly robin seems to understand. She wishes she had a hat just like Hiro’s, but he warns her that other robins might tease her. She assures him that they already do, calling her a baby because she loves her cozy nest.
Hiro and Robin joyously play together, making a snow monkey with a moss hat. When the wind snatches both hats away, Robin goes after Hiro’s hat, disappearing into the storm. Now Robin and her nest are gone, and Hiro is devastated. The next morning, Hiro wakens to find he’s wearing a snow hat and he hears singing.
It’s Robin! The friends are happily reunited and spend the rest of the winter together. With Robin snuggling on Hiro’s head with outstretched wings, he now has a warm feathery hat while she has a cozy nest. Come spring, Robin provides Hiro with the best hat of all, while all the other snow monkeys gleefully celebrate the season with silly spring hats of their own. You’ll have to read the story to find out what actually happened to Hiro’s very first hat. 🙂
Elisa’s engaging text and exquisite mixed media collages will captivate young readers, appealing to their love of creative play and making them wish they could be Hiro’s friend. His personality is so endearing and child-like, and as we see him giving his hat a bath, tumbling in the snow, or gleefully interacting with Robin, he’s just plain lovable and irresistibly charming.
Hiro’s Hats is perfect for imaginative readers who like emotionally resonant stories about animals, friendship, and the seasons, and who appreciate beautifully textured illustrations with a wealth of fine details. Elisa has also included some interesting facts about snow monkeys at the end for those wanting to learn more.
Why did you want to write about a snow monkey, and was Hiro named after anyone in particular?
My early illustrations for HIRO’S HATS actually showed a chimp-like creature. Thanks to a suggestion from my daughter, this character morphed into a snow monkey.
The more I looked at photos of snow monkeys, with their expressive, sweet faces, shaggy coats, and big, exposed ears, the more I fell in love with them — and the more perfect this kind of monkey seemed for this particular story. While a tropical chimp might love a hat like Hiro does, he or she wouldn’t need one as urgently as a monkey who inhabits the rugged mountains of Japan, where winters are frigid.
Hiro is named after one of my favorite artists, Hiroshige, the great nineteenth century Ukiyo-e printmaker and painter. Hiroshige’s gorgeous images of the Japanese mountains inspired the story’s setting, and Hiro’s name is an homage to him.
Please share a few of the most interesting and/or surprising things you learned about snow monkeys while researching this book.
Before I researched snow monkeys, I didn’t know that they are native only to Japan, and that they live farther north than any other primate except for humans.
I find it beautiful and moving that snow monkeys hug each other in order to keep warm. They also keep warm by bathing in the hot springs at Jigokudani National Park, where they are protected.
Snow monkey children are similar to human kids in many ways. They enjoy making snowballs, and sometimes even form snowman-like shapes with them. They have snowball fights and love to slide in the snow. As with human siblings, older monkeys boss around younger ones. And snow monkey mothers are extremely loving to their babies.
Which was more challenging for you, writing the text or making the pictures?
Stories are always a little more of a challenge for me than illustrations, but I enjoy creating both equally. This story went through a lot of permutations before it settled into a story featuring two vulnerable creatures who each lose something they love, but recover what they have lost in each other. The first drafts featured a monkey throwing a party for his animal friends, and though it, too, centered on a hat, it was completely different in feeling and storyline.
One of the things I loved most about this story is how you captured the voice and heart of a child with such candor and freshness. Do you have any tips for writers and/or illustrators wishing to tap into the child within?
If that voice isn’t immediately accessible to a writer, I would suggest they do their best to recall how they felt when they were very young. What did they love, hate, fear, find funny, wish for? What made them feel happy and safe? I’d suggest carving out some space and quiet time, and trying to forget about everything (the “market,” the gatekeepers, the online universe!) except for telling a story that they would have loved as a child.
I also find that being around real children helps keep me in touch with their concerns, and their fresh way of looking at the world.
And it’s always a good idea to look at lots of picture books. Re-read the books you loved as a child and think about what it was about them that touched you.
Were you attached to a particular article of clothing or any other inanimate object when you were little?
While I had favorite articles of clothing, I don’t remember being really attached to any of them. I did, however, love some of my toys, dolls, and paper or clay characters I made as if they were real friends, just as Hiro loves his hat. Children are so good at bringing inanimate objects of all sorts to life.
And as an adult, I find comfort in wearing a worn, yet warm and bright, winter scarf of my mother’s, who passed away when I was young. When I wrap myself in this lovely scarf, it feels as if my mother is giving me a hug of sorts!
Do you like to wear hats? If so, what are some of your personal favorites?
Yes, I am a lover and wearer of hats. Since it’s winter, I’ve been wearing a warm, blue hat that one of my sisters gave me. And in sunny weather I usually wear a sun hat. My father collected hats, so maybe my affinity for them is inherited.
Your mixed media collage illustrations are so beautiful. Could you please describe your process using any illustration from the book as an example?
I like to paint with watercolor on large pieces of paper, then tear or cut the pieces into many pieces and reassemble them to form an almost mosaic-like collage. In my “Springtime” picture-in-progress you can see how I was experimenting with the layout of the various hills, as well as with the characters, some of which are still in pencil sketch form. I enjoy the flexibility collage allows.
In addition to hand painted paper, I used bits of origami paper for flowers and blossoms, as well as various yarns for the snow monkey fur.
The rough picture of Hiro and his mother in the tree shows my unfinished ink drawings of the characters.
What will you remember most about creating this book?
I will remember the joy of being in my studio and forgetting the outside world as I worked. In these chaotic times it was especially pleasant and even necessary spiritually to be able to escape into Hiro’s world.
What do you most want children to take away from your story?
I hope children will feel encouraged to honor what they love, be it a hat, a toy, a creation, or another living thing, even if other people don’t understand or approve. And if any child feels alone, I hope they will find a kindred spirit who understands them, just as Hiro found a friend in the robin.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Hiro’s Hats?
The publisher, a new indie co-op with high ideals, doesn’t sell the book through Amazon. Some people have found this shocking – and I suppose it is! We are so used to getting things almost instantly, for relatively low prices, but this publisher has always been concerned about the hidden costs of these conveniences.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on all sorts of things!
*Here are some of the snow monkey collages children made at Elisa’s Carle Museum workshop:
And here are two snow monkey dolls her art students made:
Thank you so much for visiting today, Elisa, and thank you for making this wonderful picture book. We love Hiro!
written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published by Wild Swans Publishing Cooperative, 2019
Picture Book for children ages 3-8, 40 pp.
*Includes Snow Monkey Facts
♥️ Autographed copies may be purchased via Elisa’s website.
🐵 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🐵
The publisher is generously donating a signed copy of Hiro’s Hats for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Tuesday, February 25, 2020. You may also enter by sending an email with HIRO in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
*Interior spreads posted by permission, text and art copyright © 2019 Elisa Kleven, published by Wild Swans Publishing Cooperative. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.