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Old Hat New Hat

Next up in the Bookworm series, we follow on from Grandmother Lucy and Her Hats, with Old Hat New Hat, by Stan and Jan Berenstain.

The Gist

Bear needs a new hat. He tries on every hat in the shop and leaves with the one he had on. The End.

I had totally forgotten about this book until I rediscovered it amongst my Mum's stash of hoarded children's books when my boys were small. It was one of the most beaten up books in the collection. No cover, taped pages, torn edges; it was in a very sorry state. I take this as a sign that I and my siblings loved it intensely. Or that we just treated it incredibly badly and threw it around all the time. I like to hope it is the former.

Old hat new hat

So what was the appeal?

It's hard to say why we loved the book so much. After all, it is a pretty basic story, and there are only 91 words in the whole book. I counted. In fact, there are only 38 unique words in the whole book, since a lot of them are repeated.

So, most of the appeal probably likes in the pictures, which convey so much of what is going on. It starts off quite sensibly, with hats that are simply too big and too small. But the hats get progressively sillier, with bizarre hats that are full of holes, or attached to balloons. And the shop assistants get progressively angrier at the bear's fussiness and the fact that they can't seem to find him anything in the whole shop that he likes.

The repetition gives it a nice rhythm - with 'too' appearing before each adjective: too fancy, too frilly too shiny too silly. The repetition also makes the ending more dramatic, as the flow of toos is suddenly halted with a Wait!!! when the bear rediscovers his old hat.

old hat new hat

Weirdly, reading it as an adult, it seems to resonate even more. It sums up something I think we all know well - the confusion you get from too much choice. I know I have definitely spent a good hour toing and froing over all the different types of something, paralysed and unable to just choose already. And then you walk out with nothing because it's all too much effort and now you're tired and grumpy and in need of a brew. And when you sit down and mull it all over (whilst sipping said brew) you realise that maybe you actually don't need a new jumper/lipstick/lawnmower and that the one you have is good enough. New isn't necessarily better.

That's the genius of picture books. One of the frustrations and important lessons of adult life, laid out in only 38 different words.

old hat new hat

About the authors

The Berenstains met on their first day at art school in Philadelphia in 1941 and were married from 1946 to Stan's death in 2005 (that's 59 years if you can't be bothered to do the maths). Together they wrote and illustrated a truckload of books, most of them featuring 'The Berenstain Bears'. They were actually only going to do one book featuring bears. Their editor, one Theodore "Dr Seuss" Geisel, told them "there were already too many famous bears." They were just starting on a book about a penguin when the Seuss told them their first book was doing a roaring trade and they should stick with the bears. And clearly they took the sensible option and listened to someone who had already sold a book or two himself.

Details and availability

  • Title: Old Hat New Hat
  • Author: Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • Illustrator: Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • Date: 1970
  • Link to previous: Topic - Hats

Old Hat New Hat is happily still in print and you can buy a new copy from good bookshops. Or help the planet and buy a secondhand copy! Search Biblio via the link below. I do get a very small commission, but it would be much appreciated 🙂

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  1. Pingback:New Blue Shoes - A whole other story...

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