It can't be said that Emma Straub, the author of six fine works of fiction for adults, hasn't been using her writing time productively. Still, her debut title for kids--the silly and saucy picture book Very Good Hats, with fetching illustrations by Blanca Gómez--prompts a question: Why did it take Straub so long to write a children's book?
Straub's narrative approach is direct address. "Do you know what a hat is?" Very Good Hats begins. "I bet you think you know what a hat is." Acorns, she informs the reader, can be hats. Also qualifying are tiny doll shoes, cats and hardcover books--"if you have excellent posture." Straub's sass builds as pages turn. "The roof is the house's hat, and a lid is a pot's hat. Everyone knows that." At one point, Straub takes a philosophical approach: "If a turtle can tuck its head into its shell, does that make its shell a hat?" Elsewhere Straub sticks with straight-up logic: "If you're on a scooter, you have two hats: your helmet and the wind." Everyone knows that.
For each example of poker-faced goofiness introduced by Straub, Gómez (Besos for Baby) has the perfect answer. A standout among her crisp digital and paper collage art presents two hands: the fingers, topped with dapper and daffy-looking lids ("Raspberries, chewed-up gum, tortellini..."), wear a range of facial expressions. (Everyone knows that fingers have faces.) Imagination-firing, cheeky and hilarious, Very Good Hats is a very good book. Everyone should know that. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author