On World Book Day I held a 'The Queen's Hat' event for a class of 5-6 year olds at The Story Museum in Oxford. Before I started the story, one child excitedly declared that they'd already read the book at school, to which I responded, "But did you find the hidden Butler on almost every page?" They were surprised and delighted that there was a whole other narrative taking place in the background of each spread that they hadn't seen. Even the teacher hadn't noticed the subtext.
This hidden 'spot the butler' subtext isn't mentioned in the book's back cover blurb, nor is it mentioned anywhere online, except by some reviewers. I like people to make these sorts of discoveries by themselves. In fact, the only time the Butler really comes into full view is on the very, very last page of the book asking, "Would anyone like a cup of tea?"
This added depth to the book invites the reader to pore over the details of each page. "OK, so you've found the Butler, but did you spot the fish, or the chameleon, or the waving guard, or the Gherkin or the...?"
This is what I LOVE about telling stories through pictures. You can add all sorts of little extra tales within the main plot.
While preparing for my very first 'The Queen's Hat' event, I was a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to fill 40 minutes with so few words. Little did I know that the whole 'spot the butler' element would provide the most fun and actually take up quite a bit of time!
At one event, an eagle-eyed child spotted the butler on the Tower Bridge page within seconds. The audience applauded. This is possibly the hardest page for spotting the butler.
So, my advice to teachers, librarians, parents and guardians is to really play with this side of the book. It's not just a book about London landmarks, or the wind blowing the Queen's hat. It's also about a loyal Butler who's incredibly skillful at balancing a tray.
Hopefully, it will inspire people to take a closer look at picture books just in case they miss something. My favourite picture books are the kind that are deceptively simple, the kind that are 'more than meets the eye'. This is something you'll notice in my books, so look closely. But most of all, have fun!
Just wait until you see Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles.