May 2003

Life and times of a beloved author

By William Steig
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Oh, I am so lucky I am reading a book by William Steig! I am in the hands of the master! I open the book and prepare to get lost in another world, another time, another place . . . and this story doesn't disappoint. When Everybody Wore a Hat is a picture-book memoir, and it's steady, snappy, snazzy and swell.

Whether he is writing about a donkey and a magic pebble or a monster who finds his one true love, Steig always succeeds in tapping into universal feelings of wanting to belong and to create community. In When Everybody Wore a Hat, he writes simply about his immigrant family in 1916, when he was 8 years old, growing up in the Bronx: "This is the story of when I was a boy, almost 100 years ago, when fire engines were pulled by horses, boys did not play with girls, kids went to libraries for books, there was no TV, you could see a movie for a nickel, and everybody wore a hat." He writes about everyday things: "We used to go shopping with Mom all the time. We went along to carry stuff." He writes about world events: "we all knew there was a big war going on in Europe." He writes with the trademark Steig humor: "Everyone wanted his picture on a horse . . . Cameras were very big then, and you had to stay very still. This was hard for the horse."

Drawn in that wonderfully wacky, child-friendly, slightly screwball style that give Steig's New Yorker drawings such distinction, the illustrations add another layer of depth and richness. When he writes, "Mom said Esther Haberman had a big mouth," well, we see it, quite literally.

The book is beautifully structured as well, beginning with a photo of Steig as a boy and ending with a photo of him today. What a treat to be invited into this beloved author's boyhood, to sink into that experience, to belong for a little while to Steig's family, which is, of course, an extension of our larger family, our community, our world. When Everybody Wore a Hat is another tale to add to our collective memory.

Deborah Wiles writes from Frederick, Maryland.


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When Everybody Wore a Hat

When Everybody Wore a Hat

By William Steig
Joanna Cotler
ISBN 9780060097004

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