Johnson recasts René Magritte as a dapper, blue-eyed hound and incorporates the painter’s surreal iconography into a visual tour de force.
Magritte encounters a hat that, when donned, “popped up and floated just above his head.” Inspired, he hurries home and paints a self-portrait, “his best picture ever.” The black bowler hat (a familiar, recurrent image in Magritte’s paintings) is characterized as a playful muse, engaging the artist in frisky games on walks. When, absorbed in his work, Magritte ignores it, the indignant chapeau flies away. Nine spreads depict an elaborate chase, Magritte first in pursuit, then reversing: “Bet you can’t find me!” Back in Magritte’s studio, the hat lands atop his head and levitates him. Working every day, never neglecting his inspiring accessory, he paints new pictures “better than his best.” Johnson zealously incorporates surreal elements to tickle both art appreciators and preschoolers. Four see-through acetate pages cleverly transform adjacent spreads. Magritte’s paintings are mined for dozens of images, slyly inserted. During one chase, the hat lands atop a fountain, itself shaped like a giant, water-spewing bowler. On the fountain’s “brim” is inscribed, “This is not a hat”—an allusion to Magritte’s painting of a pipe, famously inscribed “This is not a pipe.” There are levitating baguettes, giant green apples, a monument with Magritte’s birth and death dates reversed—and more.
Arty, amusing and exceedingly clever. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)