About the Holiday
Straw hats are found in nearly every culture in the world and have been used since ancient times. Made from local materials, some are unique to and even iconic of the country in which they’re made. Woven loosely, straw hats can protect a person from the hot sun while also keeping their head cool. In rainy climates, tightly woven hats are good for staying dry. Of course, straw hats are a staple of women’s fashion and can be found in nearly every color and decorated with ribbon, flowers, feathers, beads, and more.
Miss Fannie’s Hat
Written by Jan Karon | Illustrated by Toni Goffe
“Miss Fannie has lots of hats. And each one is her favorite.” Miss Fannie is ninety-nine years old and has a closet full of hats that she has worn on special occasions throughout her life. When she tries on her “red felt with the big feather, she looks in the mirror and says ‘I just love this hat!’” It’s the same with her green velour hat that’s decorated with a fancy pin. She’s not the only one who loves her hats. When she wears them to church, people always tell her, “‘Miss Fannie, I sure do love that hat!’” But Miss Fannie has a favorite among her many hats: the pink straw with silk roses. Everyone else loves this hat too.
Miss Fannie is a tiny woman who now lives with her daughter, Wanda. Wanda takes good care of her mother. She makes her big breakfasts, and even though Miss Fannie always says its “way too much,” she always clears her plate. Every Saturday, Wanda helps her mother wash her hair in the bathroom sink. Miss Fannie is so small that she has to stand on a stool to reach. Afterward, Wanda rolls her mother’s hair in curlers, and on Sunday morning she “combs out her mama’s hair, which is all nice and soft and gray, like the feathers of a dove.”
Then Miss Fannie puts on make-up, dresses in her best clothes, and chooses a hat. Choosing can be difficult because “Miss Fannie has three black hats, two red hats, one green hat, two white hats, two navy hats, three beige hats, one brown hat, and the famous pink straw with roses. Because she never wears the same one twice in a row, some people think she has a whole closet full of hats. Which, of course, she does.”
One Sunday, Miss Fannie’s preacher comes to her with an earnest request. He asks her to donate one of her hats to the auction that will raise money to fix up the church for Easter. Miss Fannie wants to help, but how can she choose among her beautiful hats? When they get home, Miss Wanda helps her mother lay out all of her hats on the bed and dresser. Alone in her room, Miss Fannie looks over all her hats. As she holds each in her hand she remembers her past. “The green velour with the fancy pin was very, very old, and still very beautiful.” She had worn it during the great flood of 1916 when she “crossed the swollen river on a ferry to visit her mother and father. As she stood at the rail…a house had floated by, almost close enough to touch.”
Next, she considers the red, wide-brimmed felt. The feather on this hat came from a hawk Miss Fannie had caught trying to nab one of her chickens. Then she picks up the brown velvet hat that “always reminded her of Flower, her grandmother’s cow.” She had begun milking Flower when she was seven years old and had learned to churn butter that was better than any found in a store. “Finally, Miss Fannie came to her most favorite hat of all: the pick straw with silk roses.” She had worn it every Easter for thirty-five years and it never failed to make her feel brand new. It was a tradition everyone else enjoyed too, “just as they looked for the tulips and daffodils to bloom in the spring.”
She puts the pink straw hat on, looks in the mirror, and sighs. “In her heart she did not want to giver her hat away. Not at all.” But as she places it back in its box and ties the ribbon, she discovers “she was very, very excited” about all the things it might be able to do. The old pipe organ needed fixing, there was a crack in the church bell, and the roof really needed to be replaced.
At the auction, when the preacher holds up Miss Fannie’s pink straw hat with the silk roses, “the bidding took off lickety-split.” With the bang of the gavel, the hat goes to a woman in the front row. The check she gives the preacher is “enough to really get things fixed,” Miss Fannie knows. She also knows “that she would not miss her favorite hat one bit.”
On Easter morning Miss Fannie rises and fixes her hair. She looks at her hats—none of which seemed right. As she meets Wanda at the front door in her best dress, her best jewelry, her best gloves, and a white corsage, “Miss Wanda couldn’t believe her eyes. Her mama was going out the door without wearing any hat at all!” When they arrive at the freshly painted church, Miss Fannie and Miss Wanda are surprised and delighted to see pink roses planted everywhere around the building. “‘Oh, Mama!’ said Miss Wanda. ‘It looks just like your pink hat!’”
With tears in her eyes, Miss Fannie learns that they were able to fix the organ and the bell as well as planting all the roses. As the congregation looks on “they didn’t see an old woman at all. What they saw was a young girl with hair as soft as the feathers of a dove.” And now when people pass the church, they don’t see gardens of roses. Instead, they see Miss Fannie’s hat. “And it will always be her favorite.”
Jan Karon’s story of selfless love was a favorite in our house when my daughter was young. Not only is the well-paced narrative full of evocative sensory details, bits of history, and realistic dialogue, it centers around a unique plot involving the types of soul-searching decisions that are hard to make. No matter how many times we read the book, Miss Fannie’s choice to auction her favorite hat to benefit her church seemed to come as a surprise that both inspired and heartened. While the tale is primarily Miss Fannie’s, it is Wanda’s story of benevolence too as Karon affectionately describes the ways in which Wanda lovingly attends to her mother’s physical and emotional needs. Throughout Miss Fannie’s Hat, Karon demonstrates that a life well-lived is one abounding in joyous giving.
Toni Goffe takes readers into Miss Wanda’s home—and Miss Fannie’s memory—with his bright, delicate illustrations that fully satisfy little one’s love of realistic detail. My daughter enjoyed the textured feel to the images, where steam rises from a cup of tea and from the bathroom sink, Miss Wanda brushes out her mother’s soft hair, and the hats—made of velvet, velour, and straw and sporting feathers, flowers, nets, and ribbon—beg to be touched. In fact, with the first page and its tantalizing peek into Miss Fannie’s closet, readers will find themselves riveted to her hats and life story. Vignettes from Miss Fannie’s younger years as well as scenes of her now demonstrate her enduring courage and strength of character.
For kids who like to count, sort, and compare, a one-page illustration and a glorious two-page spread allow them to match the list of hats in the text with the contents of Miss Fannie’s closet. They are also invited to choose their favorite from among Miss Fannie’s hats.
Miss Fannie’s Hats is a wonderful story to share with young readers for its ideas of giving, multigenerational relationships, and friendship.
Ages 3 – 6
Puffin Books, 2001 | ISBN 978-0140568127
Discover more about Jan Karon and her books for children and adults on her website!
View a gallery of artwork by Toni Goffe on his website!
Straw Hat Day Activity
Hat Matching Game
These hats come in pairs—or maybe even triplets—but somehow they’ve been mixed up! Can you find all the matching sets? Just put on your thinking caps and play this printable game!
- Printable Hat Matching Game Cards
- Print two or more sets of cards
- Cut the hat cards apart
- Mix them up and lay them face down on the floor or table
- Choosing one card at a time, turn them over to try and find a match
- If the cards do not match, replace them face down and try again
- Continue play until all the hats have been matched
Picture Book Review