It’s another Theodore Clymer early reader! Inside My Hat alternates photographic and illustrated stories to teach new words with similar ending elements like “-ick” and “-ain.” The theme this time is wheels, which has nothing to do with hats. The featured story is “The Trick Race,” illustrated by black New York artist Reynolds Ruffins.
It’s a beautiful series of pages with sharp outlines and psychedelic colors in a desert environment that screams 1982. But this is a Clymer book, so we know who we really came to see.
Welcome back, Ken!
In the first two stories, Ken and his sister Sara discover a fire outside and alert their mother. There’s no emphasis here on dialing 9-11 specifically, which is quaint. The next section, where Ken goes to the fire department and meets Beth’s fireman dad, is a straightforward discovery of how a firehouse operates when not responding to an emergency. For some reason, Ken asks the firemen if they bake in their kitchen oven. They never give him an answer, but I’m guessing they don’t.
Ken later joins a bike race, but somehow can’t tell the difference between a bicycle and a tricycle. This is the story where the kids throw sweetness to the wind and outright tell Ken he’s a screw-up. He seems to agree. The girl in front is riding a Big Wheel with streamers, something I also owned in 1982.
The book includes my favorite Ken story of all time, the two-parter “Come and Trade” and “The Trade Ken Made.” Ken and Sara attempt to throw out their firetruck, but Beth suggests they take it to the swap meet instead. Ken trades his truck, then trades the items he receives with no less than five kids before ending up with his truck again.
Ken gives up an electric train, a bicycle, a book about dogs and a trick pig so he can get back the firetruck he didn’t want in the first place. That’s why we love him… and now I want a trick pig.