Why do I love Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)? Do you even need to ask? There are hats!

But there’s more to this book than Aunt Flossie’s hats. When a children’s picture book stays in print for more than 25 years, you know it’s something special.

Maybe it won a major award. Maybe it was written by a prolific and beloved writer like Jan Brett or Eric Carle. Or maybe it simply captured the hearts of generations of children and parents, teachers and librarians.

Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) is that kind of book. Although it received some recognition when it was first published, there are no prize medals on the cover. And although Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard wrote 13 picture books for children, hers is not a name that most of us immediately recognize.

But her books! As far as I’m concerned, Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) is as wonderful as a picture book can be.

First, of course, I was charmed by Aunt Flossie’s hats. Like Aunt Flossie, I have a closet filled with hat boxes, and I wear hats every day. My hats don’t all have stories attached to them, as hers did. But perhaps by the time I’m a great-great aunt, they will.

And then there’s Aunt Flossie herself. She’s old and strong, full of love and memories and stories. Stories that she shares with the young children in her life.

The Aunt Flossie in the story feels real — and that’s because Howard based the character solidly on her own very real Aunt Flossie.

The gorgeous paintings by James Ransome that illustrate the book are also solid and real. Although Ransome’s style is nothing like Patricia Polacco’s, Aunt Flossie’s home reminds me of Miss Eula’s home in Chicken Sunday. The patterns in the wallpaper, the heavy furniture, all dark wood and upholstery, the family photos — it all combines, in both books, to create a warm, welcoming home.

Who Is Your Aunt Flossie?

The Tenth Anniversary edition of Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) includes an eight-page afterword about Aunt Flossie. It’s really lovely. Howard shares family photos and stories.

In talks and interviews, Howard often said that it seemed as though everyone had an Aunt Flossie. She was charmed when people told her that Aunt Flossie reminded them of someone they knew and loved. I got that reminder most strongly in the afterword. It was there that I learned that Howard’s Aunt Flossie and my own Grandmother Shaw were both born near the end of the nineteenth century, Aunt Flossie in 1888 and my grandmother just four years later, in 1892. Both women went to college, both women married late, both were widowed in 1945. Both lived into their 90s.

Of course, my grandmother was a white woman in Mississippi, and Aunt Flossie was a black woman in Maryland. My grandmother raised six children; Aunt Flossie was childless. It would be a mistake to underestimate how much their lives differed. But it would also be a mistake to underestimate how very much they had in common.

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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