Author and illustrator Lita Judge has started her own Red Hat Society with a contest pegged to the release of her new picture book, Red Hat (S&S/Atheneum).

Red Hat is a companion to 2011’s Red Sled, in which a light-fingered bear takes off with the snow vehicle of the title, and accumulates other forest creatures along the way. In the new work, a bear “borrows” a knit hat (last seen on the head of the boy in Sled) from a clothesline and takes off on a cross-country caper, letting a raccoon, some rabbits, and porcupine wear the hat, too, as it slowly unravels. Like Red Sled, the book is nearly wordless.

To promote the book, Judge has asked children, teachers, librarians, and booksellers to make their own red hats and send her pictures. There are now more than 100 photos on her Web site, of hat-wearing babies, dogs, cats, giraffes, donkeys – pretty much anything with a head. On April 25 judge will choose several winners at random to receive signed prints from the book. Every classroom that participates will also receive a book and a print.

Judge developed the idea for the contest after her mother, a knitter, made a bundle of miniature red hats to send to supportive booksellers and librarians upon the release of Red Sled. Many sent her photos, which she also posted online.

For the new book, Judge, who lives in New Hampshire, wanted the focus of the contest to be on children. She promoted it with a short video posted on her Web site, and sent a series of cards featuring the book’s artwork to booksellers, librarians, and teachers.

“I thought it would be nice to come up with an activity that would not only interest kids in the story, but also get them to express their creativity,” Judge says. “I know from my own experience as a kid that when I related to a book, it was so intense I did not know what to do with that energy. I hope this gives kids a link to what they can do creatively and that it will enrich their experience.”

She also wanted to reach more young readers than she could encounter directly at schools, libraries, and in-store readings. And she did: entries have come in from as far away as Texas and Alaska. Siena Konscol, publicity associate at S&S Children’s Publishing, confirms the contest’s reach. “We’ve heard anecdotally that it’s brought strong interest from bookstores, libraries, mom blogs, and reviewers,” she says.

Konscol and others at Simon and Schuster – which will publish Judge’s next book, an adventure starring her parrot, Beatrix – even got into the act, donning pointy red toppers for a group shot.

The level of participation was a pleasant surprise for Judge. “I had no idea the contest would be so much fun,” she says. “But I am afraid we have tortured a lot of cats. I want to apologize to all the cats that got involved.”

Red Hat by Lita Judge. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-4424-4232-0