The Hug by Eoin McLaughlin, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (9780571348756)
This picture book is written as a split picture book that flips over with each character telling their side of the story, literally. Two creatures are looking for a hug. Hedgehog wants a hug, but no one will hug them. They can’t figure out why until an owl offers the information that they are too spiky to be hugged by most animals. Tortoise wants a hug too. He asks various animals as well, but they all refuse. The same owl explains to Tortoise that he is too hard for most animals to want to hug him. Then though, Hedgehog and Tortoise meet in the center of the book!
Such a simple little book, this offers a great amount of pleasure when the two animals find one another. Even though readers will know that Hedgehog hugs Tortoise, the book is worth flipping over to read it from Tortoise’s point of view too. McLaughlin’s text is fresh and simple, much like Dunbar’s illustrations. One little element that adds to the fun is watching both Tortoise and Hedgehog get more and more grimy from the animals they meet, picking up bits of dirt and fuzz along their journeys. The hug though, the hug at the middle is pure bliss.
Perfect for when you need a hug, even if you are a bit prickly or too hard. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Faber & Faber.
Buddy and Earl by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff (InfoSoup)
When Meredith comes home with a mysterious box, Buddy just can’t quite manage to stay on his bed. Soon he is exploring the box and discovers a strange creature named Earl inside, who claims to be a giraffe, though Buddy is sure that he isn’t and Earl’s not a sea urchin either. When Earl tries to guess what Buddy is, he never guesses that Buddy is a dog. Earl announces that he is a pirate, and Buddy finds himself called a pirate too. The two of them start to play together, sailing the couch into a storm. They are interrupted by Mom, who scolds Buddy for being on the couch and for playing with Earl. But when her back is turned, Buddy is right there near the box again, announcing that he knows exactly what Earl is: a friend.
This little picture book has a lot of depth to it. The simple story is given details thanks to the conversational tone of the text that is focused on allowing children to understand how this unlikely friendship develops. The two animals explore one another but are also figuring out one another’s personalities, something that proves much more interesting to them both rather than labeling their species. Playing pretend together seals the friendship, but then it is made even stronger when Earl tries to take the blame for Buddy being on the couch.
The illustrations nicely break the text into manageable chunks. The illustrations are simple, done in thick black lines and washes of subtle color. They have a pleasing roughness to the edges that offers a modern feel.
Friendship in a nutshell, this picture book offers an adventure for new friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Chickens Build a Wall by Jean-Francois Dumont
The chickens on the farm have built a wall but no one else is quite sure why. It started when the hedgehog suddenly appeared in the middle of the farm. The chickens were all very concerned about this strange new animal that quickly curled itself into a prickly ball. But most alarming was when it had disappeared the next morning. Perhaps it was after the chicks and eggs! None were missing, but that didn’t stop the hens from accusing the hedgehog of eating their worms. The rooster decided that they could not stand by and have this continue happening, so they leapt into action and built a wall. It was not just a small wall, but one that grew so high that one could not see where it ended in the sky. Can this wall save the chickens? And what is it saving them from exactly?
Dumont tells a story about flighty chickens who jump to absurd conclusions immediately about a foreign creature. The hens are frantic in their reactions, going to such lengths to protect themselves from nothing at all. Readers will see parallels between gated communities and the chickens’ wall as well as the fast judgments made about people who are different from ourselves. This would serve as a very nice book to introduce for discussions about diversity and community.
Dumont’s illustrations have a wonderful silliness to them. The chickens are pop-eyed and always moving quickly. The hedgehog is still, low and quiet. The two set each other off nicely in both the illustrations and the storyline.
Translated from the original French, this book has a universal appeal and also a clever quirkiness that adds charm. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser
As my son waited for the bus this morning, he asked when the snow was going to come. Here in Wisconsin in mid-November that is a very good question and the answer is “very soon.”
In this charmer of a picture book, Squirrel is told by Deer that it is going to snow. Squirrel hasn’t seen snow before, so he decides to wait for it. Deer explains that snow is “White and wet and cold and soft.” But it is very hard to stay awake, so Squirrel runs up and down the tree trunk. The noise wakes Hedgehog who agrees that he wants to see snow too. The two of them stay awake by singing – sea shanties. This wakes up Bear who waits with them for the snow. But what is snow has already arrived and they haven’t recognized it? So the three look around for items that match Deer’s description of snow with very funny results. In the end, they learn exactly what snow looks like.
Meschenmoser excels at telling a story through few words and wonderfully evocative illustrations. Just the appearance of the animals themselves shows how very tired they are. The close-up of Bear’s face after he is woken up perfectly captures the grumpiness and bleariness of that moment. All of the animals are wonderfully scruffy and real. Hedgehog always has leaves and other objects stuck in his spines, and Squirrels wild fur carries a lot of his frantic pace even when still.
The voice of the book is also right on the mark. Told with great excitement and delight, the tone conveys their wonder at being able to see snow even before they have caught a single glimpse of it. Meschenmoser’s pacing also works very well, filled with just enough tension but also forward movement.
A perfect choice for this time of year when snow would be met with cheers and joy by all of us who are waiting for winter. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed by Fuse #8 and Through the Looking Glass.