Reading, Listening & Watching

Hug Me, Please!

Przemysław WechterowiczThe Sun generates clouds with the foam of its toothpaste as it brushes its teeth. And! Uses rain from another cloud to fill its cup. What a life. What a gem.

I think I’m going to file this one as a read-a-like for The Bear Who Wasn’t There, which I’ve blogged about before. Not only because it’s an adorable picture book featuring two bears who don’t seem to be all there, but also because there are a few little nods and winks here and there to the reader. (You’ll see Little Red Riding Hood make a cameo here, for example!)

This father and son bear duo in Hug Me, Please! is enlivened by their breakfast honey, encouraging them to spread the happiness and cheer to all the inhabitants of the forest, from Mr. Beaver, who is absolutely petrified even just entertaining the idea of a hug, to the neighbourhood hunter, by giving everyone a nice big hug. Of course, not all hugs are created equal: they tailor each of their hugs to the recipients so that old Mr. Elk gets the perfect hug from little Bear and the Anaconda gives Papa Bear a nice great squeeze (I’m sure nothing untoward was happening, because Papa Bear goes along his merry way afterwards). Even the neighbourhood hunter gets a hug! (Only after being disarmed of his net though – is he a butterfly hunter?)

The illustrations are adorable, and the texture visible in each of the animals’ fur makes for a great detail. The storyline is easy to follow and the repetitive nature of the plot would make for a fun and interactive storytime. And it’s a bit late for this, but Hug Me, Please! would also be a wonderful story for Father’s Day.

Of course, I do have a little quibble – when do I not? – which you can find below the cut, but it should not deter you from picking up this delightful story!

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Why?

Nikolai Popov

This was such an incredibly poignant picture book – I kept waiting and waiting for the resolution, the truce, the realization that for all that had already happened, there was no longer any reason for the strife to continue because obviously the flower was the last thing on everyone’s minds, but it is precisely Popov’s unflinching portrayal of the story and how unthinking action could lead to such devastating end, that renders Why? such a powerful book: there is no truce, there is no resolution. And when we are left, at the end, seeing how things spiral out of control, and the eagerness – the zeal – with which soldiers on both sides entered the fray without questioning why, it makes for a stark contrast against the frog who started out peacefully, admiring the flower that launched a full-blown war.

Part of it was, I think, due to the fact that both sides had already invested so much into the war, into hating the other side, that they could no longer justify stopping: there had been too many sacrifices already. Whatever the reason was originally, the deaths on both sides fueled the fighting ever more, until the flower no longer mattered.

It’s great to see picture books that tackle heavy subjects such as war and death without trying to make the story any easier to swallow. Both adults and children alike will, I think, take away similar messages from these books, although adults might relate them to specific events. And while it’s important to learn from specific events in history, from which these books no doubt draw their inspiration, I think it’s also quite important that they are able to stand on their own; that way, readers are able to connect with them on a more general level, and people from all walks of life will be able to do so.

Eve Bunting     Shaun Tan

I’ve been referring to “these” books in the plural, so here are a couple of books that make a great companion to Why?:

Terrible Things by Eve Bunting

The Arrival by Shaun Tan, is quite different from both Terrible Things and Why?, and a much happier note to end on, though not much lighter in terms of subject matter, I think. The experience of being an immigrant, having to learn a new language, a new landscape, and navigate a new identity, all while separated from your family, is one that is given proper weight here.

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