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A heckuva huggy monkey
on August 5, 2004
Virtually wordless yet convincingly lovable. That's probably the best way to describe Jez Alborough's sweet, "Hug". I'm not usually taken in by cutesy picture books. For me, if a book is going to be sweet it needs a little added spice. The kind of stuff you find in Janet Stoeke's, "Minerva Louise" books, for example. So the image of a baby chimp opening its arm wide crying, "Hug", is not supposed to charm me. Unexpectedly, it did.
In this tale, a baby chimpanzee sees different baby/parent animals hugging one another. Bobo (that's the chimp's name, it turns out) at first is delighted. He points and yells, "Hug", whenever he gets a chance. But soon it's clear to the little guy that he's alone and there's no one for him to hug. A friendly pair of elephants take pity on the fellow and set out to locate his parent. Along the way they see more and more animals hugging in their own special ways. Bobo lets go with an awe inspiring, "HUG" when at long last his mommy arrives. The two hug (to a chorus of other animals saying, "Hug") and before you know it everyone's hugging everyone else. At the end, it's just Bobo and his mommy walking off together at last.
This book has all the usual toddler fears in it. The separation from the parent. Seeing a bunch of other people happy when you're not. I appreciated that author/illustrator Alborough didn't make her animals hug in incorrect ways. Which is to say, you don't see two giraffes standing on their hind legs hugging with their front ones. Instead, they nuzzle. Bobo himself is a pretty sympathetic creation too. The slow dawning realization that he doesn't have anyone to hug is heartbreaking. Also, Alborough was clever to cast him as her hero. Chimpanzees hug just like humans do, so kids will identify intrinsically with the reunited mother and son. The illustrations in this book never become treacly, and even the massive everybody-hugs-everybody scene at the end doesn't overflow into schmaltz. It's just a sweet book with a sweet message of hugging.
When I checked this book out of the library, the check out girl's reaction to the cover was, "awwww". That pretty much sums up the book right there. It may not contain the wit of an "Olivia" storyline or the artistic breadth and depth of a Chris Van Allsburg creation, but it's got heart. And heart, whatever else people might say, is very hard to create. A great lovable tale.