We may be slowly coming out of these strange lockdown times, but there’s no doubt that things are still different. Social distancing is still a thing, and for children, who are tactile and playful and affectionate, this new way of being must be incredibly difficult. We know ourselves how much a struggle it is not to be able to hug our loved ones, and we fully understand the reasons why, and how to effectively express our love in different ways. But children need some help with this. While We Can’t Hug, written by Eoin McLaughlin, illustrated by Polly Dunbar and published by Faber and Faber is a book enabling children to find alternative ways to connect with friends and loved ones from a distance. Here’s a little peak at the book via a gorgeous animation:
Really there’s no need for me to write a review after that, it sums the book up beautifully, and really shows the depth of emotion that can be expressed in a seemingly simple picture book. Few words have been used on each page, it’s simply written, but sometimes that’s even harder to do well. We want to over explain, go into detail, why are we social distancing, what is the virus? etc etc. But Eoin has kept cleanly to the pure and simple purpose of this book, which is to help children cope with social distancing without complication. The hedgehog and tortoise fine numerous ways to reach out to each other emotionally, and show they care. As children across the UK and beyond struggle to interact with their friends, without the usual tactile and playful methods they’re used to, this book is a gorgeous demonstration of alternative ways to do this, through letter writing, drawing pictures (like those lovely window rainbows for example), sing together, tell jokes and so it goes on. This book fulfils its purpose in guiding children through one aspect of these difficult times, without embedding fear into them, with just pure charm and sweetness, emphasising love and friendship.
So many of us recognise, know and love the artwork of Polly Dunbar, and she has outdone herself here once more. Where Eoin has kept his words simple and clean, so Polly reflected this in her illustrations too, focusing on just the two main characters standing across the page from each other, along with their various forms of contact. The images are charming, soft and gentle just as the storytelling. The expressions of the two friends together made me really grin from ear to ear, I love it. I love the simplicity, the sweetness the positivity. In these testing times it’s so important that we read books to children about how to make the best of these situations, how to learn different ways of being, how to enjoy life and friendships again. And this stunning picture book does just that.
This is a little treasure of a story that can be read for years to come. For even if we, hopefully, get beyond a life of Covid and social distancing, there will always be times when children are parted from loved ones and friends, and this book is general enough to be used in a variety of circumstances. Perhaps teaching them to reach out to Grandparents, or friends who’ve moved away? This is not just a story for now. And, honestly, despite this book having an important part to play in today’s environment, it’s also just a gorgeously lovely story of friendship.
It’s simple and simply beautiful.
While We Can’t Hug is available from all good bookshops and libraries now.
Thank you to Faber for gifting my copy and having me on their blog tour, and thank you for reading this Book Monster review.