February 04, 2021


Written and illustrated by Charlene Chua
Kids Can Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
It's amazing what a hug can accomplish. When this child's cat coughs up a disgusting hairball and looks a bit shaken, she offers the feline a hug which it agrees to with a simple, "Okay" and a generous "Thank you" mid-hug. When a dog watching requests a similar hug, the child agrees, with the cat proudly looking on.

From Hug? by Charlene Chua

After the initial cat hug, each double-spread, with only a few exceptions, has a creature asking for a hug, and then getting it, while a foot or nose or face or paw of another begins to enter the scene. Little ones will enjoy guessing what animal will be asking for a hug next. After the cat, there's the dog, a pair of ducks and duckling, a skunk, a bear, a porcupine, and a tiger. There's even a unicorn that comes along but it politely declines with "No, thanks. I'm good."

From Hug? by Charlene Chua

Though the child is reluctant to refuse any request for a hug, even from a stinky skunk or a prickly porcupine or a potentially dangerous tiger, each hug seems to leave her more bedraggled. But, when she is bombarded with a barrage of requests and demands from everything from a dragon, to a snake and even an alien, she screams "STOP!"

Fortunately, her cat knows what she might need, and a simple and familiar question gets her the hug she too needs to feel better.
From Hug? by Charlene Chua
Charlene Chua has illustrated many picture books, including several which I have reviewed here on CanLit for LittleCanadians (e.g., Going Up, The Pencil, and Fishing with Grandma), but this is the first which she has written and illustrated. However, it's evident from Hug? that this will only be the first of many because Charlene Chua charms with the simple importance of her words and her disarming artistic style, especially with characters' faces. That strength of message here is on gentle acts of kindness that come from recognizing another's distress or need for comfort. There's asking for consent to touch, even for a hug, and accepting any answer as valid for that individual. There's also the message that sometimes we all need to ask for help or at least to accept it if things are to get better. These are pretty compelling understandings for addressing mental health concerns and yet Charlene Chua keeps it light and sweet through both words and art. Using watercolours, watercolour ink, and coloured pencils, as well as Photoshop, Charlene Chua encircles her story with art that is bright in colour and shape. Even when the child has reached her limit and needs to address her own needs, the illustrations are cheery but still clamorous as would befit a child in crisis. 
I bet Charlene Chua knows about giving and getting hugs and I trust that all involved in those embraces, or perhaps just in the kindness of asking, recognize the compassion necessary to share oneself and will pay if forward with their own Hug?, book or affection.

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