Hug Me

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Hug Me
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books
It’s difficult to imagine many things less huggable than a cactus but Simona Ciraolo has made the central character of her delightful book a very spiky yet totally adorable creature. Young Felipe, who longs for a hug, has the misfortune to be a member of a very uptight family so, realizing that his longed-for embrace will definitely not be forthcoming from his un-touchy-feely kin, decides to try his luck outside the family circle. However, when he strikes up a friendship with an outsider, poor Felipe ends up feeling more unloved than ever. So, is he destined to spend the rest of his days alone and unhugged?
Despite being a tale of loneliness and a longing to belong, there is subtle humour here in abundance, largely conveyed through the expression-filled pencil and pen pictures, and the relationship between them, the understated text and what is left unsaid. We are never told that Felipe is actually a cactus and we are only shown the nature of his bouncy first friend; and that newspaper report is priceless.

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The manner in which scale is manipulated further adds to the power of Felipe’s feelings of desolation and isolation. We see for instance, his completely dwarfed, diminutive form reaching out longingly to a family member –

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your heart really goes out to him.
I love the way too that the predominantly arid earthy tones give way to a burst of brighter pinks and purples as Felipe emerges from his isolation, and that the story continues onto the final endpapers leaving child audiences space to co-create an extended narrative and possibly their own books. The front endpapers are great too – a family tree cactus style.
A great debut from Simona Ciraolo and a classy production from Flying Eye.

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