The Hug

Authored by Eoin McLaughlin
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Published by Faber & Faber

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Who would have thought that just over a year ago we would be told by our government that it was no longer permissible to hug each other: an action most took for granted as an automatic reaction as a greeting, celebration or act of comfort. It has been very hard to omit this basic human need and we have had to find other ways to satisfy our desire for the touch of another human being.

The need to embrace

There is physiological research that suggests that a human being requires a minimum of twelve hugs for daily survival and more in order to thrive. Well as a human race we have shown resilience and a strength we didn’t know we had. We have survived, some have even thrived over this difficult year. We have adapted and found creative ways to comfort each other. We’ve  had to replace hugging with other activities that give us that same feeling of calm and security. For some it is meditation, for others music plays a part. Reading can replicate a hug for the mind, giving us a sense of comfort and calm, slowing our breathing and sending endorphins flowing through our bodies.

There have been several titles for children that have explored the need for hugging. I loved Slug Needs a Hug by the brilliant team of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross and more recently, A Cuddle and a Cwtch (a Welsh hug) by  Sarah KilBride was my go-to gift for missed loved ones. The dramatic change in world circumstances produced a plethora of creativity, not least in the book world. Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar responded to the pandemic with the apt While We Can’t Hug which showed us ways to be affectionate while social distancing.

The third title in this series is due for publication in Summer 2021, The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug. In the mean time, looking back at the original story from the Hedgehog & Friends series, The Hug is the perfect way to celebrate the reinstating of permissible hugging. Of course the most huggable animal is the Koala but the beauty of this story is that it is about two animals for whom hugging appears to be at worst impossible, at best incredibly uncomfortable.

Hedgehog was feeling sad. As sad as a hedgehog can feel. So sad only one thing could help. 

The Hug

He sets off on a journey to find a hug but unsurprisingly doesn’t find any animal willing to touch his prickly coat. The wise old owl gently points this out but offers some hope by offering the adage: ‘there’s someone for everyone’. Meanwhile, Tortoise has had a similar experience, being fobbed off by every animal until the joyous meeting with the hedgehog.

There is real magic in this book. The moment when the two unlikely huggers meet cannot fail to give the reader goose bumps. I can imagine the look of delight on the faces of the children in a Nursery or Reception class as the resolution of this story is revealed. The wonder in the story is replicated in the design of the book which can be started with either the Hedgehog’s journey or the Tortoise’s journey. Reaching the ingenious central double-spread the second time is even more special.

I think The Hug would be perfect for an assembly too. It is short, with a clear message and it would sit nicely within a discussion about kindness, inclusivity or friendship. Difference, perspective and empathy could all be explored in addition to the anatomy of these two seemingly unhuggable creatures.

The fifth sense is vital to our wellbeing .The power of touch is not to be underestimated. I hope you enjoy hugging those close to you and cherish this action and all it provides to the body and mind.