While We Can’t Hug, by by Eoin McLaughlin/Illustrated by Polly Dunbar, (Aug. 2020, Faber & Faber USA), $15.95, ISBN: 978-0571365586
Last year, Hedgehog and Tortoise became best friends in The Hug. This year, social distancing has hit them, too, but they’re finding ways to work around it in While We Can’t Hug. For the book’s duration, Hedgehog is on the left side, and Tortoise on the right; they’re sad that they miss each other but can’t hug, until Owl swoops in and tells them that there are many other ways to show love and affection. The two friends tentatively give it a shot, first, by waving, then by making funny faces. Inspired, the two write letters, blow kisses, dance, and paint pictures together, simply enjoying the other’s company. Author Eoin McLaughlin eloquently uses brief text to communicate the many ways to show others we love them while hugging isn’t an option. Polly Dunbar’s warm artwork uses comforting colors and soft shading to make each reader feel like they’re included in Hedgehog’s and Tortoise’s circle of friends.
For little ones who are having a difficult time not seeing friends and family, or seeing them and not being able to run and hug them, books like this are vital in explaining that love is still there, even when touch isn’t an option. Polly Dunbar provides the most important observation as Hedgehog and Tortoise share love across the book’s pages: “They could not touch. They could not hug. But they both knew that they were loved”. And that’s the message to take to heart.