For those with experience in working with younger children or students, this is easy to visualize. They have gathered in the area designated for story times, eagerly awaiting you and your selection. Today you do something different. You don't begin with the Wiggle Your Fingers, Wiggle Your Toes song to get them settled. You walk up, hold your arms out wide at your sides and shout out, who wants a hug?
I can pretty much guarantee you will be mobbed by eager huggers. These little guys and gals are full of optimism, warmth and ready to share a hug. Who Wants a Hug? (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, January 6, 2014) written and illustrated by Jeff Mack introduces readers to one of the happiest inhabitants of the forest, Bear.
Everyone liked Bear.
How can you not like someone walking around holding a sign reading,
On the other hand, no one likes Skunk. It might have something to do with his sign reading,
Not to be deterred by Skunk's less than friendly attitude, Bear asks him if he wants a hug. Sir Grump proceeds to make several negative comments. Bear merrily informs him as he walks away, there is a hug waiting for him when he is ready.
Skunk becomes even grouchier by Bear's cheerfulness. He hatches a plan and puts stage one into action. Phew! That is one fetid fish. Like a boomerang his trick backfires. Of course, Bear offers him a hug again which makes him even angrier.
A bag of rank refuse on a rope with an avian assist falls at the wrong time on the wrong critter. How much stink can a skunk take? Bear is even more willing to give this guy a friendly squeeze.
As his final, absolute attempt to discourage Bear's perky outlook Skunk lays a trap on Bear's resting stump. When the other animals notice, they head for the hills. The unforeseen results (to Skunk but not readers) take all the cantankerous out of the striped curmudgeon. There is only one cure for this mishap. With a narrative twist Bear exclaims his favorite mantra to Skunk.
With the first two sentences Jeff Mack sets the stage for the ying and yang forces at work in this story. Told entirely in dialog and voiced thoughts, the outrageous and decidedly smelly attempts by Skunk to put a damper on Bear's sunny disposition contrast with purposeful comedic pacing. Repetition of phrases by both parties creates an opportunity for audience participation. Here is a sample passage.
"Poor Skunk," said Bear.
"You look like you need a hug."
"A SKUNK NEVER HUGS!" cried Skunk.
"It's okay," said Bear.
"I'll save you one for later.
Readers will be able to see by looking at the front dust jacket and matching book case Bear is beloved by his forest friends. A disgruntled Skunk, looking like Snidely Whiplash in his top hat and crinkly mustache, is lurking in the background. On the back on a background of white, Skunk is walking toward the right snarling, carrying his Super Stinky Tricks suitcase with puffs of whiffiness trailing behind him. Two shades of a mint green on the opening and closing endpapers feature smelly clouds with hearts sprinkled among them. The title page and verso spotlight Bear standing in a hilly clearing in the woods arms ready for a hug.
The altered illustration sizes by Jeff Mack complement his narrative wonderfully, shifting our perspective. On several of the images the only words are big, bold sounds like you would see in a comic book. The color palette will attract the intended readers, natural shades for the setting and animals with pops of pink, purple and red. The expressions on the animals' faces are surefire grin and giggle generators.
One of my many favorite illustrations (so many are hilarious) is when Skunk is putting his first trick into action. That fish is so smelly he has a clothespin on HIS nose. The slingshot has been released. In horror Skunk watches the fish whiz by his target, hit a bush and come straight back toward him with a loud BOING! Bear and a little purple bird on his shoulder are gazing upward.
If you want to hear laughter read Who Wants A Hug? written and illustrated by Jeff Mack. If you want to hear the best phrase there is, Read it again, please, pretty please, Who Wants A Hug? is the book for you. Watching and reading about Skunk trying to rain on Bear's parade when Bear always has an umbrella handy is like revisiting a beloved classic cartoon. Hugs win the day as long as clothespins are included. All is forgiven with a hug.
For more information about Jeff Mack and his other titles please visit his website by following the link embedded in his name. For posts about his books, AH HA! and Duck In The Fridge follow the links attached to the titles.