Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Energetic Embrace

When teaching in an elementary school for the first time after being at the middle school and high school level for twenty plus years, the first thing you notice is the joyful openness of the students. Their exuberance for nearly everything is astounding, heartwarming and life-affirming.  Another thing for which they are most highly skilled is hugging.  They want to embrace someone the way they embrace life, freely and without reservation.

Australian author Nick Bland's and illustrator Freya Blackwood's first collaboration has already garnered The Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award, Early Childhood 2012.  In late December 2013 The Runaway Hug (Random House) appeared on shelves as the first American edition.  It would seem someone has forgotten the rules of this bedtime ritual.

"Mommy," said Lucy.  "Can I have a hug before I go to bed?"
"Oh, dear," said Mommy.  "I only have one left.  It's my very last hug."
"Can I borrow it?" said Lucy.  "I promise I'll give it back."

Now the recipient of her mother's final hug, Lucy darts away to locate her dad.  Lucy asks him if he would like a hug.  There is one condition though, he must give it back.  After all, it is her mommy's last one.

Hugs exchanged Lucy charges into another part of the house to continue her give-and-take routine.  First she finds the less than eager older twins.  Next in the kitchen Little Lily is more than willing.  Then she seeks Annie, the mischievous household dog.  Annie's woof to Lucy's question is all she needs to deliver the affectionate embrace.

Oh, oh!  Annie races from the room taking the cherished squeeze with her.  Up and down and all around the house Lucy goes in search of Annie and the hug.  That rascal Annie is hiding. The tears are starting to come.  Dogs will have their way.  Settled in bed for the night Annie has a final request for her mother.

Using a mix of dialogue and personal narrative Nick Bland demonstrates his understanding of a child's gifted imagination.  There is a sense of security and warmth in his portrayals of this shift toward slumber by all the members of the family.  Each time Lucy gets a hug she describes it as long and soft, twice as big, or smelled like peanut butter.  The repetition of a certain phrase creates a gentle cadence.  Here is a single passage.

Daddy picked her up and squeezed her as tight as a knot.
The hug was stronger than before, but just as nice.

If ever a dust jacket and book case exuded warmth, Freya Blackwood's work on this book does.  How can you not love the way the text wraps around the word HUG as a pajama-clad Lucy embraces the G?  Do you notice the extra glow around Lucy's face?  That same glow surrounds her and Lily hugging on the back.  Both the opening and closing endpapers are patterned in Lucy's pajama fabric.

When the first page is turned we are in the bathroom with Lucy and Annie as she gets ready for bed doing three separate activities.  This two page spread is the initial title page.  With another page turn we have the verso and formal title page.  There are six Lucy figures as she gets into her pajamas.  After four pages readers will already find Lucy nestling into their hearts.

A creamy background provides a canvas for these and all the remaining pictures.  Blackwood alters perspective and position depicting the cozy flow of this family in the evening.  She crosses the gutter frequently to great effect.   You will be unable to keep yourself from smiling at the rumpled, cluttered scenes featured.  There is something about her sketchy outlines which are welcoming, conveying the necessary emotions.

In the two pages when Lucy has lost the hug you can really feel her sense of loss with only Lucy, the zebra toy and an article of clothing in the picture.  One of my favorite illustrations is of Lucy running throughout the house looking for Annie.  We can see Annie just ahead of her and hiding.  Blackwood manages to show us the whole layout in these pages.  And I dare anyone not to sigh at the final wordless page.

Oh how I adore this book!  Make sure you share The Runaway Hug written by Nick Bland with illustrations by Freya Blackwood with your children and students.  Everyone needs the hug this book offers.

Please take a moment to follow the links embedded in Freya Blackwood's names to visit her website and blog.  She has more illustrations from this book on her blog.  Here is the link to an interview of Nick Bland at the Creative Kids Tales website.

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