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How do you Hug a Porcupine? by L. Isop

Isop, Laurie. Illustrated by Gwen Millward. How do you Hug a Porcupine? New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Your Readers, 2011. Print.

A charming and hopefully harmless little book.  The variety of animals is illustrated realistically enough to be recognizable on the page and probably even in real-life. The text is nicely lyrical with a rhythm and rhyme that makes you want to sing while reading. The message, however, is not all positive. On the good side, the portrayal of animals as worthy of human attention, respect, and appreciation (although not particularly original in children’s books) is always welcome.  Also nice is the mix of familiar animals (e.g. cow, horse, pig, giraffe) with some that don’t get much attention (e.g. hedgehog, yak, ostrich) so young readers might learn something new.

On the negative side, however, is the encouragement to hug any-and-all animals. Knowledge of the difference between tame (domestic) animals and wild animals should be instilled from a young age and, even if not taught explicitly, children’s authors should at least not introduce ideas that must be unlearned in real life. Pandas, yaks, porcupines, kangaroos, and dolphins should NOT, as a general rule, ever be hugged and people should NOT be convinced that everything needs a hug. For one thing, animals are unpredictable and potentially dangerous to the hugger. For another, hugging or touching a wild animal can be dangerous for the hugged - hugging a porcupine would dislodge many quills and reduce its defenses against predators. Sometimes I wonder if the national park tourists who slather honey on their child’s arm to get a picture of the cute bear licking it or approach a fully-grown elk to touch its antler velvet were maybe too exposed to this sort of book.

In short, the answer to “how do you hug a porcupine?” should be, “you don’t!” Stick to hugging your own kitty-cat or puppy-dog instead that you know will probably appreciate it and not attack you.

Recommended with reservations: 2 out of 4 stars (charming and lyrical but potentially dangerous in later life).

Reviewer: David Sulz

David is a librarian at the University of Alberta working mostly with scholars in Economics, Religious Studies, and Social Work. His university studies included: Library Studies, History, Elementary Education, Japanese, and Economics. On the education front, he taught various grades and subjects for several years in schools as well as museums. His interest in Japan and things Japanese stands above his other diverse interests.