Blogtour: While We Can’t Hug. Illustrator Polly Dunbar chooses five favourite picture books

Congratulations to Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar on the publication of their new picture book, While We Can’t Hug. This beautifully illustrated picture book with its simple text shows the different ways that two friends practise social distancing but still show their affection for each other without physical contact.

We are very excited to be one of the stops on Eoin and Polly’s blogtour for this timely picture book – hopefully we will all be able to hug our friends properly soon!

While We Can't Hug - Story Snug

The Story: Hedgehog and Tortoise are best friends who want to hug each other but they’re not allowed to touch each other. Owl reassures them that there are lots of ways that they can show their love including writing letters, dancing, and singing.

While We Can’t Hug is a wonderful story about showing affection that doesn’t involve hugs. It’s the perfect story to show young children how they can demonstrate their love for others in different ways. We love the way that the book uses weather imagery and incorporates it into Hedgehog and Tortoise’s paintings at the end of the story.

You can watch the story on You Tube…

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We’re delighted to welcome While We Can’t Hug’s illustrator, Polly Dunbar, to Story Snug, Polly wrote and illustrated one of our favourite picture books, Penguin, which we read numerous times when our daughter was younger.

We asked Polly if she could tell us about five picture books that she loves, it’s always interesting to hear which picture books authors and illustrators enjoy reading (although we realise it’s really hard to narrow choices down to just five!).

So without further ado – thank you Polly!

A Busy Day for Birds by Lucy Cousins

First on my list is A Busy Day for birds by Lucy Cousins. Lucy produces dazzling book after dazzling book. I was torn between this and Peck, Peck, Peck, both huge hits with my two young boys. A Busy Day for birds is not just a book, a game and a performance piece all in one.You can’t read it without hopping around the room gleefully tweeting like a bird. After going through all the hilarious actions of different birds it book finishes with two parrots snuggling in their nest – a cuddle with mum, the perfect way to wind down and of course sheer joy. All of Lucy’s books have an element of interactivity that really help both the child and adult reader become completely absorbed, be it pecking through holes in the pages with little fingers..lifting flaps and in this case flapping you wings. Of course, Lucy’s colours are always eye-poppingly gorgeous.

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Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

This is one of those books that has an ‘otherness’ about it. It’s so hard to put my finger on what makes the combination of Mac Barnett and Jon Klaassen quite so brilliant. Maybe it’s the understated text, the dry humour in the pictures. They have a subtle way of putting across a story that is both seemingly everyday and yet totally spectacular. This is not an ‘in your face book’; so often in picture books we are expected to offer up an explosion of colour and jokes, fun but not always necessary, this is understated, subdued in colour and subtle in detail. We follow the dog’s story which is entirely visual which makes my children shout at the book with an almost pantomime-like enthusiasm. They are digging in the book and we learn that you don’t have to find actual treasure for life to be amazing; you don’t have to use glitter to make a book that sparkles- this one gleams with brilliance.

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Zagazoo by Quentin Blake

I had to include a Quentin Blake book in this round up, as a child he was my all time hero, Mr Magnolia being my then favourite book. Today I’m going to mention Zagazoo, It’s a hilarious story that entertains and also rings true, it takes us through the journey of a baby growing up, becoming a different animal at every stage. It strikes a chord with me as a mother of two young children so while reading it I’m wryly laughing to myself, while my children guffaw at the daftness of it all. This is a masterpiece of storytelling that delights every generation..even the pelicans!

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Granpa by John Burningham

I often read and re-read books by John Burningham, not just to my children but often to myself. There is a magic to his books that I feel I might absorb if I keep looking. I have chosen Grandpa as it is about loss, something that is touching so many lives at the moment. The text is fragmented musings, evocative memories of childhood, perhaps how a Grandpa or a child might look back, wonderful flashes, snippets of happy days gone by. The sense of loss left for the reader to absorb in their own way and at their own pace. “Grandpa, do worms go to heaven?’ is a great way of start a deep conversation with the lightest of touch.

The book goes through the seasons starting with spring, as we head towards winter we can see Grandpa is becoming more frail. We are left with Grandpa’s empty chair which is so utterly poignant and moving and doesn’t shy away from the reality and sadness of loss one bit and yet we turn the page to see a sunrise and a new baby, perfect. John Burningham was a wondrous book-maker and his empty chair must be a thrown.

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Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and James Dean

I shall finish on Pete The Cat. This book is a riot. I can’t help but rap/ sing the words, my kids join in too, luckily they are at an age where they think I’m a bit cool, it won’t last long! The illustrations have stylish naivety to them..the whole book is so beautiful effortless it makes you think, hey, I can do this and pick up and pen and paper and make a book right there and then. My eldest son would like to be Pete and has taken to stretching like a cat and exclaiming in the coolest drawl… ‘Because, it’s all good’ and this book really is…

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Thank you for sharing your favourite picture books with us Polly and congratulations again on While We Can’t Hug – we absolutely love your rainbow illustrations!

While We Can't Hug - rainbow - Story Snug

About Polly

Polly Dunbar is one of the best-known illustrators working in the UK today. Polly’s bestselling book, Penguin, won numerous awards including the BookTrust Early Year’s Award, the Nestle Silver Children’s Book Prize, the Red House Children’s Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Polly was also chosen as one of BookTrust’s Ten Best Illustrators. Polly lives in the Waveny Valley in Suffolk with her partner and their two boys.

Polly’s website / Twitter / Instagram

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You can read more about Eoin, Polly and While We Can’t Hug on the other blog tour stops;

14 thoughts on “Blogtour: While We Can’t Hug. Illustrator Polly Dunbar chooses five favourite picture books

  1. Aww! While We Can’t Hug sounds an adorable book. It sounds perfect for what we’re going through at the moment with Coronavirus.
    These are such a great selection of books x

    • Yes, While We Can’t Hug is a very timely book 🙂

      It’s always really fascinating to see which picture books authors and illustrators like to read, very hard to choose just five though!

  2. “While We Can’t Hug” sounds like such a lovely way to help little ones understand these crazy times. Polly’s illustrations are wonderful. 🙂

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