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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Jean Reidy, GROUP HUG

When Slug happens upon a lonely beetle, he knows just what to do. He gives him a big hug―and then the two friends decide to pass it along. They meet Mouse, who's down in the dumps, Skunk, who's a bit smelly, and more and more animals, until their group hug stretches wide and tall. But when Bear comes along, will there be enough hug to share?

Max's Boat Pick:


Written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Joey Chou

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (December 14, 2021)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Group Hug? 

JR: "Sure! The story was actually inspired by a soccer game. A pre-COVID, 6 versus 6, pee-wee soccer game – the very best kind. And while no one was supposed to be keeping score, it was clear that one team was losing… badly. Then, when the final whistle blew, one of the members of the losing team – who had been daydreaming most of the game – shouted, “Group hug!” and members of both teams charged the field for this magnificent, heap of a hug. It was such a spontaneously joy-filled sight – I knew there had to be a story there."

In these uncertain times, I feel kindness is what we all need. Are there other picture books you love for their exploration of kindness? "I love picture books in which kindness is uncovered or discovered - a little less obvious at the start. Books in which our main characters are imperfect, as we all are, like Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken, Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal, and The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso. But I also love picture books that pull off kindness cleverly like Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor, or beautifully like A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang and Seo Ki, or with immediacy like Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki, or ever so simply – yet powerfully – like I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët. I could go on and on. Aren’t we lucky to have so many wonderful picture books, that touch on kindness, available to readers these days?"

Do you have a favorite bookshop or library, and why do you love it? "Oh, I’m so glad you asked! For the better part of my life, I’ve been walking distance to a public library. Libraries have been and always will be some of my most favorite places on earth. The first was in the town where I grew up, Highland Park, Illinois. The library was a beautiful, old, stone building bordering a small ravine with a stream. Modern art graced the grass out front and the Chicago & Northwestern train station was directly across the street. (I also love trains!) It was the first place to which I was allowed to walk by myself. So, brimming with freedom and independence, I pulled a wagon there and filled it with books. (Yes, a little like Matilda!) And on cold, grey Chicago days, the library was always a warm and welcoming refuge.

The second was the amazing and iconic main branch of the New York Public Library, which I introduced to my first child when he was one month old. We’d spend a bit of time reading there, then I’d pile books and record albums in the bottom rack of his stroller for our walk back to our tiny apartment. Bliss! And for the last twenty-five years, I’ve lived just a few blocks from Koelbel Public Library, part of the Arapahoe Libraries District in Colorado. I visit nearly every day, backpack on my back, borrowing and returning books. The librarians at Koelbel – especially the children’s librarians – are some of the best and kindest I’ve ever met. I feel more than fortunate to have had these treasure troves so close to home."

What did you love reading to your kids when they were young? "My kids are grown and now have families of their own, (Oh my goodness, don’t even get me started talking about my grandkids!) but they still remember their favorite read-alouds from the past. They loved books that demanded a performance – like singing 'Bubble, bubble, pasta pot' with Strega Nona, retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, or snorting with the Snort in Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. They loved books that begged interaction – like counting along with The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and picking out the pickle truck in Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. They loved books that they could laugh with and relate to – like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz. And they loved the first books that they, themselves, could read – like Big Wheels by Anne Rockwell.

These books were much more than just words and pictures. Their stories extended off the page, leaving loads of room for the reader or listener. I love that."

What have been your favorite picture books of 2021? "Wow! What a tough question! While I haven’t yet had a chance to read all of the awesome 2021 picture books, so far I have loved

Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham, Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, and Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin.

Oh, and, of course – Group Hug!"

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