His classmates’ (understandable) reluctance to accept affectionate squeezes makes Wally the boa constrictor sad.
Wally—cast in Ashdown’s crayon-and-watercolor drawings as by far the largest student but with big eyeglasses that give him a particularly harmless look—gets lots of hugs at home. But when he tries to give Bella the mouse a birthday hug she flees into her cubby, and efforts with other members of his diverse animal class go similarly. “Just be your cuddly self, Wally,” advises his mom. “Soon your friends will let you hug.” The best he can get, though, is verbal praise from a distance until the teacher sees his tears and elicits from him a promise to hug gently. Nonetheless, in a closing twist (so to speak), Wally is so excited by the ensuing collective clinch that he gets carried away. The panicked expressions of his fellow students set up the final page, where Wally delivers not a bone-crushing squeeze but a big…wait for it…kiss. Whew! Young readers will have no trouble finding sympathy for points of view on both sides of the hug. The episode could also serve as a discussion starter about inappropriate displays of affection or general physical contact.
A light dose of problem-solving with a climactic dash of suspense, all tightly wrapped in warm feelings. (Picture book. 4-6)