Not all kids love hugs, and one little girl learns that’s it’s okay to speak up about it in Esmail’s debut picture book with watercolor images by Cooke.
Raina doesn’t like celebrating birthdays, and instead of getting excited when her mother mentions gifts she might get, “her stomach is in knots.” Specifically, Raina isn’t comfortable with her family members’ hugs and kisses on such occasions. Old Pa gives her a close hug and his bristly beard pokes her face, and a large uncle’s squeeze makes her feel embarrassed. Auntie’s touch makes Raina think of tentacles, and a cousin with a runny nose is told to give Raina a kiss. It’s all too much, and she yells that she hates her “unhappy birthdays.” Alone in her room, she speaks to her stuffed rabbit, who encourages her to tell the truth because her own feelings matter. She finds more comfortable ways to express love to her relatives, and this may inspire similarly sensitive readers to ask others to meet them on their own terms. Esmail offers a protagonist with whom cautious youngsters will identify, and the soft pastels of the watercolors create a comforting tone. Cooke also deftly creates unpleasant images from Raina’s imagination that readers won’t find threatening.
An excellent book for sensitive young readers.