All Felipe wants is a hug—trouble is, Felipe is a cactus.
Not only is he a cactus, his family members are terrible snobs who “[believe] one should never trespass into another’s personal space.” They are also a great variety of cactus types, but what they lack in botanical consistency they make up for in an unfriendly uniformity of expression. Felipe appears to be a baby barrel cactus, with one bright pink flower atop his head. He is a lot less interested in “reach[ing] a high position,” as his family tells him he will, than in just getting a hug. His family not being “the touchy feely type,” he just has to hope that somebody else will come along. One day he makes friends with a balloon, with disastrous results. (The headlines read “Cactus Attack: Balloon in Hospital” and “Shame on the Family.”) He uproots himself to find companionship (his bare stump looks amusingly like tighty whiteys, and he walks on impossibly tiny pipe-stem legs). He resigns himself to life as a hermit till one day he hears weeping: It is Camilla, a lonely rock, and at last Felipe gets his hug. Ciraola tells her story with wry understatement, allowing her expressive illustrations to carry the narrative. Her palette is greens and pinks against cream-colored negative space with a few sandy pebbles added to situate Felipe and his family in their desert habitat.
Though Felipe’s not the first prickly children’s-book character ever to want a hug, he certainly is a charmer. (Picture book. 4-8)