Not since the aptly titled Hug has there been another picture book of note dedicated to this underrated expression of appreciation, friendship, affection, love and joy. But whereas Bobo, the simian protagonist of Hug, spends most of the book lamenting that he isn’t receiving any, the eponymous Hug Machine here is too busy dishing them out to be hug-less for long. That’s what’s so special about hugs, isn’t it? It’s the gift that gives right back: when you hug someone, you’re also, in a way, simultaneously being hugged.
Of course, not all hugs are equal: the best ones are genuine, heartfelt and last for at least a full three seconds — none of that perfunctory, half-hearted limp-arm action. So it’s no wonder that the author has chosen a little boy as the protagonist who declares himself to be “the Hug Machine”, since kids are probably the most naturally un-selfconsciously affectionate people on earth.
Indeed, the Hug Machine does take his job very seriously — he wholeheartedly, dauntlessly and enthusiastically wraps his suitably long arms around everyone and everything he sees, even without them asking. (Another reason why this story wouldn’t work with an adult Hug Machine, since this behaviour would likely get him arrested in many states!) The way he sees it, “No one can resist my unbelievable hugging” — and no one does.
Besides, deep down, everyone — no matter how hard, prickly or cumbersome they may seem — could probably use a hug sometime. Even you. Yes, YOU. The Hug Machine knows this and generously obliges. (It would also take a heart of stone to remain unmoved when [spoiler alert!] the porcupine finally gets a hug — surely a metaphor for people who have never been hugged.) “No one escapes the Hug Machine!” Well, at least, until he runs out of pizza fuel.
The rose-pink hue on the cover is also somewhat carried over to the pages of the book, which exude cheer and warmth — not unlike what you would experience in a hug; the book isn’t called Hug Machine for nothing. The styling of the little Hug Machine is also spot-on: those wide, empathetic peepers that are only purposefully shut when he is delivering one of his intense hugs; the slightly nerdy jumper; the pink and red striped long-sleeved shirt that accentuates his ‘tools of the trade’, aka his arms… Adorable!
If there ever was such a thing as a hug in a book, this would be it, and reading it will make you want to, well, dish out some hugs of your own. And, if you’re lucky to have your own little Hug Machine(s) — I have two! — don’t forget to return the favour as often as you can. Hug Machines need to be hugged too!