One of the reasons I love picturebooks is that they take all of the values and social discourse of the time they’re made in and present them in this beautiful little package to pick apart and wonder at. Looking at two books made a handful of years apart can show how society has grown and changed and there is no better example than this than these two hug books.
I love both of these books actually, “Hug Machine” by Scott Campbell 2014, and “Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like it)” By Carrie Finison 2021. But what I find most fascinating about them, especially next to one another, is to marvel at how fast mainstream ideas are moving about issues around childhood, consent and, toxic masculinity.
When “Hug Machine” came out in 2014 it was subversive in quietly challenging toxic masculinity and traditional gender roles in this beautiful pale pink and red ode to a little boy who loves to love and show affection. Hug Machine is concerned with the emotional needs of those around him when; a baby is crying, a hedgehog feels unloved, etc. These things fundamentally challenge the emotional frigidity of toxic masculinity.
However, things have moved on, the world has moved on and become more complex, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? “Don’t Hug Doug” explores the complexities around consent, boundaries and, also the many ways that one can show their friendship. But I think what’s most poignant is the piece around expectations that children take on burden of emotional labour.
Less than a decade ago, it was seen as appropriate that the Hug Machine should be taking on the emotional labour of hugging literally everyone so that they felt better. The kid didn’t even have a name he was reduced to his performance of giving. In “Don’t Hug Doug” the onus is not on Doug to take on that burden, the children in this book are being relieved of that expectation and being given agency regarding their personal space. This is a major step forward in society’s understanding of the fundamental rights of a child, and the nature of childhood itself.
Is there space to celebrate both of these books? Are they even fundamentally in opposition? #LibrarianFightClub