Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
This is a cute, sweet children's book about important subjects like trust, affection, apprehension, and becoming comfortable with physical contact and social interactions in general. Children, like adults, often have trouble coming around to embracing social norms and engaging in social interactions or environments, hence the term “socially awkward.” This can make it difficult for them to take risks, step outside their comfort zones, show their true emotions, or to develop strong and meaningful relationships with people.
There are even terms for this such as “breaking the ice” or “coming out of [his/her/their] shell.”
This book confronts this issue in a tactful and beautiful way by using the example of the character Sam, a son who seems apprehensive about social contact. Through trial and error, his family is lovingly able to chip away at his figurative walls until he becomes comfortable with the idea of hugging and holding his loved ones.
The way they do this is actually rather ingenious, but not so uncommon: they get him a pet. This is a practice advocated and practiced by families to teach their kids responsibility and compassion for others. It also gives them a “friend” and shows them how to be a friend.
The art in this book is very impressive and quite beautiful. There is an aspect of it that we're confident will present a challenge to some readers, especially younger ones, and that's simply the concept of the “uncanny valley.” This is the phenomenon in which something looks too human and real but is neither truly human or real. This creates a feeling of anxiety, fear, and/or revulsion among some viewers who are especially sensitive to this. The human characters in this book look realistic, but are not hyper-realistic. They fall right into that uncanny valley. Their faces look like realistic human faces, but their bodies, clothes, and the scenery are much more artsy and cartoonish. Further emphasizing this point is Sam himself. There's just something kinda sinister about the way his face is drawn. Look at the way his eyes and brow flare up and out on page 6, 10, 12, and 22. It's almost the look a villain would give while presenting an evil monologue or finding the forbidden McGuffin (ex. the Ark of the Covenant, the Infinity Gauntlet, or a chest full of gold).
Another thing about Sam is that either his body's proportions were accidentally drawn larger than originally intended, or the character himself is a bit too old for the target audience. The target audience would probably be young children and parents of young children who have social anxiety or who are socially awkward. Sam is very clearly not a “young child.” He towers over other characters in some of these pictures. Yes, we know they are sitting, kneeling, or squatting down, but even when he is sitting, his torso is tall like that of a teenager—not someone who is going to hear bedtime stories, come to circle time, or go to the reading corner. This kid seems to be old enough to have a library card and hang out there by himself.
Any maybe that's the point. Maybe Sam's concerning lack of social interactions has stunted him socially and/or intellectually. He is a physically big guy in a shy, little guy's body. Maybe he might have a learning or mental disability that we aren't aware of, but that is somewhat implied.
It's also somewhat possible that he's just a physically big little kid. He looks like he's going to grow up to become an Olympic pole vaulter or an offensive tackle. The height, broadness, and overall size of his dad suggests that this may be hereditary.
Also, the dog is absolutely adorable and we want to pet and hug him ourselves!
Either way, we can't help but be amazed and impressed by the art and the heart of this book!
Check it out on Amazon!