How to Hug a Pufferfish

Macmillan. Apr. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250796998.
PreS-Gr 1–This lighthearted instructional guide offers helpful strategies for those who love pufferfish and might wish to give one of them a hug. The second-person narration regards the titular creature with wry and affectionate humor: “So you want to hug a pufferfish. Who could blame you? Those big ol’ bubble eyes. That gap-toothed grin. The spotty skin, like moldy bread with mustard. Could anything be cuter?” In a clever comedic beat, the risks of such a hug are presented visually, rather than spelled out verbally: an illustration shows the pufferfish, when startled by its friends, expanding with a satisfying “FWOOMP!” Through her zany cartoon-style digital illustrations, Peterson uses the undersea setting as a positive if slightly preachy extended metaphor for human issues of consent and bodily autonomy, with suggestions for respectful behavior including asking permission, being gentle, and accepting alternative greetings such as a “high tail” or a “fin-shake.” A spread in which the undersea creatures imagine themselves receiving hugs serves as the opportunity to celebrate a variety of family structures: the lobster is being hugged by a single female relative, the starfish by two males (suggesting a same-sex couple), and an octopus by several squids (resembling an adoptive or extended family). Sharp-eyed readers will spot a few charming Easter eggs, including flora, fauna, and refuse later assembled by the pufferfish into a diorama, and a shy sea urchin who takes center stage in the book’s final visual joke.
VERDICT An engaging story leavens its didactic elements with appealing characters and action, making this an engaging tome for the burgeoning consent shelves.

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