February 9, 2012

Daddy Hugs

Daddy Hugs
by Karen Katz; illustrated by the author
0-2 Preschool Simon & Schuster 24pp.
978-1-4169-4120-0 Board $7.99

Karen Katz, winner of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award 2002 for Counting Kisses, attempts to revisit the same territory with Daddy Hugs but with limited success.  Daddy Hugs features the same beautiful, quilt-like illustrations that made Counting Kisses such a pleasure to read. In fact, the illustrations in Daddy Hugs are likewise a joy, with a round happy baby receiving exuberant hugs from her obviously loving daddy. The weakness is in the prose. The narrative is oddly clunky and forced and the counting concept, which, far from being integral to the narrative, feels tacked on, like an afterthought late in production. Daddy Hugs starts off well, with “One I’m so glad you’re my baby hug” and “Two teeny tiny finger hugs” (the illustration for the finger hugs is especially charming, with baby’s broad, rosy face filling most of the panel as she grasps her daddy’s index fingers). But with “Three pat and burp the baby hugs,” the counting conceit begins to fail, and by the time “Eight dancing on Daddy’s feet cha-cha hugs" comes around, what little rhythm Katz initially established is gone. While the sweetness of “Nine don’t be afraid of the dark hugs” is hard to deny, one is left asking the question, why nine hugs for fear of the dark? Why seven hugs for getting into pajamas? The numbers assigned to each type of hug feel arbitrary, perhaps because hugs, unlike kisses, are not easily countable things. It is hard to imagine giving six consecutive “I gotcha now hide-and-seek hugs,” whereas showering a baby with six quick kisses is something any parent can relate to. Katz would have been better served by abandoning the counting conceit and focusing her attention on the love shared by the baby and her daddy as they engage in each activity. Their shared joy bounds off the page, brought to life by Katz’s colorful, energetic illustrations. This is what pre-verbal children will respond to when the book is read to them, not the counting or the numbers that sit tacked on top. For a concept book that captures the warmth of family affection, stick with Counting Kisses. Daddy Hugs, though lovely to look at, fails to make the same success of the counting conceit.

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