Hannah and Sugar is Kate Berube’s first picture book, and what a debut it is—a sweet but never saccharine story of courage found and a friendship forged.
Every day at the bus stop, a group of parents gather to pick up their children. Hannah’s papa is always waiting for her. Mrs. P is also always there to pick up Violet P. The problem in Hannah’s eyes is that Sugar, Violet’s dog, is always with Mrs. P. She’s always on a leash and always friendly—all the children hop off the bus to pet her—but Hannah would rather not get anywhere near this dog, thanks very much.
One day, Violet P. announces that Sugar has gone missing. Everyone launches a search for Sugar, but she’s not found. In one lovely, star-filled spread, Hannah sits on her porch at night and wonders how it would feel to be lost in the dark—to be scared and hungry and sad. Then she hears a whimper. Sugar is stuck in the bushes right next to her home, her leash having gotten caught. Hannah reaches out with a trembling hand to free Sugar.
One of many things Berube does so well in this story is her pacing and its reflection of Hannah’s growth. In one of the opening spreads, Berube shows the passing of the seasons, Hannah always peering at Sugar in fear. The spread immediately after that shows Sugar on the far left and Hannah on the far right with copious white space between them. When she sees Sugar in the bushes, there’s another wordless spread of the two looking at one another, darkness behind them, and this moment is followed by a very striking spread of pure blackness with merely the words, “Hannah closed her eyes and took a deep breath.”
Needless to say, child and dog become friends. Berube writes with great respect for the child reader about fear, and her relaxed, expressive illustrations are very child-friendly.
This promising debut is as sweet as sugar.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.