Books, like friends, have distinct personalities. Some are the life of the party, loudly and boldly calling for attention from their spot on the shelf in the bookstore. Others sit calmly by your side, sympathetic and encouraging, waiting politely to be read. Lauren Castillo’s Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us is one of these companionable volumes, an instantly classic tribute to friendship.
When Hedgehog’s beloved stuffed dog is lost in a storm, Hedgehog, too, feels lost. But when several new animals join in the search for Mutty, Hedgehog’s world becomes far bigger, far true-friend-lier and far more full of life than she ever imagined it could be.
Inspired by the Castillo’s own experience of moving away from friends, Our Friend Hedgehog has an earnest and intimate feel. Although its characters tend to fall into storybook archetypes (Owl is wise and verbose, Beaver is grumpy but industrious), their familiarity is endearing rather than derivative. Castillo’s child-friendly narration carries a sense of youthful honesty and openness. Perfectly accessible to young readers, the heavily illustrated book offers countless opportunities for reading comprehension practice. Castillo employs interesting vocabulary words, personification and foreshadowing that will encourage growing readers to put themselves in the characters’ shoes and ask, “What will happen next?”
Castillo, who received a Caldecott Honor for Nana in the City, uses illustrated Polaroid-style instant photographs to introduce each chapter, tying the story together with an underlying theme of scrapbook memories. Soft lines and a variety of textures add movement while color and fluctuating scale (giant leaning trees, overlarge button decorations) cultivate unique atmospheres for each turn of this tale. As the opener for a new chapter book series, Our Friend Hedgehog promises more cheerfully illustrated escapades to come.
Full of empathetic characters, Our Friend Hedgehog doesn’t holler for attention, nor do its moral sensibilities land with thuds. Instead, it’s a gentle book about the gifts new friends bring into our lives: clear eyes on a foggy day, companionship on an unfamiliar path and, best of all, a hand to pull us ashore when the waters seem too deep.