This is not a riddle. This is the story of Felipe, a young cactus born to a prestigious cacti family in Simona Ciraolo’s book “Hug Me.” Felipe is a little prickly, but he so desperately wants the warmth of someone brave enough to trespass into his personal space. Initially, the little cactus thinks he’s found just that in a bold yellow balloon, until the inevitable happens (I’ll let you put the pieces together here…pun intended) and Felipe is criminalized by all of his family for the disgraceful act. Felipe learns to protect himself from the scorn by isolating himself from the outer world. From the comfort of his new home, though, Felipe hears someone crying. He discovers a rock, a lonely rock and Felipe “…knew just what to do.”
Not only is this an adorable story, but it can teach us a very valuable lesson. As teachers, we will probably have students who are a little prickly. Their “spines” may be the result of living with a disability, experiencing the loss of a parent or another loved one, being in the center of an ugly divorce, or, like Felipe, being held to stiff, inflexible standards. Perhaps all they need is for someone to show them a little warmth.
“Hug Me” by Simona Ciraolo is one of my favorite children’s books of 2014. There is such potential classroom utility in this book. It can be used to teach students empathy, but is also provides a good lesson for teachers, too. We must not criminalize children who begin as products of their circumstances, essentially shunning them from society and robbing them of the opportunity to grow and learn and become productive members of society. A little deep for a children’s book? I don’t think so. Children are incredible.