That Lauren Castillo’s Our Friend Hedgehog is evocative of childhood classic read-aloud stories is unmistakable. Why though? To answer that question we should start out by asking which classics it is evocative of. I wouldn’t be surprised if that varied reader to reader but to me the books it summoned were Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll series, A.A. Milne’s Pooh books, Else Minarik’s Little Bear stories. All these books are marked by classic illustrations and when I pounced upon Our Friend Hedgehog a few pre-pandemic months ago it was because Lauren Castillo is a personal favorite illustrator and I was excited to see, in her first published written work, what sort of a story she had to tell. That the accompanying illustrations would be delightful was a given.
The characteristics Our Friend Hedgehog shares with the four books it evoked for me are a sublime blend of warmth and wonder, gentle adventure, kind humor, allayed misapprehension. discovery and friendship. The sense of possibility in a young reader is developing all the time of course, and it can also be curtailed by sad circumstances of environment. These classic books provide an exercise in world building which clothes childhood possibility in a living, magical garment. When the Snork Maiden tries to talk Moomintroll out of diving for breakfast dishes from the attic down to the kitchen in their submerged house Moominmama announces, “why shouldn’t he if he finds it thrilling?” That same sense of permissiveness and support for interest and adventure quietly illumines Our Friend Hedgehog. It is conveyed through the interwoven actions of friendship and the natural world.
As with Emily from Little Bear and Christopher Robin from Pooh, Hedgehog and his animal companions make a human friend in Annika Mae Flores. The engaging and appealing Annika Mae provides a perfect guide for young readers to inhabit and explore this sunny world.
The comfort found in the timeless charm of Our Friend Hedgehog will be a happy discovery to many readers who are living through this most unsettled and uncertain of times. For adults, sharing it with a child, it will be a welcome passage back to treasured inner landscapes of their own childhood, the very agency of association enhancing the comforting effect of experiencing a new world so imbued with beloved aspects of the past. For children it will be just sheer delight, companionship, and wonder. Our Friend Hedgehog is a book that will still be there whenever you return to it. It is of course a book to share. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.
Lauren Castillo’s work is outstanding. Readers might also want to return to “The Reader,” “Nana in the City,” “It’s Not Time for Sleeping,” and her other earlier works. What I like best about this post is the way that you connect her work to some of the classics of children’s literature. Those older books are not fossils; they are living influences on some of the best authors and artists working today. Little Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the Moomins are definitely still relevant, and Castillo’s characters are evidence of their vitality.