Today I get to introduce a very special, very important picture book. Why important? Well… in this day and age where people think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want? It’s important to talk about taking a pause and asking if things are okay first. Maybe now, more than ever.
Carrie Finison has visited my blog before. She writes picture books with humor and heart, including DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (2020), DON’T HUG DOUG (2021), and HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE (coming in 2022). She lives in the Boston area with her family. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
“Don’t Hug Doug” is her second picture book and it’s a bit different from her first. Where “Dozens of Doughnuts” was comedy that would make young readers laugh, “Don’t Hug Doug” starts a very important conversation about consent. And it does it WITHOUT being preachy. In fact, this book is ALSO funny! You’ll have to read it to believe it, but this is a book I can guarantee you won’t want to miss.
Welcome back Carrie!
Me: I haven’t seen a lot of kids books discussing consent before. This is an incredibly important topic, especially as almost every kiddo I know jumps in to hug before they think to ask. I can definitely see reading this book in the classroom. What gave you the idea?
Carrie: For me, there is usually a confluence of things that make an idea bubble to the surface. In this case, it was a combination of things: memories from my own childhood of feeling shy about getting and giving hugs and kisses; observation of kids around me as an adult and parent — both the overenthusiastic huggers and those who resisted hugs for various reasons; seeing a viral tweet from teacher Elizabeth Kleinrock about how she teaches consent; and another viral blog post by the Girl Scouts entitled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone A Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.” These last two came at a time when I was struggling with the manuscript and clarified a lot of things for me about how I wanted to approach the topic.
Me: I love how you approached this subject with a sense of humor and a specific character in mind. Why is this an important subject you want young children to know about?
Carrie: It has become clear, through the #metoo movement and other high profile news events, that we need to do a lot of work on educating people about consent – what it is, how to give or refuse it, how to ask for it, and most importantly, how to respect another person’s choices. Like many of these conversations with children, it’s much easier when you start young and in an age-appropriate way. I recall being so impressed with my kids’ pediatrician when, at age 2 or 3, she asked for their consent before starting a physical exam. Even very young children deserve to have their bodily autonomy honored. And when that’s their experience, and with the addition of direct conversations about the topic, hopefully they’ll grow into adults who honor others in turn. All that said, it can definitely be a difficult topic to bring up, and I wanted the book to be something that could spark conversations between parents and kids to help them get the ball rolling. Humor is a great way to do that without feeling too preachy and message-y.
Me: Absolutely! And that totally works! I’m incredibly surprised to see parts of this story written in rhyme. Was that how the story started? Was putting in the rhyme hard work or did it come naturally for you?
Carrie: The story is not completely in rhyme and not completely in prose. Let’s call it “prose-plus.” The rhyme is like a recurring theme that comes back now and then throughout the text. And it definitely didn’t start out that way! The story began life as a quite wordy prose story written in the third person. It was about Doug dealing with his very huggy relatives who came to visit – overly-perfumed Aunt Petunia, Uncle Hank (“the Tank”), and Sticky Sukey, his younger cousin with perpetually sticky hands. Doug definitely did not want hugs from those three! But as I wrote draft after draft, I struggled. I realized I needed to shake things up, but I didn’t know how. I put it away for close to a year, and when I brought it out, suddenly the opening lines with a string of rhymes, and written in the second person, came to me. It lightened the tone, added some humor, and was fun to write, so I went with it! However, I did have to kill some darlings in the process, including Aunt Petunia, Uncle Hank, and Sticky Sukey. RIP!
Me: You are a master of low word count. Was it always this short? Was this originally a poem? What is the word count total?
Carrie: As I mentioned above, the story was written in straight prose form in the early drafts and these were mostly around 600 words, although at one point ballooned up to around 740. The published version is around 400, so it definitely paid off to change the narrative style.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Carrie: I was actually surprised at how strongly I felt about the topic of consent by the time I was done. Although I’ve always tried to respect the kids in my life and their wishes about physical affection and greetings, I never thought about it all that closely and certainly hadn’t articulated my thoughts. So for me, writing the story was also an exercise in examining and clarifying my own beliefs about the topic.
Me: I love that. The illustrations by Daniel Wiseman are perfect. I absolutely loved the variety of high fives! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Carrie: I loved the sketches when I saw them, but they were just in black and white. When I finally got to see the full color, close-to-final version, I fell in love with the vivid, saturated backgrounds on every page. I had no idea the book would be so colorful!
I was also happily surprised that Daniel was able to pull off the book in a 24-page format. I usually paginate a version for myself, just to make sure the story beats are all happening in the right places across 32 pages, but I don’t submit it that way. By using graphic novel-style panels on several pages he was able to cut down on the page count while also helping the story to feel snappier and not get slowed down by page turns.
Me: What is something (like hugs) that you wish you would be asked about before people just did it?
Carrie: Ha – good question. My kids are at the age where they just assume that I’ll be ready and waiting to give them a ride wherever and whenever they need one. Nope! Consent and prior arrangements are definitely needed for that.
Thank you so much for these thoughtful questions, Jena, and for featuring DON’T HUG DOUG on your blog!
You’re welcome! Dear readers, if you’re struggling to figure out a manuscript you’re writing on a difficult subject, I cannot recommend this book enough. It really tackles an issue that can be quite sticky and breaks it down for children in an amazing way. Don’t miss it!
And if you want to learn more about the book, you can join Carrie at other stops on the Don’t Hug Doug virtual tour!