While We Can't Hug: Eoin McLaughlin on writing a physical distancing picture book

Published on: 21 June 2020 Author: Eoin McLaughlin

Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar have teamed up to write a sequel to The Hug - this time, with physical distancing. Eoin explains why he wanted to write it...

Tortoise and Hedgehog in While We Can't Hug

COVID-19 is pretty confusing for children.

My two-year-old has started climbing into hedges everytime he sees another person, even if they're only a dot on the horizon. 'Let people past', he says, as we await their slow approach from the depths of a hollybush.

Whilst I'm very proud to have raised Britain's number one social distancer, there's also something very sad about teaching your child to avoid others.

We all want to show our children that the world is fundamentally a good place, a place filled with hope and love. A place where the postman gives you a high five and strangers return dropped teddy bears. That's a hard lesson to teach while everyone's wearing scary masks and running away from each other. When we've been told to keep our distance from friends and family and even been ordered not to hug.

Tortoise in While We Can't Hug

Nothing's more heartbreaking than telling a child they can't hug someone they love. It's even more sad than a dropped ice cream. When we think of the people we miss, there's one thing we miss most. We just want to give them a hug.

If anything good has come out of 2020, it's this. Everyone in the world now knows the value of a hug like never before.

Of course scientists have known about the importance of hugs for a long time. They reduce our blood pressure and release oxytocin, reducing anxiety and increasing trust. Funnily enough, reading a story to someone can have the same effect.

Polly and I made While We Can't Hug at the suggestion of our friend James Catchpole. It's a follow up to The Hug, the story of a hedgehog and a tortoise whom no one will hug. SPOILER ALERT: they meet each other in the middle of the book.

This time round, however, just like children all over the world, Tortoise and Hedgehog aren't allowed to touch. And that means no hugs.

I think James initially suggested the idea as a joke, but all the best jokes have a truth to them and just a few weeks later the book was sent to the printers. It's already been translated into five languages, the video's received over a million views and the book's only out this week.

It's been incredibly heartwarming to see the response from teachers in particular, many of whom have used the story as a way of reopening their classrooms this month.

Hedgehog in While We Can't Hug

Instead of hugging, Hedgehog and Tortoise find lots of other ways to share their friendship, from writing letters and drawing rainbows, to singing and dancing together. When you think about it, there are lots of ways to show someone you love them. That feels like the most positive message we can give our children at the moment.

You might find yourself on a bus full of masked zombies or in a supermarket queue full of the unnerved, or, like me, you might regularly end up in a prickly hollybush waiting for strangers to pass. We might not be able to hug a grandparent or hold hands with a friend, but there are many different ways to show kindness and offer friendship.

And when you're in that bush, remember: the word 'hug' comes from the German 'hegen', which originally meant 'to enclose in a hedge'. In 2020, that's how we do it.

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