Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo (Knopf, 2020) is a delightful early chapter book telling the story of a few friends (stuffed animals? real animals?) and their human told through words and pictures. With larger print and whole-page and half-page illustrations, the story is very accessible to young early readers. The story, likewise, has a friendly childlike tone that invites the reader into the created world.
The friends in this story include Hedgehog, Mole, and more. Mutty, which appears to be a stuffed animal, is blown off the island by a wind, and so Hedgehog must leave the island and go find him. The book has a distinct yet familiar feel, much like that in Winnie-the-Pooh, which mixes stuffed animals with real animals as well as featuring a human. Endpapers feature a map of the island, forest, and Annika Mae’s house (“Hedge Hollow”), just as the Hundred Acre Wood is illustrated in Milne’s classic. The book also echoes the Frog and Toad books with the amount of text to illustration, as well as the emphasis on friendship.
But even with familiar echoes, Our Friend Hedgehog stands alone in its format and story. Each chapter builds on the previous one (unlike the mostly stand-alone stories in the other books mentioned). This slim volume’s storyline introduces all the creatures in the forest, with their friendly dialogue and introduction to their unique personalities. Owl is intelligent, frequently defining new words. Mole is comforting and mother-like, as well as bilingual (interspersing a variety of words from different languages into her speech). Hedgehog is a concerned friend. Beaver is grumpy and contrary.
The pen, pencil, and watercolor illustrations break up the pages and the text. Each friend in the story gets a two-page introductory spread with a “snapshot” of themself. Then, a discovered Polaroid snapshot of Mutty is what leads the new friends to Annika Mae’s house, where she has just moved in. They can relate to Annika Mae’s sadness about having moved away from her other friends. Finally, now they can all be new friends.
Our Friend Hedgehog is a delightful, gentle, and gorgeously illustrated early chapter book introducing a new series of friends for a new series (I hope!). I can’t wait to see what adventures Annika Mae and her new friends will have next.