“This was one book that did not immediately appeal to my adult kid-lit-loving sensibilities, but I knew something was up when Harriet suddenly couldn’t stop talking about it. (“You be Pumpkin, you be Tweezle, and I’ll be Hoogie,” she’d demand of whoever was in her company, or a variation on this.) I asked her why she liked the book so much: “Because Hoogie’s a monster and she’s nice,” Harriet answered, and I liked that answer. In her family of Muppet-like creatures, Hoogie is not the biggest or the smallest, but she’s stuck in the middle instead–ever too big or too little. Until one day her frustration gets too much and Hoogie explodes, and then her parents take the time and let her know how much they love their monster in the middle (“You’re the sun in the middle of the solar system,” says Dad, as they swing her through the air. “The pearl in the middle of the oyster,” says Mom as they catch her in their arms.”) This is a good teaching book for any middle child, but also (I have a feeling!) useful for any little one suffering a bit of family displacement. Hoogie will help them to articulate their feelings and know they aren’t alone.”
Brothers and Sisters: Two picture books touchingly explore sibling relationships through illustrations as strong as the text, writes Sarah Ellis
“Scene: Two children stand in the late afternoon sunlight comparing shadows. The little brother says, “Look! I’m long!” His older sister replies, “I’m longer.”
Siblings give us our first experience of the tyranny of comparison. Birth order programs us for life, and, in childhood, where you fit in is as obvious as your shoe size or those marks on the doorframe. It’s no wonder our position in the family is such a rich source of material for picture books.
Hoogie in the Middle, by Stephanie McLellan and illustrated by Dean Griffiths, features a family of benevolently hairy monsters who look like a cross between a domestic long-haired cat and one of Sendak’s wild things (the horned one in the striped pullover), resplendent in My Little Pony colours. Pumpkin, the eldest child, is blue like mom. Baby Tweezle is green like Dad, but middle child Hoogie is magenta, like herself. Hoogie feels ignored and neglected, neither as cute as Tweezle, nor as competent as Pumpkin. Finally she has a meltdown, and Dad and Mom helicopter in to comfort her.
This picture book is a terrific example of words and images doing their own job. The text gives us movement (as Pumpkin skips and Tweezle toddles), melody (as Hoogie whispers, “Too big. Too small. No room for me at all”), and, most of all, metaphor (“Sometimes Hoogie feels like the hole in the middle of a donut.”
The pictures carry the emotional weight. The composition of family scenes says it all: close pairings of parent and child leave Hoogie floating alone against a white background; Hoogie looks sideways across a double-page spread but nobody is looking back; her sister and brother are enclosed in circles and triangles while she’s isolated on a facing page.
Griffiths captures the body language of children (well, of childlike, horned, fanged, cat-like things) perfectly. The final spread shows Hoogie swinging between her parents’ hands, her posture a subtle combination of joy and tension, triumph and just a tiny bit of anger…” —Q&Q feature reviewer SARAH ELLIS is a Vancouver author and former librarian.
“Too big. Too small. No room for me at all.” This is the plight of the middle child or, in the case of Hoogie, middle monster. Not as impressive as the first born, Pumpkin, to whom all things come first and whose firsts are always applauded. Not as adored as the baby of the family, Tweezle, whose needs are many and who is cherished to hold all memories of youth and cuteness. Hoogie tries to be responsible and capable like Pumpkin and then tries to be free and helpless like Tweezle. But, she is neither. She feels like the hole in the middle of a donut. Empty.
When the emptiness in Hoogie builds, it creates an explosion of emotions that has her parents finally directing their attention and love to their very pink, middle monster-child, helping her see that middles can be empowered to become the fulcrum upon which all others unify and balance.
Stephanie McLellan has taken a different spin on the middle child woes with Dean Griffith‘s adorable monster family, a family of greens, blues and pink, in which gender is insignificant but birth order seems to be everything. Though the reader can discern the genders of the characters by carefully placed pronouns and the girls’ dresses, it is irrelevant. The family dynamics are played out according to how Mom and Dad interact with their “little monsters” and how their little ones consequently feel about themselves.
While Stephanie McLellan‘s text and Dean Griffith‘s illustrations ensure that Mom and Dad are seen as engaged parents who really try to be there for all their children, it’s easy to understand how overwhelming it is to meet the needs of all of them, especially if their children may not be clear on what they need. When Hoogie finally finds her voice and demands the attention of her parents, they immediately tell her and, best of all, show her that she is “the sun in the middle of the solar system” and the “pearl in the middle of the oyster.” Hoogie and her parents may not know it but current research (Salmon and Schumann, 2011) suggests that, as a middle monster, Hoogie is learning the skills and strategies that will help her navigate adulthood successfully. Stephanie McLellan and Dean Griffith probably didn’t even realize how successful they’d been in delivering that little message to little monsters and their parents everywhere. – Helen Kubiw
Hoogie, the middle child, finds herself unable to make her mark as a dynamic member of her monster family. Big sister Pumpkin is so creative and responsible while baby brother Tweezle is cute and lovable. Hoogie’s contributions seem to pale in comparison, and she always ends up feeling overlooked and unimportant. Too small for helping out, too big for cuddling on mother’s lap, she just feels as insignificant as the “hole in the middle of the donut”. Only when the hurt becomes unbearable does Hoogie let out all her emotions in one wild temper tantrum which gives her parents the opportunity to provide her with the reassurance she needs.
The situation is, of course, all too familiar, touching not only upon the woes of middle siblings but also the sensibilities of anybody feeling under-appreciated! The reader easily relates to a child who, tired of hearing her big sister praised and little brother cooed over, asserts herself in the only way open to her!
Stephanie McLellan, who has received numerous awards and nominations for her previous books, has created a charming text which, for the most part, has just the right pace and rhythm. This is further enhanced by appealing phrases that Hoogie’s parents find to comfort her by comparing her to “the sun in the middle of the solar system” and “the pearl in the middle of the oyster.” Although the transition from temper tantrum to resolution is a little bit rushed, the reader has a sense of satisfaction at the finale when Hoogie happily realizes that, after all, she is “the jelly in the middle of the sandwich.”
Dean Griffiths, the prolific and popular award-winning illustrator of over twenty-five picture books, has provided readers with flamboyant full-page depictions of purple, green and blue monsters. The vigor and color are compelling, but it is the details that fascinate. Facial expressions and body language capture the confidence and joie-de-vivre of Pumpkin, the cuteness of Tweezle, and the angst of Hoogie. Both the humor and perceptiveness are endearing. Hoogie in the Middle would make a great read-aloud for children aged three-seven, either in a group or individually. Middle siblings and monster lovers are among those who will especially relate to Hoogie.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian in Toronto, ON.
Not all children’s books need to be moralistic; some just express, simply and effectively, how it feels to be a child. Hoogie in the Middle is just such a book.
Hoogie might be in the middle of her monster family, but she is front and centre in this delightful picture book. Young readers caught in the middle like Hoogie will certainly identify; even their siblings will find themselves portrayed in positive ways in the pages. Hoogie is always caught in the middle, so much so that sometimes she “feels like the hole in the middle of a donut”: sadly invisible to all of her family. Eventually, her sadness becomes too much and “Hoogie… EXPLODES!” Sometimes it takes a drastic reaction to get adults to notice…
Hoogie in the Middle does not condone loss of temper so much as present frustration as a real part of the childhood experience, as much as the imaginative play that Hoogie and her siblings engage in. The simple comparisons made between Hoogie, her older sister Pumpkin, and their baby brother Tweezle, are balanced and sufficiently repetitious to create a memorable, lilting narrative that will help young readers to learn the words as they go, or to enjoy the sounds as their parents read to them.
Combine Stephanie McLellan’s gentle and effective wordplay with Dean Griffiths’ fabulous, colourful illustrations, and you have a book that feels like Hoogie at the end: “like the jelly in the middle of a sandwich: Sweet.”
Thematic Links: Siblings; Middle Child Syndrome
Hoogie in the Middle and Tweezle into Everything
Award-winning author Stephanie McLellan has drawn inspiration from her own three children and created Hoogie in the Middle, a sneak peek into the world surrounding Hoogie, the middle child. The author playfully uses rhythm, alliteration and similes to delineate Hoogie’s character and exhibit how the middle child feels: “Pumpkin is the big, big girl,” “Tweezle is the itty, bitty baby” and “[Hoogie] feels like the hole in the middle of a donut.”
Whatever Hoogie does is not right. When Tweezle squishes food, “Everyone laughs.” When Hoogie does it, she is told to “not be such a baby.” Similarly, she is “too small” to help dad. “Too big. Too small. No room for me at all,” sums up the pain she feels. In the end just like “the sun in the middle of the solar system,” Hoogie isn’t so invisible anymore. McLellan finishes her story with a deliciously sweet simile!
Continuing in this series, Tweezle into Everything follows in the footsteps of the typical baby of the household where Tweezle is the “last yummy cookie.” Charming similes and playful dialogue express Tweezle’s adorable character, constantly trying to prove he is big: “I not baby…I big boy!” He believes he is all grown up he messes his father’s tool shed, or enhances his older sister’s paintings. However, Tweezle is made to feel like the “…mud on the bottom…” of his sister’s shoes. Yet he refuses to give up: “I not bottom.” The book has an unpredictable and heart-warming ending, showing that what Tweezle unexpectedly does is indeed a “big deal.”
This loveable family comes alive with Dean Griffiths cuddly personified monsters. Vibrating hues painted in pencil crayons and watercolours evoke an expressionistic style with realistic elements. The clever use of negative space adds dimension and energy to the characters as well. Consistent rendering makes switching from each book in the series a seamless transition. The difference is the focus on the title characters, e.g. Hoogie holding a donut over one eye exaggerating the fact that she feels “like the hole in the middle of the donut” or Tweezle holding a large beach ball reinforcing his babyish stature.
Hoogie in the Middle and Tweezle into Everything explore the wonder of childhood and the average day-to-day dilemmas and real-life emotions of children with siblings. Wonderful books to read aloud that provide an opportunity for discussion among parents and children.
Review by Author Monica Kulling (May 14, 2013)
What is a donut without the hole?
The little monster (as depicted by Dean Griffiths in a stroke of genius) Hoogie is situated smack in the middle of her two siblings — older sister Pumpkin and younger, adorable, baby brother Tweezle. Hoogie feels overlooked, unsung, and just plain invisible. She tries with all her might to be herself, but hasn’t found a way to do that yet. Mom and Dad clap and clap when Pumpkin pirouettes. They cheer when Tweezle toddles. But they completely ignore inspired Hoogie when, dressed as a bunny, she hops and hops for their entertainment.
Such is the plight of the middle child. How do you compete with a cuddly younger sibling? How do you become someone Mom and Dad can count on when your older sister already occupies that spot? It’s a tough row to hoe.
Any child, monster or not, will love the ending of this vibrantly told story. Hoogie’s parents prove in the end to be smart and sensitive. Even though I found Dad to be a particularly scary green monster, with those fangs, horns, and ominous eyebrows, he’s the first to offer Hoogie relief from her middle-child woes.
This is a delightful book. I love Stephanie McLellan’s assured telling and Dean Griffiths’s colourful illustrations. I love the entire package, which includes the trim size! The art is quite different from Dean Griffiths’s previous Pajama Press offering, Lumpito and the Painter from Spain [learn more about Lumpito here]. And that is no mean feat.
Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2013)
Even monsters feel left out when they are middle siblings.
Pumpkin is the oldest, Tweezle is the youngest, and Hoogie is stuck plumb in the middle. To make matters worse, Pumpkin has blue fur and slender horns like Mom, and Tweezle has green fur and fat, crinkly horns like Dad. Hoogie, on the other hand, has magenta-pink fur and little horn nubs. She just doesn’t fit in. … Pumpkin is mature and responsible; Tweezle is adorable and cuddly…. However, Hoogie imaginatively describes herself as what is missing: She feels like the hole in the middle of the doughnut. She sadly whispers, “Too big. Too small. No room for me at all.” After the inevitable explosion of frustration, Hoogie’s parents show her how special being in the middle can be. She now feels like jelly in the middle of a sandwich: oh-so-sweet.
With their tangles of brightly colored fur, tiny fangs and tiny horns, these feline-esque monsters offer different perspectives of what “middle” can mean.