Book Review / Hugo Makes a Change by Scott Emmons


“If you’re going to sink your teeth into one picture book about eating a balanced diet…Hugo Makes a Change makes for a read as sweet, juicy and refreshing as a big red crunchy apple on a dark moonlit night. It’s an absolute treat.”
Lucie Towers reviews Hugo Makes a Change by Scott Emmons.


Hugo the Vampire has a bit of a problem – or is that a bite of a problem?

You see, Hugo craves meat. Only meat. It’s all he eats, night-in and night-out. Hugo begins to grow bloated, slow, sluggish and tired… (eating too much meat, after all, is bound to give a young vampire very bat-breath indeed). But what to do? Hmmm… what Hugo needs is a change.

When Hugo transforms into a bat and takes wing to grab a bite somewhere new, he stumbles across a big field of fruit and vegetables. But vampires like Hugo don’t eat fruit or vegetables…. right? But Hugo is so, so, so very hungry… and hey, what’s that round, juicy meatball-like thing hanging off the end of that tree branch…?!

Hugo Makes a Change follows the story of a little vampire who, despite a craving for meat, discovers a fierce new love for fruit and veg. Told through rhyme, the lines of Hugo are witty and simple and silly; writer Scott Emmons serves up a delicious selection of sing-song verse. The writing has a very lyrical, mischievous quality which never feels didactic despite the dietary message – at times, it feels delightfully Dahlian.

It’s a fun little tale which gently encourages younger readers to explore different foods, to eat healthier and to not be afraid to try new things.

The pages of Hugo Makes a Change are bold, bright and beautifully illustrated. From the die-cut hole in the book’s cover (which, as you flip the page, doubles as a window to and from Hugo’s room), to the full colour illustrative splashes of meats, fruits and vegetables laid out on Hugo’s dinner table – every design decision adds fun to the story.

There’s a lot to love in the simple – yet simultaneously sophisticated – design of Hugo. Despite being a creature of the night, Hugo’s character design – of simple rounded shapes and the occasional vampiric sharp point of a tooth or nose – is soft, friendly and appealing to kids and adults alike. Hugo may be a vampire, but the easily-spooked parent or child should fear not – the story, character and environments of Hugo Makes a Change are more ‘comical cute’ than ‘spook’.

Italian illustrator Mauro Gatti’s striking ‘pixelesque’ digital artworks, lightly dusted with air-brushing and overlayed textures, blend together the new-school cool of ‘digital painting’ with design elements of old-school children’s book design in a way that feels both traditional (like a Little Golden Book) and modern (like a graphic novel, or game).

When it comes to picture-book perfect presentation, makers Flying Eye Books and Walker Books don’t disappoint with design. As a bookseller who comes across many, many picture book designs every day, I feel that a lot of thought in particular goes into the printing and presentation of Flying Eye books. They’re well-designed, well-put-together books destined to stay solid and haunt bookcases well into the future; little treasures in your library to keep safe and return to later.

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You know those kids books that seem a bit, well, ‘off’? That carry that distinctly didactic pong of ‘we adults know what’s best for little children like you‘? Like a bad ham sandwich or a four-day-old unwashed sock, kids can smell books that nag or lecture from a mile away.

Fear not – Hugo Makes a Change doesn’t talk down to kids. It first and foremost appeals to their tastes in reading, rhyme and fun, whilst gently encouraging readers that, say, mightn’t they too, like Hugo, develop a taste for pears, apples, peaches, cherries and other such delicacies, if they only give things a try?  It’s a far more fruitful approach.

The story also doesn’t reprimand Hugo (and by extension, kids) or demonise him for his food choices (or for sometimes eating more than his fill – you’ll find no judgmental finger-wagging or mention of ‘greed’ or ‘selfishness’ here). In Hugo, eating one type of food far too often all of the time doesn’t make you a monster…  even if you technically are a vampire!

Rather, through making beautiful, subtle encouragements in its storytelling, Hugo reminds readers that exploring a wider, healthier range of food options can become – as Hugo discovers as he flies around the world tasting newfound deliciously healthy eats – a whole new adventure.

At the end of Hugo Makes a Change lies one last little whimsical bonus twist – one which is sure to delight readers, especially kids. But you’ll have to read it for yourself.

If you’re going to sink your teeth into one picture book about eating a balanced diet (as well as eating more imaginatively!), Hugo Makes a Change makes for a read as sweet, juicy and refreshing as a big red crunchy apple on a dark moonlit night. It’s an absolute treat.


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