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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch
Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch
by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster (reprint),(January 2006)
Mr. Hatch was tall and thin and did not smile.
Every morning at 6:30 sharp he would leave his brick house and walk eight blocks to the shoelace factory where he worked.
At lunchtime he would sit alone in a corner, eat his cheese and mstard sandwich, and drink a cup of coffee. Sometimes he brought a prune for dessert.
--Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz, p. 1.
Most of us know what it's like to feel a little shy or introverted some of the time. Some of us know what it's like to be that way a lot. Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, will speak to anyone who's ever had a hard time reaching out to others, feeling secure, or knowing that they are loved.
In the book, Mr. Hatch goes to work, keeps to himself, and doesn't interact much with others except for the exchange of a few words when he needs necessities. But on Valentine's day, Mr. Hatch receives a huge box of chocolates with an anonymous note that says "Somebody loves you." Mr. Hatch feels like someone cares about him, and that tiny event changes him. He begins to reach out to others, to smile and say hello, to share his chocolates—and people respond to him. He starts helping people more, too. Soon Mr. Hatch has a lot of friends and enjoys interacting with others and making them (and himself) happy. Then one day, the postman tells him that he delivered the box of chocolates and the note to him by accident—it wasn't meant for him at all. Mr. Hatch immediately retreats into his shell, thinking he really isn't cared about, after all. No one can figure out what's wrong with him—until the postman tells someone, and they tell someone else. All Mr. Hatch's new friends band together to show Mr. Hatch just how much they care about him—and Mr. Hatch realizes he really is loved.
This is a heartwarming story about friendship; loneliness, shyness, and isolation; opening your heart to others; and realizing that if you reach out to others, even in small ways, others will often reach back to you.
This well-written story has a lot of text, but it moves fairly quickly because of the reader's interest in what is happening, and that the reader quickly comes to care for Mr. Hatch and root for him. Spinelli makes great use of specific details, such as that Mr. Hatch walks eight blocks to the shoelace factory, or that he has a cheese and mustard sandwich every day, and these details help the story feel more believable, and help the reader see it more clearly.
Spinelli skillfully shows us what Mr. Hatch's life is life before the moment of change, helping us to understand Mr. Hatch and understand just how badly he feels—and how much he truly changes. Mr. Hatch's immediate responses to receiving the gift and loving note feel believable and may be recognizable to some readers—he keeps himself busy, but keeps peeking to see that the gift is still there, before finally enjoying it. Because Spinelli gives us an understanding of what Mr. Hatch's life is life before the box of chocolates arrives, there is a strong feeling that Mr. Hatch will change his ways—and this helps give the story hope and propels the reader forward.
Humor also makes this book work. We get to see some funny responses to Mr. Hatch smiling because it's so out of character (someone falling off a ladder, another person tripping over their dog)—and just as funny is that Mr. Hatch doesn't even notice these responses.
Spinelli allows the reader to make some connections for themselves—not directly telling the reader things such as how Mr. Hatch feels, but instead showing the reader that Mr. Hatch is unhappy, lonely, isolated, and sad through Mr. Hatch's physical description, body language, lack of social interaction, and set routines. This helps the reader to interact more with the story and come to a deeper understanding and emotional connection with the character.
Many poignant and uplifting moments in the book are all the more uplifting because we see how far Mr. Hatch has come; we know how awful he felt before, and how good he feels when he actually reaches out to others, even through such differences as him going from never smiling to laughing. Readers will enjoy seeing how much Mr. Hatch changes—from the small changes to the bigger ones. Mr. Hatch's story is particularly satisfying because he changes, and because there are many heartwarming moments where we see how much small kind interactions can mean, and how important love and kindness really are. Small, vivid details show us how much happier Mr. Hatch becomes—we see him laughing, splashing on aftershave, putting on a bright tie, smiling at people as he passes them. We also see him move from wondering each time if the person he meets is the one who gave him the valentine, to forgetting all about that and just enjoying people for who they are.
A few small details may be dated for some readers, especially in metropolitan areas (though hopefully not) such as an adult male sharing baked goods with neighborhood children, or picking up a neighborhood child from school and taking her home to her father—but these actions show a kindness and a sense of community. And, if an adult reader is worried about a child's safety in reading these details, this can be an area for discussion.
Spinelli skillfully brings our attention to the note a second time, right before the climax, reminding us what it said (that somebody loved him), and this underscores Mr. Hatch's reaction that no one loves him after all, and makes us understand why Mr. Hatch becomes so withdrawn and unhappy again, all the while rooting for him. There is a good forward movement toward the climax, a nice build up to the resolution, and a happy, heartwarming conclusion that is deeply satisfying, where Mr. Hatch sees how much people really do care about him—and how much his weeks of reaching out to others made a real difference. The symbolic gestures of people he knows giving him boxes of candy (replacing the big one he had to give back) also adds to the satisfying feeling.
Yalowitz's colored-pencil illustrations use an even texture, splashes of color, and a stylized cartoon-like feel to visually engage the reader. The muted colors and texture add a gentle feeling to the story. Yalowitz has a unique style—the characters all have oval heads and dots for eyes, a slightly awkward, stiff feel to their bodies, and are chunky sized, more like regular people. The perspective, too, often feels off kilter, dipping forward to show the reader the scene. Some illustrations bleed right to the edge of the page, or cover a page and a quarter. Others are smaller, placed on a page with text, some with soft edges, others like cut outs against white space.
The illustrations reflect the feeling tone of the text, moving from a dull palette that uses mostly grey and yellow browns, dark blues, and tiny splashes of little color when Mr. Hatch is isolated and unhappy, to a big splash of red when Mr. Hatch receivers his valentine, and then to more and brighter colors and bigger areas of color as Mr. Hatch begins to interact with people and enjoy life. The illustrations also move from dull, depressing scenes—Mr. Hatch, alone, with his head bowed wearing drab clothes, walking away from his barren dull-brick house and snowy yard, to Mr. Hatch dressing in brighter splashes of color, holding his head up high, smiling at people and surrounded by many people and vivid colors, and tubs of flowers and a welcome mat appear at his door.
Details in the illustrations add to the story, such as before Mr. Hatch starts interacting with people and being kind, when he sits alone at work at lunch no one seems to notice him, but once he started reaching out to people and then withdrew, people look worriedly at him through the window, wanting to reach out to him.
This is a finely written, heartwarming story reminds us that we are not meant to be alone, and that life feels more vibrant and happy when we have others to share it with. It also shows us the impact of what a small, caring gesture can do, and how our lives can be changed if we feel we are loved. Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch , reminds us that we can reach out to others even if we're withdrawn, unhappy, or shy—and others will reach back to us. This is a moving, feel-good, important book. Highly recommended.
-Added February 2007
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