For many adult readers, Will We Always Hold Hands? will awaken a comparison with Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny. But with Will We Always Hold Hands?, author Christopher Cheng (One Tree) and illustrator Stephen Michael King (You) introduce a daring degree of complexity by acknowledging limits to the power of unconditional love.
Pocket-size gray Rat and potbellied panda Bear are enjoying a nature walk when the former asks the latter, "Will we always hold hands like this, even when we are old and wrinkly?" Bear's reply is swift: "Of course we will... As long as you hold mine when my fur turns gray and starts to fall out." Bear's answers flow easily until Rat asks a doozy: "What if I have to leave and go somewhere you can't come?"--a question that can be interpreted logistically or existentially. When Bear's answer arrives, it's well considered and truthful, and it may prove comforting to readers who have experience with loss.
For almost every one of Rat's what-ifs, the strolling friends are in fresh surroundings: on a tree branch, in a little boat and so on. The airiness of King's pencil, watercolor and ink illustrations ensures the foregrounding of the story's tender nucleus, but the layouts are spiked with enough flourishes to please keen-eyed readers, who may notice that seasons change as the friends' conversation proceeds. By the end of Will We Always Hold Hands?, their journey has apparently taken a year, but as with any outing with a good buddy, it seems to have happened in no time at all. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author