UKLA Book Group and The Hare Shaped Hole by John Dougherty


Book review by the University of Brighton's School of Education UKLA Book Group on The Hare Shaped Hole by John Dougherty.

The Hare-Shaped Hole by John Dougherty 

The Hare-Shaped Shaped Hole is a picture book which explores the friendship between Bertle the turtle and Hertle the hare; two animals who despite all their differences support each other and are the best of friends. However, one day Hertle goes missing. From this point, the story then follows Bertle as he experiences the range of emotions that can accompany loss from confusion to sadness and anger. Bertle is finally able to remember all the positive memories he has of Hertle due to the help and support of Gerda the kindly bear who has also experienced loss. 

As a book group, we enjoyed the way in which The Hare-Shaped Hole drew upon the inter-text of ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’ by Rudyard Kipling. This supported us as readers to draw upon known traits of the characters and understand the inherent differences between the two characters. The focus of the narrative however is the loss of Bertle and the impact that this has on Hertle as he experiences a deep sense of loss and the emotions that are associated within this. The range of contrasting and often conflicting emotions were clearly acknowledged by the actions and thoughts of Hertle who is trying to come to terms with the loss of his friend.  

The illustrations within the text are comprised of child-like drawings which gained further significance the more we explored the book. One key illustrative trope was the use of shadows within the text which are used to represent the loss of Hertle; these shadows begin as dark and foreboding however as Bertle recalls the amazing memories he had with Hertle the shadows fill with colour and stars which make the recollections of Hertle seem bright and positive. The illustrations also use the environment to mirror Bertle’s emotional journey with bare winter trees reflected in the darker moments of the text however this ends with the return of spring and the renewal of nature and hope. 

In conclusion, the book group were deeply moved by the portrayal of grief within the text and we discussed the importance of children knowing that loss and grief are part of life which whilst unbearably sad can also offer opportunities for a celebration of the relationships that will be carried forward into the future. 

How the text might be used in the classroom 

  • Explore more Just-So Stories from Rudyard Kipling 
  • Hot-seating with the characters of Bertle and Gerda to explore their feelings 
  • Write a diary entry/letter from Bertle explaining how it feels now he does not have Hertle 
  • Revisit the friendship of Bertle and Hertle to freeze-frame experiences that they have had 
  • Create poetry to recall favourite experiences/games with friends 
  • Explore how colour and pattern can represent emotions in art 
  • Links to PHSE: grief and friendships 

Find out more about John Dougherty on his website: JOHN DOUGHERTY, Author, poet, songwriter (

The UKLA book group is a group of students and lecturers who meet together to discuss contemporary Children’s Literature that has been longlisted for the UKLA Children’s Book Awards.  The 6 texts chosen are from across the 3-6+, 7-10+ and non-fiction categories. From engaging with the book group, we have all had the opportunity to develop our professional and personal knowledge of recently published literature and through our discussions we have considered how the texts are constructed to support meaning making, the learning opportunities provided by the texts and why each text is an important book within the canon of Children’s Literature. Below you will find reviews of the books we have read; all of which are available in the Curriculum Centre, including The Hare Shaped Hole.

The 2024 longlist for the book awards can be found here:

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