Parents, Kids, & Teenagers

Then the tears started flowing…

Written by: Nick Ortner

A few weeks back, I found myself looking through a website late at night, with gentle tears flowing down my face.

Let me explain what happened…

I’ve recently written and released my first children’s book, “The Big Book of Hugs: A Barkley The Bear Story”. The book came about in large part because of the birth of our first child, my daughter June. Born May 16th, 2015, her entry into my life opened up a whole new world for me. And with it, came this yearning to share positive messages of hope and healing with children throughout the world.

I thought of “Barkley” a young bear cub whose family business is to go through the forest giving different kinds of hugs to the animals in it, and enlisted my sister-in-law, an amazing 2nd grade teacher, Alison Taylor, to co-write the book with me. Then we needed an illustrator, and lo and behold, Michelle Polizzi, the wife of my best friend, jumped on board to illustrate the book.

Through all these beautiful connections, “The Big Book of Hugs” was born. It’s currently in printing and due to ship on January 21st, National Hug Day! (Another happy coincidence to be able to time it that way!)

To help spread the message of the book, I hired a publicist, who (yes, the happy coincidences keep piling up), lives in my hometown of Newtown, CT and who I met at a screening of our documentary, Project Light: From Rwanda to Newtown.

Rodi (the publicist) and I were chatting last week, and I told her how important it was to me to get this book in the hands of those that need it most. And she said, “Could you do a big donation to the Today Show Toy Drive?” I said absolutely, and we landed on donating 10,000 books, $170,000 worth of them, to the toy drive.

We worked it out with the Today Show, they were delighted with the message of the book and thought it was a great fit for the charities they support in the toy drive, and asked me to come on the show the following Friday to announce the donation.

All of this happened in quite a whirlwind, over a 24 hour period, and late that night, I jumped on the computer to learn more about the toy drive, and where these books would be going. What I read floored me…

But before I tell you about that, let me tell you about Barkley.

Barkley wakes up one morning in the forest, with his Mom and Dad calling out to him to wish him a happy birthday AND let him know he’s finally old enough to join the family business of giving hugs and spreading love through the forest.

At first, he’s a little nervous, “What if I can’t do the great job that Papa Bear does?” Not to worry, Papa Bear feels that way too, so he starts every morning with the first hug, hugging yourself! (Yes, we could ALL start the day with a little self love.

The book continues with Barkley and Papa Bear’s journey throughout the forest, as Papa Bear shows Barkley all the different kinds of hugs you can give, for different situations. The surprise hug! The tornado! The extra, extra, extra long hug! The pickle-in-the-middle! And of course, the Goodnight Bear hug!

Through his journey, Barkley learns to pay attention to what people need. He even learns what to do when an animal (Pete the Porcupine!) doesn’t want a hug! He learns confidence, empathy and the power of giving hugs and spreading love.

Back to my late night web browsing…So I’m clicking around the Today show toy drive page and I start reading about the destinations for these books….

You see, every 29 seconds, a child in the United States is born into poverty. That means limited access to food and medical care, and oftentimes even basic human services. For many of these children, there are NO gifts for the holidays. This is where the Today Show Toy Drive steps in.

The program is designed to provide gifts and essentials for impoverished children and teenagers up to age 18 nationwide. They’ve recently expanded the program to include gifts that children are able to give their parents, because giving provides joy in itself. (what a beautiful idea!)

These items go to millions of kids in all 50 states who are in places like homeless shelters, children’s group homes, schools, foster family services, domestic abuse shelters, Native American missions, military bases, hospitals, preschools, after-school programs, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

As I’m reading about these kids, and these organizations who are helping them, the tears started flowing. I have lived a privileged life. Not without its challenges of course, but I’ve never gone hungry, I’ve never gone without gifts, I’ve never gone without incredible love from my parents, family and those around me.

That’s not the case for a lot of these kids.

And as I imagined each one of them, at least 10,000 of them sitting down and reading or listening to “The Big Book of Hugs”, I just felt so grateful for the opportunity to help and play a small part in bringing some light into each of these lives.

When my co-author Alison, who I mentioned is a 2nd grade teacher, read the book to her class, they couldn’t wait for it to finish so they could give each other all the different kinds of hugs!

I imagined this same reaction in a homeless shelter. I imagined this same reaction in a children’s group home. I imagined this same reaction in a domestic abuse shelter. Where physical contact could start to mean something GOOD and POSITIVE and HEALING, not what it’s meant for way too many of these kids.

I think we take the power of a hug for granted.

I think we take the power of compassion, of opening our hearts, of healing for granted.

As much as we need to provide for the basic needs of these incredible kids, we also need to provide for their emotional needs. They NEED hugs. They CRAVE hugs. They DESERVE hugs. And our friend Barkley is leading the way in making that happen.

So in the start of this New Year, I hope you hug those around you, squeeze them a little tighter, hold them a little longer. I can’t wait for these 10,000 books to find a deserving home, and I’m not stopping there. If you pick up a copy today of “The Big Book of Hugs”, I’ll match one for one (buy ten, I’ll match ten!), and donate it to reach even more kids.

My goal is to donate another 10,000 books during this holiday season and the book’s official launch on January 21st, National Hug Day. Together, let’s continue to share this message of hope and healing.

Sending you a big HUG!

Nick Ortner

P.S. As an interesting side-note to this story, I’m writing it right around the time I was scheduled to be LIVE on air, on the Today show. They called yesterday and said they were overbooked, so they couldn’t have me on the show. I was disappointed of course because I wanted to introduce Barkley to the world on national television, but I understand the constraints of TV time.

What I found most amusing is when they said, “Of course, we’ll understand if you decide to pull the donation because we can’t have you on.”

Pull the donation? Because I’m not going to be on TV? Isn’t the whole POINT of this toy drive THE DONATION? Lol. I know they were just trying to be nice in coming with disappointing news, but I remain SO grateful to them for the amazing work they’re doing with the toy drive, and the real gift they’ve given ME this holiday season!

Pick up a copy today and let’s get some more hugs out there!
P.P.S. When you order the book today, I’ll also throw in a couple of great Tapping meditations, as a bonus gift to you. They include:

Let Go of Overthinking: A Guided Tapping Meditation

Overcoming Exhaustion: A Guided Tapping Mediation to Help you Feel More Energized –

Create Peace in the World: A Guided Tapping Meditation

Simply send your receipt to and we’ll get those bonuses right over to you. 🙂

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17 Comments on this post

  1. Obiy says:

    Hug is an awesome way to connect hearts!

  2. Janet Hinkley says:

    Sounds like a great book, Nick, and a fun one to read to children. I would like to get one for our grandchildren but the shipping and handling to Canada is too much so will have to wait to see if it is sold in stores here. Thanks for all your good works!

  3. Diane Collins - Hamilton ON Canada says:

    I have always been a hugger and over time have learned sometimes you need to ask permission to hug someone – how sad – it just comes so naturally for me – everyone I meet always gets a hug
    coming & going – Two Thumbs up for Hugs ! PS Nick I love all that you do to make the world a better, happier place – thanks so much for being wonderful you !!!!!

  4. Connie Freeman says:

    Nick, your example of generosity and loving-kindness is what will change our world. Healthy touch is sooo important to our well-being. Thanks for your continuing to make that difference.

  5. Diane says:

    I am a great hugger from way back and I sit in my comfortable living rom with my own tears gently rolling down…What an inspiring, lovely story. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Yvonne Predebon NSW Australia says:

    I love the idea of this subject about hugs, because being a teacher I found a lot of kids had low self esteem problems, which greatly affects their learning. Stories are always a great way of getting the message across. Even though I am retired now I am looking forward to reading this beautiful story and keeping it with my other favourites for when I get grandchildren. Great work !

  7. Janeace says:

    Nick, you continue to astound me…besides all the healing you have initiated thru your tapping, you never stop finding one more way to bring love and healing…bless you for being who you are and I can’t wait to get a copy of Barkley to give to my dear friends first grandchild! You make everyone’s day a little brighter …Thank you for being such a wonderful mentor to the rest of us. Holding you in Love and Light!

  8. Iija, England says:

    What a brilliant way to celebrate the birth of your first child Nick. Welcome to the world baby June,…you and the book are a beautiful gift to the world. With a biggest Bear Hug and love,….Thank You.

  9. Rudy Schmidt says:

    I am so impressed with you Nick. I know that your new book and its theme is intended to change attitudes in everyone. But I do think that men provide a particular challenge to this entire notion of showing feelings. I am a man but I will be the first to admit that many men are not comfortable with showing feelings and emotions. Perhaps men have been conditioned to be this way by the male role models of the past- the tough guy image. I am hopeful that future generations of men will be different. I hope they will be influenced by a real man’s man like yourself. You are a man so confident in himself that he is unafraid to show the world that he cares deeply for others. Thank you for providing us with a great role model.

  10. Shirley Woods says:

    Thanks for the book! I will order some later from home! I am currently reading the Tapping Solution and thanks also for the short videos about tapping…I enjoy these too!


  11. Amy says:

    My teaching career started in 1997 and know the positive impact of not only physical affection, but affectionate words used in the classroom. I knew I was breaking the rules by giving hugs when needed or by just placing my hand on the shoulders of a student who needed extra love and support. So many young people today NEED that extra boost from NOT only someone who cares about them, but also from themselves. Life can be terribly cruel for some and I couldn’t help myself by handing out string cheese and crackers to those I knew who were hungry, by staying late after school listening to those who had nobody to talk to, and to give affection and use loving words with all my students. Love is powerful and I hope I was able to NOT only show my students how to show love in positive ways to others but also empowering them as well to loves themselves, no matter what. Now I only teach part time (had to resign in 2013 due to medical issues) but went back to school to get my coaching certifications, so I still am working with youth, just in a different capacity. I am very impressed with what you have done and will make sure every elementary school in our district will have a copy of your book in their libraries along with a copy to each guidance counselor at that school level. We need more people like you, with compassionate hearts, to help lift the spirits of those living in darkness. I commend you for your inspirational efforts and wish you the best in every endeavor. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children!

  12. Stacey says:

    Hi Nick,
    I too have had a wonderful experience with a HUG. I volunteered at the Salvation Army for the holidays – the last person of the day didn’t have an appointment but was escorted in to retrieve toys for his family. He has 6 children, has lost his job and is being evicted all before the holidays. As we finished up with the toys and a box of food/turkey I helped him to his car. He asked if he could tell me his story and I heartfully agreed. When he was finished we hugged. I always give a great big, loving hug to anyone I meet. As we were hugging he said to me “this is a real hug” and we both started to cry. First it took me by surprise and then it saddened me how many people don’t receive or give real Hugs. I am forever grateful for that young man for reminding me how important it is to be kind and to LOVE & HUG. If you’re in need of a HUG I’m your girl! Happy Hugging! Love, peace & HUGS, Stacey

  13. Buz says:

    And isn’t it a shame that some schools do not allow any touching between students or student and teacher.

  14. Cindy says:

    2 years ago, a traumatic event occurred causing me to lose my immediate entire family (I’m 56 years old) Mom, Dad, Brother, then just recently just lost my only child, a grown 37 year old intelligent, handsome, super loving, grown son (no grandkids yet). I had to move to a new small town to settle Estate matters, where I’ve been unable to meet any “like minded” people & feel so isolated & alone, especially due to all the “loss” m. I’ve cried & cried, repeatedly saying “”What I miss most of all now are the “Hugs & I Love You’s”, I’d give anything to find some “Big Hugs” right now! You don’t miss them, till their gone! Hugs rock!

  15. Mona Pappafava-Ray says:

    I read your article, but wasn’t going to buy any books because my daughter is reading at a much older level now. However, after reading your reaction to being bumped from the Today show I am now buying 10 and giving them all away to local shelters. I was very impressed with how you handled that news. I wish you the very best.

  16. Martha says:

    I love the story line of your book. Children are introduced to so much violence and killing, as if this is normal, as if this is what life is about. It is a continuous struggle to educate them that this is certainly not normal or good. When moral lessons are taught to the very young through fantasy and story telling the impact is much greater. Hats off to you!!

  17. Christiane says:

    Beautiful <3 and thanks for what You bring !!! 🙂

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