Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Picture Book Valentines

It's February, which means it's time for displays of books covered in hearts, lace, foil, and every shade of pink and red (and sometimes purple, and occasionally, somehow, a pale yellow). It's also Black History Month, and more blogging will be done about that, but for the moment let's take a look at this valentine business.

People often stand on one side of a love/hate line when it comes to Valentine's Day, which I genuinely don't understand. There's something that irks people about either the commerciality of it, or the sort of forced-display-of-affection thing. For other people it's a super important day and you'd better propose via ring-in-food or something, or at least have hand-strewn rose petals all over the apartment. Neither of these stances is at all appealing to me. I think the idea of the holiday is dumb and fun and an excuse to make candy-heart poems in school, get crafty with tissue paper, buy yourself flowers, or just have a really excellent dinner. I have no real emotional investment in the holiday, but like to celebrate it goofily because, well, why not? The best valentine I've gotten in my life (other than my mom's sweet handmade ones) was a big stack of boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios. There's something to be said for a present that says, "I know you."

Because of where I work, my favorite valentine to give is a good picture book, because if you're going to shell out $3 on a factory card or $5 on a handmade one, why not push it to $6-$8 and get a 32-page paperback? And if you're actually into gifts, just get a hardcover. They're lovely. Here are my favorite valentines:

I Like You, by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, comes as both a mini hardcover and part of Houghton Mifflin's new "Send a Story" series, where they package little paperbacks in a way that they can be sent directly through the mail. I Like You is illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast with black and white ink sketches that move just right and make me smile. It contains things like this:
...I like you because
If we go away together
And if we are in Grand Central Station
And if I get lost
Then you are the one that is yelling for me

Hey where are you
Here I am
And I like you because
When I am feeling sad
You don't always cheer me up right away

Sometimes it is better to be sad
You can't stand the others being so googly and gaggly every single minute
You want to think about things

It takes time
Well, yes. Exactly.

Leo Lionni's A Color of his Own is a favorite of mine for storytimes as well as giving to grown up friends. A little chameleon feels lonely and different because he changes colors wherever he goes, while all the other animals have a color of their own. He tries to find a solution by staying in one place, but the leaf he's on changes colors and falls. When he meets another chameleon, older and wiser, he asks, "Won't we ever have a color of our own?" and the other fellow says sadly, no, but "why don't we stay together? We will still change color wherever we go, but you and I will always be alike."
And so they remained side by side. They were green together, and purple, and yellow, and red with white polka dots. And they lived happily ever after.
Awwww. Lionni's paintings are always top shelf, but giving a chameleon such an expressive smile is one of those picture book feats that really deserves some praise.

Tiny books make great valentines, and Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library is probably the best collection of tiny books ever. One a day for the few days before the 14th, perhaps? I've written about these before. The sturdy little box contains Sendak's Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny, and the inimitable Pierre, all in tiny hardcover. Wanna be the best valentiner ever? Get 'em in french.

Not romantic, not about love, but a little charmer we've loved all winter is The Quiet Book, by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Here are some kinds of quiet that there are:
Jelly side down quiet

Car ride at night quiet

Swimming underwater quiet

Last one to get picked up from school quiet

Top of the roller coaster quiet

Best friends don't need to talk quiet

Right before you yell "SURPRISE!" quiet
And there are more, of course. The illustrations are exactly right, that's all I can say. You really need to take a minute to sit with it, to look at each moment and find all the little details that are going to win your heart. It's a bit of a valentine because of the way the friends throughout the story spend quality quiet time together, throwing stones and reading books and hiding behind furniture. And it's on the small side for a picture book, so it feels just right in your hands as a little token of affection.

-Anna, Kids Books

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