My grandfather would sing us an old song:
Oh, I'll think I'll be wed in the summertime,
I think I'll be wed in July.
I think I'll be wed when the roses are red
And the weather is sunny and dry.
Hand in hand, together we'll stand,
My sweetheart united to be.
Hand in hand, together we'll stand,
My bonny wee [grandchild's name] and me!
This was sung in a rather roaring voice as we rode in a big old farm truck up the mountain to the sheep camp. My grandfather's family were sheep ranchers.
People claim Valentine's Day is a holiday invented by (or at least hyped by) greeting card companies, but I hope you have a few fond memories of grade-school valentines and, better still, of the ones you used to make for your mom and dad. Let alone however you may celebrate with your sweetheart today. Here is a bouquet of red rose picture books in honor of Valentine's Day.
Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
The plot is a little vague for children, but the simple, cheerful text and illustrations rescue it for the smaller crowd (though it clearly makes a good gift book for older romantics). A small girl takes the old expression literally and plants a kiss in the ground like a seed. (She doesn't actually kiss the ground, but you get the idea.) Like the boy in The Carrot Seed, she waits with some impatience for it to come up. Here are the first few pages of text:
It goes like this.
Little Miss planted a kiss.
Planted a kiss? Planted a kiss.
Sunshine. Water. Greet. Repeat.
Wait and Wait. Getting Late.
But then her seed does come up! And her friends show up to tell her not to share it. Of course, she does. The plant is shown as a sort of gold sparkly something, by the way. A sweet V-day treat.
Hugs from Pearl, written and illustrated by Paul Schmid
The first of two books about somebody who's too prickly to hug, this story features a grade school-age porcupine (Pre-K or kindergartner, I'd say) who loves to hug her friends. Unfortunately, they don't love being hugged by her. Pearl tries various solutions and finally comes up with a way to give hugs without hurting anyone. Another fairly minimalist text (the current style for picture books), though it sounds more like a Narrator telling the tale. The art is clean and cute. Pearl is adorable in a very young way. A nice celebration of hugs and of individuality.
Hedgehug: A Sharp Lesson in Love, created and illustrated by Dan Pinto, written by Benn Sutton
This book has a similar message to Schmid's, but it's a more prickly story. Even the artwork is less sweet.
"Hello, bunny." Hedgehug waved. "I have something for you." And he gave the bunny his heart [in the form of a valentine]. Hedgehug was so happy he could... [hugs bunny]
"OUCH!" [page turn]
"You spiked me," said the bunny.
"Sorry, bunny," mumbled Hedgehug.
"My name isn't bunny, it's Doris! And I don't want your stupid heart!" Doris stormed off.
Hedgehug continues on his quest to find love. Until finally he comes across someone who appreciates him. And no, it's not another hedgehog. I found the artwork in this one a little less appealing, but it does the job just fine. This is a fun pick for the Kinder and Grade 1 crowd, who will like the humor.
Snowy Valentine by David Petersen (Creator of Mouse Guard)
A longer story about an adult rabbit named Jasper Bunny who sets out in the snow to find the perfect valentine for his wife, Lilly. He visits various neighbors and asks them what they're giving their sweethearts for Valentine's Day, even experiencing some peril before giving up... But then he inadvertently comes up with a lovely gift. This book is a little too didactic for me, but the artwork is pretty and the final twist is a lot of fun.
French Ducks in Venice by Garret Freymann-Weyr, illustrated by Erin McGuire
Keeping it sort of real, here's a book that came out a few months ago, and it's about a broken heart. Believe it or not, there are folks out there thinking, "Oh, great, Valentine's Day" in a pink-tinged version of Scrooge this morning. This is the book for them! It's a picture book, but it seems to be meant for adults, or at least older children. Georges and Cécile are ducks living in Venice Beach, California, where they are friends with a pretty young fashion designer named Polina Panova. When her heart is broken, the two ducks set out to find the magic that will make her feel better. Their gift is marvelous, but Polina is still sad about her lost love. This baffles Georges, an incurable romantic.
"Polina Panova is a Russian princess," Georges says. "How is it possible that she will always be sad?"
"A little bit sad," Cécile says.
"Princesses are not sad," Georges says. "Not even a little bit."
The artwork resembles Disney animation rather strongly (and beautifully), but the author wants us to know that Disney got it wrong. Heartache is part of the human condition. Right along with talking ducks? Don't ask me how, but it works! This book is for sharing with your artsy friends.
In the interest of "Hey, I just had a book come out," I will mention that my retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale Hans My Hedgehog is also about the redeeming power of true love. In a rather convoluted, prickly, and magical way. With pigs.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Note: The first four books were sent to me by HarperCollins. Thanks, HC!