Valentine’s Day 2022, because this year we need that love!

One of the things I love best about my childhood, looking back, is the way my parents didn’t sweat the occasions for small celebrations– they just let us enjoy them, and helped us get there! Hallowe’en? Costumes all the way! Who will you be? Mother’s Day? Yes, of course, I really did want that poorly potted marigold you brought home from school, let’s plant it! Valentine’s Day? I never even heard of the angst I hear today about how painful it genuinely is to many adults from a romantic perspective, because I was under the impression that it’s a fun time to get chocolate and cinnamon hearts which I never even liked but was always excited about from my parents, and who doesn’t like a good story with hearts in it? I had a stuffy, Valentin (yes, pronounced in French, please), which was a crocheted heart. Today, thinking fondly of that much-loved-to-pieces yarny heart, I wonder what happened to him? (Yes, Valentin was a pink-and-red him of yarn, he was mine, I know these things.) I loved Valentin. And I loved Valentine’s Day, and even when, much much later, the guy I was seeing broke up with me the day before Valentine’s Day I loved the holiday because I had really, really nice memories from when I was a kid, and I was secretly (under the humiliation) glad that the jerk dude didn’t ruin the day for me by being romantic and THEN breaking up, that would’ve been awful…

These days, as a mother, I’m always excited to give my kids Valentine’s Day books and am still a bit baffled when people sigh and/or groan about romance, because I just don’t see it that way. And this year I’m feeling really strongly about enjoying the gloriously loving heart-and-hugs-and-chocolate day. Why let anyone ruin it? Grab it! But if you do have hesitations, I hereby present you with author Catherynne M. Valente’s history and philosophy of Valentine’s Day, why it’s such a great holiday, and why you shouldn’t let anyone take it away from you– with bonus birds (public Patreon post, and yes I subscribe to her Patreon, it’s awesome). YOUR definition of love, YOUR way, in YOUR life. Grab the joy!

And now? BOOKS! Fun, beautiful, love-filled books!

OK, this is a general list. Some were review copies, some were not, I’ll tell you what was what but, c’mon, you know me by now– I don’t review books I don’t love even if I get a review copy. And I will be linking to other books I’ve reviewed for Valentine’s Day in the past because they’re still good. That has not changed.

Candlewick kindly sent me two unbelievably beautiful board books, one very cute, one simply exquisite. The cute one is Peekaboo Love by Camilla Reid with art by Ingela P. Arrhenius, and is one of those gloriously sturdy Nosy Crow board books which somehow stand up to toddler love better than any other board books, and get tested more thoroughly because Nosy Crow does amazing board books, I’m always impressed. (Another Ingela P. Arrhenius book Where’s the Puffin? has been the Spriggan’s favourite non-music book since September, which is when I bought it, and it’s still intact. Incredible.)

And, yes, the sturdiness and cute art are just wonderful, in themselves. But I’m about to blow your minds here: the text is good. I know, I know, board books, with the exceptions of those written by Sandra Boynton and select others (I personally adore Whose Toes Are Those? and Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim and LeUyen Pham, if you’re searching) just don’t get good text. This one is written with care. Let me prove it:

Peekaboo rainbow, Peekaboo bugs / Peekaboo cactus, Peekaboo hugs.

What do you notice? If your answer is “it rhymes,” you’re my mortal enemy. Metre!!! Screw books that rhyme, seriously, rhyme is and almost always has been irrelevant. Metrics matter. I’ve mentioned this before with other books for wonderful read-alouds: Jamberry and Atticus Caticus are two that spring to mind. The beat in this book goes: dactyl, spondee; dactyl spondee catalectic (just means shortened to drop the unstressed beat) / dactyl, spondee; dactyl, spondaic catalectic. It is thoughtfully chosen to be a perfect bouncing rhythm. Yes, it rhymes. That’s a necessary and important secondary detail, which reinforces the easy-feeling bounceability of the read. The effect is: “PEEK (bounce!)- a-boo, RAIN (bounce!)- bow (and here you slide the slidey bits while the baby or toddler chuckles and squeals),” etc. The things that make your lovely, joyful reading experience with a toddler so very memorable are really worth recognizing and celebrating. So I bid you welcome to the joys of prosody! OK, fine, you don’t have to study prosody, I’ll do that bit. But, please, believe me when I tell you that rhyme is basically incidental to a good reading experience with your kiddo, while metre is profoundly important. I feel so strongly on the subject that I will prove it via the magic of Helen Oxenbury’s classic and perfect book, All Fall Down:

Singing all together, running round and round, bouncy, bouncy, on the bed, all fall down.

That’s the text. That’s it. I read it three times in a row to the Spriggan today and he’d have been happy to keep it up forever. Please note there is what my Changeling would tell me crossly is “ALMOST a rhyme, it’s ALMOST there, Mummy!” But the magic is not in that “well, c’mon, it’s ALMOST there,” it’s in the perfect affinity between the metrics and the text. You lose that, you lose everything.

I hope we now have a perfect understanding on this topic, and if you’re still awake and I haven’t killed the joys of Valentine’s Day for you, you can feel free to excerpt those paragraphs and share them with all authors, editors, publishers, etc., and once we’re having parties again you can read them aloud at parties and people will find you as charming as they find me! Next? OK. I know, I feel relieved, too.

I’m not going to tell you much about the exquisite pop-up book LOVE by Robert Sabuda (also sent to me by Candlewick, thanks folks!) because, honestly, there’s not much to say about it except that the experience of going gently through it is beautiful.

I frequently puzzle over the purpose of pop-up books. They’re often designed with very young children in mind, it seems to me: cute animals, cartoonish funny jokes, designed to elicit squeals of joy while you’re singing, for example, “The Wheels on the Bus” or something. Toddlers, however, do not often engage with pop-up books in a fashion designed to preserve their longevity. This one is not designed for toddlers. It’s the sort of book you open carefully with an older child, admiring the artistry and beauty and reading the tender descriptions of what love is to you, and musing over what it might be–

And, indeed, What Is Love? asked Mac Barnett and Carson Ellis.

Well, I want you to imagine, just now a package of the picture book by Mac Barnett and Carson Ellis and the above pop-up book by Robert Sabuda. Share it at the morning table as a family, and it would be sooo perfect and I need one of you readers to do that because I spoiled the whole thing by getting the books ahead of time, dangitall.

Finally, here’s a post with three other recommendations, all for picture books that are appropriate for readers ages about 3 and up, and they will all last for reading well beyond then!

And, parents? Don’t forget to read something lovely for yourselves on Valentine’s Day, too! Maybe go get yourself a blind date with a book at your local indie…

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