February 06, 2014

(++++) LOVE IT!

Tulip Loves Rex. By Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Sarah Massini. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Foxy in Love. By Emma Dodd. Harper. $17.99.

Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool. By Kimberly and James Dean. Harper. $9.99.

Love Is Real. By Janet Lawler. Illustrated by Anna Brown. Harper. $15.99.

Just a Little Love. By Mercer Mayer. Harper. $16.99.

It’s Valentine’s Day. By Jack Prelutsky. Pictures by Marylin Hafner. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

     Valentine’s Day is a particularly good time to be in the 4-8 age range, or have a child in that age range, because the Valentine-related books made just for preschoolers and early-grade-schoolers are so varied and so much fun, mixing serious messages with entertainment in a near-irresistible potpourri of delight. Tulip Loves Rex is a book that trips the light fantastic, because that is what Tulip does: she dances all the time, everywhere, and has done so since birth – and her parents, as Alyssa Satin Capucilli explains, “didn’t mind a bit” that their daughter was not quite like other children. Then one day, at the park, Tulip meets Rex, a “rather large” and rather ungainly-looking dog wearing a sign that says “I am not quite like other dogs.” Indeed, he is not: he licks Tulip’s face, which she enjoys tremendously, but he is not so good at fetching a stick, catching a ball or sitting when told. He is, however, good at appreciating Tulip’s dancing – and, it turns out, at doing a doggie dance of his own. Clearly these two are meant to be together, and thanks to Tulip noticing the back of the sign around Rex’s neck – where it says “Will you take me home?” – they do indeed get to go home together, because when the question of taking Rex into the family comes up, Tulip’s loving and indulgent parents yet again “didn’t mind a bit.” Gentle, sweet and happily unrealistic, with attractive motion-filled illustrations by Sarah Massini, Tulip Loves Rex is a lovely tale for Valentine’s Day or anytime – but parents should be careful not to let kids use it to lead the family into instant acceptance of a rather large dog!

     Foxy in Love, which Emma Dodd intends specifically for Valentine’s Day, features both the magic of love and the magic of, well, magic, since Foxy can wave his magical tail and bring little Emily just about anything that she would like. He does mis-hear, though, with the result that she asks for balloons and gets raccoons, asks for flowers and gets a huge bag of flour, and so on. More importantly, Foxy becomes increasingly sad when he talks with Emily about what she loves and she does not mention him. She talks only about things she loves, until Foxy tells her, “I think you forgot something important” – at which point Emily, understanding that Valentine’s is about whom you love, not what you love, immediately exclaims, “I love YOU, Foxy!” And so everything ends with a hug and in a burst of hearts, with the final red-and-pink illustration making the Valentine’s Day point colorfully as well as very clearly.

     A participatory approach to Valentine’s Day is at the heart of Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool, in which Kimberly and James Dean manage both to tell a story and to provide kids with plenty of things to do to celebrate the day: the book includes a large fold-out poster; a page of stickers (“I Meow You” within a heart, Pete on a skateboard, “I Love Pete,” “Here Kitty Kitty,” and so forth); and two pages containing a total of 12 small Valentine’s Day cards to cut out and give out (Pete holding a rose, Pete with Cupid’s wings, Pete holding a heart that bears the word “Love,” etc.). Wrapped around these bonuses is a story in which Pete makes Valentine’s Day cards for all his friends, starting with all the boys and moving on to all the girls – then realizes there are people he has forgotten, including the school-bus driver and school crossing guard, so he has to hurry to make cards for them as well. Eventually he realizes that he has also forgotten to make a card for his friend Callie, who first got Pete involved in card-making and helped him get everything done. But Callie assures Pete that hanging out together is even better than any card – so of course everything ends happily and only slightly mushily.

     The emotional quotient is considerably higher in Janet Lawler’s Love Is Real, which uses Anna Brown’s illustrations of families of bunnies, foxes and bears to tell a warm and forthright tale of what love means in human families. There is no humor in the words here – only sincerity. “Love is in the little things/ that fill my heart until it sings,” the book begins, continuing with a whole series of examples: “Love puts sprinkles on the top./ Love can dance the bunny hop.”  “Love will listen when you tug./ Love swoops down to give a hug.” And much more. There are touches of humor in some of the pictures – those “sprinkles,” for example, are actually acorns – but by and large, this is a book that practically oozes sweetness and sincerity. It may in fact be a bit too sweet for at least some kids at the upper end of the 4-8 age range, but for parents and children who remain very much in the snuggling and cuddling stage, it should be highly pleasurable – and can make a lovely bedtime book, since it ends with cuddles and then with sleepy time for a little bunny.

     Valentine-themed or simply love-themed books can also be fun for kids who are learning to read: Mercer Mayer’s Just a Little Love and Jack Prelutsky’s It’s Valentine’s Day are both in the “I Can Read!” series, at two different levels. Mayer’s book, which is not specific to Valentine’s Day, is about Little Critter and his family going to cheer up Grandma after Grandpa calls to say she is not feeling well. A series of misadventures requires the use of love to make everything better in this book at the “My First” level (“ideal for sharing with emergent readers”). For example, Little Sister is stung by a bee when picking flowers for Grandma, but Mom gives her a little love and she feels better; and when Little Critter falls off a ladder while picking apples, Dad gives him a little love to make everything all right. Mom and Dad turn out to need a little love, too, and when the family eventually gets to Grandma’s house, she is feeling better because what she needed was a little love. This is a sweet, simple story suitable for just about any day.

     On the other hand, Prelutsky’s “Level 3” book (“complex plots for confident readers”) is very directly tied to Valentine’s Day, containing 14 silly and not-too-complex poems with very apt illustrations by Marylin Hafner. Some of the poems are sincere, such as “A Valentine for Teacher,” which notes, with eager anticipation of delivering a carefully homemade card, that “it’s colored in with crayons/ and it’s trimmed with purple lace,/ it has flowers, hearts, and cupids –/ I can’t wait to see her face.” Other poems are much more amusing, in a style to which Prelutsky gravitates, such as one addressing a best friend: “You are ugly, you are simple,/ and your brain is like a pimple,/ you should soak your head in brine –/ WON’T YOU BE MY VALENTINE?” There is a comparatively long and very cute poem about an attempt to make a cake for Valentine’s Day, another poem about the futility of giving valentines to pets, and one about accidentally eating all the chocolates that were supposed to be a gift for Mom. And there is a final poem that sums everything up – depending on what “everything” means, of course – in a mere three lines: “I only got one valentine,/ and that was signed,/ Love, Frankenstein.” Hearts, flowers and chocolate are all well and good for Valentine’s Day, but Prelutsky’s humor and amusement will get young readers through any day in style.

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