Books about love are perfect read-aloud books for children at any time of the year, but what better gift of love than to bring a child (or parent) a lovely picture book about the many kinds of love we share and need. There are books that celebrate a mother’s love for her child and picture books that celebrate the love of a friend and how important that love can be, and also picture books that celebrate appreciating — and loving — our differences and our uniquenesses. Here are some exemplary choices for reading and gifting to your own loved ones.
Friendship can make a difference.
“The Heart of a Whale” is written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro. In this artistic and unique picture book, a whale fills the ocean with a beautiful song that brings joy to all those in the sea who hear it. But as much as the whale sings a “calming sonata” and a “cheerful symphony” and lullabies to all, the whale’s own heart feels lonely and sad. “Whale thought how quiet the sea could be at times…and how there was no song big enough to fill his empty heart.” And clever adults will use this sentiment to point out how sometimes, even if people seem happy, they might be sad or lonely inside, where no one can see. And just like this lonely whale, whose song is bright and lovely, but who is empty and sad inside, having a friend who will join us in song (or play or reading or any activity), makes life much happier. The watercolor illustrations perfectly display the ocean and it inhabitants and the simply drawn, yet evocative, whale. (Philomel)
“In a Jar” by Deborah Marcero is a story about friendship and imagination. Llewellyn is a sweet little rabbit who collects things he finds like feathers and stones. “When he held a jar and peered inside, Llewellyn remembered all the wonderful things he had seen and done.” When he befriends another rabbit, Evelyn, something changes, and Llewellyn’s collecting takes a fantastical turn. They begin to perform magic — almost — as they collect incredible things like the sound of the ocean, the wind jut before snow falls, and the cherry light of a beautiful sunset. They collect their intangibles for almost a year, and then Evelyn’s family is moving far away. With Evelyn gone, Llewellyn’s heart “felt like an empty jar.” But he found a way to fill it, and this touching ending touchingly demonstrates that when one jar lid closes, another one might just open. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)
“Ellie Makes a Friend” by Mike Wu features the sweet and artistic Ellie, a creative and colorful elephant who paints. At the start of the story, Ping, a panda, has arrived at the zoo from China. But Ping speaks Chinese, and they don’t understand her. But when Ping picks up her brush and paints in black ink, they marvel at the characters she creates with her calligraphy (great vocabulary word for picture book readers). With all the animals marveling at Ping’s creations, Ellie starts to feel a bit jealous and unappreciated. But after some wise counsel from a friend, Ellie decides to approach Ping differently. They begin drawing together, Ellie in her bright colors and Ping with her black ink. And they discover that friendship, and sharing art, can be a beautiful thing. This would be a perfect companion book to “Drawn Together” by Minh Lê. (Disney-Hyperion)
There’s nothing like a mother’s love.
“In My Heart” is a charming board book written by Mackenzie Porter and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie. It’s a love song written in a book to working mothers who leave each morning and often entrust their precious children to others. In rhyming text, a mother shares how both mother and child have the same feelings, and that throughout the day, the mother misses her child, just as the child might be missing the mother. And that what they do during the day is often similar, like eating the same lunch and drawing. The last page shares the sentiment that runs through the book:
“Though we’re not together,
we’re never truly apart
because you’re always on my mind
and you’re always in my heart.”
It’s a small but powerful little book that a child just might want to hear each night before bed. The illustrations are bright and colorful and include a variety of shapes and skin colors and happy, loving expressions. (Little Simon)
“One More Hug” is written by Megan Alexander and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. This is a picture book that children will love because it’s made clear that no matter how young — or old — a child is, there’s always room for one more hug. And no matter what the reason, be it a scary school bus, the disappointment of a broken toy, the simple act of saying goodbye before going to school (or college), we all — parents and children alike — love the reassurance of getting just one — or two or three — more hugs. Can there ever be too many hugs? That would be a great group discussion for young kids! (Aladdin Books)
I like you just the way you are, and you need to like you just the way you are.
Fred Rogers repeated what his grandfather had told him as a message of unconditional love. His mantra was, “I like you just the way you are,” and millions of children grew up with that wonderful message. In the nonfiction “Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers,” written by Laura Renauld and illustrated by Brigette Barrager, we learn about Mr. Rogers’ lonely childhood and the ridicule he endured because he was different than other kids. We learn about a kind gesture in high school that had unexpected results which underscored the idea of “how deeply one person can affect the life of another!” We learn about Mr. Rogers’ bravery and determination when funding was going to be cut for public television and he went to speak in front of a Senate committee to convince them of the importance of programs that helped develop positive emotions in children. The illustrations complement the story and keep the attention focused on Mr. Rogers and what he is doing and feeling. Trails of hearts follow him everywhere, and it is to be hoped that children make the connection that Mr. Rogers did everything because of the love in his heart that he wanted to share with others. He wanted children everywhere to know that they are welcomed, loved and special.(Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
“Odd Dog Out” by Rob Biddulph is a book that couldn’t be more different than the book about Mr. Rogers, yet it shares the message that it’s okay to be different. In fact, it’s more than okay — it’s wonderful to be different. In this adorably illustrated book, Biddulph creates a world of dachshunds who all dress alike and move alike. They dress alike (in pin-striped suits) and play alike, yet there’s one dog who dresses differently from the rest. When all the other dogs play the violin, she plays an electric blue guitar. She decides that her only future is to go somewhere where she can be herself. But when she finds a place where she feels a part of the crowd, something surprising happens. She finds someone who is different from the rest — who has a surprising message for her: “Stand tall. Be proud.” It’s okay to stand out from the rest. Mr. Rogers would certainly agree. (Harper Collins)
“Just Like Me” is by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author of Grandma’s Purse. This picture book is a collection of poems about girls, girls of all ages, girls from the country, from the city, fatherless girls, girls who love summers and girls who don’t love summer dresses. The poems are about girl power, Grandmas, and being shy. One poem, Door Buster, evokes images of Langston Hughes’ “I, Too” poem. I’m going to use both with students to discuss the themes and compare the two. The illustrations are like the poems — a melting pot of styles and media that result in stunning colors and textures. Children and adults alike will enjoy looking, really examining, the pages and finding examples of collage (text from books and newspapers), and textured canvas, and bright pastels and deep blues. The colorful cover and the endpapers with variegated shades and textures of bright pink are perfect for Valentine’s Day or, in fact, for any other day. ((Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
And one last book, “Ruby Red Shoes: A Very Aware Hare” by Kate Knapp, is a very special book. It’s really about the love of self, love of friends, and love of family all rolled into one lovely little treasure of a book. It’s all pink flowers, delicate pencil drawings and soft watercolors with lots of cream background. Ruby lives with her grandmother, Babushka Galina Galushka in “a prettily painted caravan.” Her grandmother is “soft and cuddly and smells of violets, which are her favorite flowers.” Her grandmother advises Ruby to be aware and to treat everyone’s feelings, as well as her own, with great care. ‘”Feelings are just like delicate birds’ eggs, she likes to say. “Be as gentle as you can with them.”‘ And the whole of this small book is gentle, beautiful to the eye and ear, and filled with tiny sweet moments that will calm and instruct. (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.