a list of…five sweet tales of love for Valentine’s Day

A You’re Adorable, words and music by Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, and Sidney Lippman, illustrated by Martha Alexander

A you’re adorable, B you’re so beautiful, C you’re a cutie full of charms…

In the late 1940s, this song was a huge hit, sung by Perry Como,  who wandered through the entire alphabet, ticking off sugary complements to his dear love.

Martha Alexander has taken the lyrics, and illustrated them with adorable, beautiful, charming children, creating a little book our family has loved and sung through the years to each new baby-cakes.  Alexander must have had an exceedingly good time illustrating this text!  Imaginative, sunny scenes of multicultural children adorn each page — playing with fluffy chicks, rolling out yummy cookies,   cuddling pudgy new puppies.  Children cradle in letter O, swing from letter S.  Kites and butterfly nets, kittens and flower wreaths, babies and balloons, add to the warm, gentle happiness.  The music is included, with colorful notes dazzling the staff.

My kids cannot understand why most of their peers don’t know this tune!  It’s a sweet song to sing to one another any ol’ time.  Here’s a You Tube link, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Secret Valentine, story and illustrations by Catherine Stock

This little pint-sized girl is looking forward to telling some special people that she loves them, on Valentine’s Day.  She has such a lot of folks to tell — Mommy and Daddy, Grandma, and her cat, Muffety.  Rather than buy cards in the store, she’s making them herself — much the best way!  Children + hundreds of tiny snippets of red and pink construction paper all over the floor + glitter everywhere = happiness, in my book!

Along the way, she spies a lonely neighbor lady, and adds her to her list.  The simple, gentle text of our story follows this little Valentine-maker as she decides what to draw on each heart, mails her valentines, and in turn, receives a flock of cheery cards on Valentine’s Day.  It’s a quiet, matter-of-fact story, brimming with love and kindness.

Catherine Stock is a favorite illustrator of mine.  Her warm, loose watercolors are cheerful and comforting, and her compositions perfectly frame a young child’s world.  This story features an African-American child and mother, which is all the more appealing to me because the story line is so ordinary; I love finding multiple races and cultures featured in non-culture-specific story lines.  This is a sweet look at the kind of leisurely, creative, hands-on, care-giving we are sadly foregoing in our digital, fast-paced world.

A Kiss for Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik, pictures by Maurice Sendak

It all begins when Little Bear paints a lovely picture of a fierce, horned, green-striped, jaggedy-tail, monster.  The picture makes him so happy,  he decides to send it to Grandmother.  Hen, standing nearby, is co-opted into carrying the unwieldy thing to Grandmother’s house, and when she does, Grandmother asks her to carry a kiss back to Little Bear.

Well.  Apparently Hen tires of messenger duty, because along the return route, she passes that kiss along to Frog, who agrees to carry it to Little Bear.  Frog, in turn, passes the kiss to Cat, who becomes a tad too sleepy to finish the errand, and passes the kiss to Little Skunk.  When Little Skunk meets a pretty little skunk, the kissing, somehow, gets completely out of hand!  How Hen sorts it out, and who winds up in a wedding, complete this sweet, funny, timeless story.

There are a number of Little Bear stories, and each one is dear.  This little kissing tale is perfect for Sweetheart’s Day!  Sendak’s brilliant illustrations of the Victorian Bears, smooching skunks, and scandalized hen, also feature a nod to the Wild Things; this title was published just a few years after he released that set of outlandish beasts!  It’s an Easy Reader, but can also be read aloud to those much too young to read it themselves.  Classic and perfect.

Saint Valentine, retold and illustrated by Robert Sabuda

The legend of the beginnings of Valentine’s Day is a beautiful, intriguing story, which re-orients this incredibly-commercial day with a tale of one man’s gritty, selfless love.

This is the story of a physician named Valentine, who lived in Ancient Rome, offering his knowledge of healing herbs and ointments to the poor, along with his prayers for their recovery.  Valentine was one of the early Christians, bitterly hated by the Roman government; he practiced his faith at risk of his life.

Finally, Valentine was imprisoned along with other Christians, scapegoats of the emperor due to an uprising in Rome.  In his cell, Valentine wrote one last message to a young child whom he had been treating for blindness — the daughter of a jailer.  After Valentine’s execution, the little, blind girl opened the scroll, which contained a yellow crocus blossom and the words, “From your Valentine.”  At the moment she received this token of his love, her sight was finally restored.

Robert Sabuda has retold this old story in strong, clear, simple prose; young elementary children will soak it up easily.  He has also magnificently illustrated it with gorgeous mosaics, in the style of Byzantine mosaics of that era.  First creating marbelized and hand-painted papers, he constructed these elaborate pictures in rich, jewel tones. They are simply mesmerizing.  An Author’s Note includes more information on the historical Valentine, as well as the additional traditions associated with Valentine’s Day as the centuries rolled on.  Fascinating!

The Ballad of Valentine, by Alison Jackson, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

“In a cabin, in a canyon,
Near a mountain laced with pine,
Lived a girl who was my sweetheart,
And her name was Valentine.”

This ridiculous spin-off on darling Clementine, is set in the hills of the Old West, where a love-lorn fella attempts through every gosh-darn means possible to communicate his love to his darlin’, against confounded odds.  He types dozens of letters, yet the mailman can’t find her address.  He tries homing pigeons, smoke signals, Morse code, and more, only to be thwarted by everything from blizzards to quicksand.  Poor guy!

Or, not so poor.  There’s a dee-lightful surprise ending to his trials and troubles, but I won’t spoil it for you!

Alison Jackson’s revised lyrics to this twanging tune are exceedingly clever and over-the-top funny.  Tricia Tusa’s silly watercolor-and-ink illustrations will tickle your funny bone.  Vibrant glimpses of this man’s busy, energetic true love, the sweeping countryside, and every flabbergasting obstacle, team perfectly with the banjo-strumming, toe-tapping rhythm of the story.  Great fun!

Here are Amazon links for all these sweet stories:

A You’re Adorable

SECRET VALENTINE (The Festive Year)

A Kiss for Little Bear (An I Can Read Book)

Saint Valentine

The Ballad of Valentine (Picture Puffin Books)