Thinking Outside the Box This Valentine’s Day

February 5, 2013 § 4 Comments

Lovabye DragonIs there a better way to shower our children with love this Valentine’s Day than by snuggling under a blanket with them and sharing a new story? And yet, I’m never thrilled with the list of books that the media typically puts forth as gift ideas for V-Day. Chances are you already have your fair share of books about parental affection (the Guess How Much I love You? sort). If I’m being totally honest, I feel a tad exploited by these lovey-dovey books about hugging and kissing and eternal love; too often they’re lacking in imagination and art and feel instead like a cheap move by publishers to go after our vulnerability as parents (I’ll get off my soapbox now). There are some wonderful classics, like Judith Viorst’s Rosie and Michael and Sandal Stoddard Warbug’s I Like You, but their content is arguably more appropriate for grown-ups to give one another.

So when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I like to think outside the box. In the past, I’ve given my son the glorious Red Sings from the Treetops (hey, there’s red in the title) and The Jolly Postman (Valentines are like letters, right?). But this year, I have an especially good one pegged for my two-year-old daughter; I’ve been hiding it under my bed since it came out last fall and biding my time to spring it on her.

The title is Lovabye Dragon (Ages 2-5), by Barbara Joosse, with pictures by Randy Cecil. There is no red or pink in sight; the color palette is subdued with muted purples, greys, and gold. There is no talk of Valentine’s Day or overt declarations of love. Instead, there’s a subtle, sweet, sing-song-y story about an  all-alone girl/ in her own little bed/ in her own little room/ in her own little castle/ who didn’t have a dragon for a friend and an all-alone dragon/ in his big dragon nest/ in his big dragon cave/ in his big dragon mountain/ who dreamed of a girl for a friend.

Joosse’s prose is a delight to read aloud, filled with poetic cadence, and she’s careful to establish equality between the two friends. Even though the dragon searches out the girl, he does so by following the tracks of her tears, which the girl implies was part of her plan all along: “I am here!” roared Dragon./ “You’re a dear!” whispered Girl./ “I found you!” roared Dragon./ “As I wished,” whispered Girl. The two venture outside the castle walls, getting to know one another by singing, laughing, and keeping each other safe in the night. Again, each brings something to the relationship: Now she sings little songs/ little lovabye songs/ and he wraps his tail around her/ so gently, all around her. Randy Cecil’s unique angular drawing style (Brontorina is another stand-out) lends both anonymity and mystery to the characters, the perfect excuse for my Emily to imagine herself into the story.

After all, a girl needs to know her dreams can come true this Valentine’s Day—and every day.

Other Favorites With Quirky Expressions of Love and Friendship (that could double as unique Valentine’s gifts):
Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers (Ages 3-6)
Moon Rabbit, by Natalie Russell (Ages 3-6)
Henry in Love, by Peter McCarty (Ages 4-8)
Infinity and Me, by Kate Hosford & Gabi Swiatkowska (Ages 4-8)

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