SALT LAKE CITY — Chocolates and roses are the traditional gifts of Valentine's Day, but what about something that says "I love you" a little more directly? These seven new picture books offer different takes on love, but all of them do so with beautiful illustrations and charming stories that make Valentine's Day a celebration for all ages.
"HOW DO I LOVE THEE?," by Jennifer Adams, illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal, Balzer + Bray, 32 pages (4-8 years)
Utah children's book author Jennifer Adams (BabyLit series) riffs off Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous poem "How Do I love Thee" in this sweet book of love. Christopher Silas Neal's clean illustrations offer the ideal highlight for Adams' poetic text, showing happy children playing and enjoying life. Adams' soothing poem makes this a good bedtime option, especially as the book ends with, "I love thee when first you wake and at end of day's goodnight kiss. And I will always love thee."
"HUGS & KISSES FOR THE GROUCHY LADYBUG," by Eric Carle, HarperCollins, 32 pages (4-8 years)
Master illustrator Eric Carle's ("The Very Hungry Caterpillar") new book, which features a variety of creatures from a seal to a monkey to a peacock, works to remind us that even grumps need hugs and kisses. Carle's bright hand-painted paper collage illustrations are as distinctive as they are appealing and little ones will love the ladybug's transformation from sad to happy at the book's end.
"I'LL LOVE YOU TILL THE COWS COME HOME," by Kathryn Cristaldi, illustrations by Kristyna Litten, HarperCollins, 32 pages (4-8 years)
It's hard to argue with someone who claims that they "will love you till the frogs ride past on big-wheeled bikes going superfast … in a circus for sea horses, shrimp and bass" — especially when the words are accompanied by Kristyna Litten's whimsical illustrations. Playing off the old saying, "I will love you till the cows come home," Kathryn Cristaldi's rhyming text will keep young readers wondering what each page — and declaration of love — will bring in this wonderfully silly book.
"MIRABEL'S MISSING VALENTINES," by Janet Lawler, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller, Sterling Children's Books, 32 pages (3-7 ages)
Valentine's cards are an essential part of the holiday of love, but what if you are so shy that the thought of giving sweet cards to friends makes you want to crawl under your covers and never come out? That's the predicament facing little Mirabel the mouse. But when she finally heads off to school with a bag full of cards to give away, little does she know that her notes will spread love to everyone she passes on her way. Olivia Chin Mueller's adorable illustrations are the perfect complement to Janet Lawler's sweet story about being brave and sharing kind words.
"MY HEART," by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books, 32 pages (4-8 years)
This sweet rhyming book will teach young readers that their hearts can be many things and that it's OK to feel conflicting emotions. "Some days (my heart) is cloudy and heavy with rain. Some days it is tiny, but tiny can grow," author Corinna Luyken wrote, a good message not just for developing children, but also for their still-developing parents. The book's gray palette with bursts of yellow make this a lyrical, elegant book about love.
"ROMEOSAURUS AND JULIET REX," by Mo O'Hara, illustrations by Andrew Joyner, HarperCollins, 40 pages (4-8 years)
Finally, a happy ending (sort of) for literature's most famous star-crossed lovers. In this hilarious reimagining of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," Mo O'Hara turns the Montagues and Capulets into dinosaurs — at odds with each other because, as O'Hara tells us, "Romeosaurus's family were herbivores. 'Yay! Fens for dinner!'" while "Juliet Rex's family were carnivores. 'Yay! Herbivores for dinner!'" But just when it seems that things will end tragically, the two families find a way to be friends; in time for a somewhat different tragic ending than the one Shakespeare imagined. Andrew Joyner's bright, clever illustrations pair nicely with O'Hara's dino jokes and her witty transformation of the Shakespearian duo. This is one that will entertain big and little people equally.
"LOVE, Z," by Jessie Sima, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 48 pages (4-8 years)
Z is an adventurous young robot who happens upon a message in a bottle, bearing only the signature, "Love, Beatrice." These mysterious words lead Z on a quest to discover what love is, learning along the way that love is everything from patience to sharing to lawn gnomes. In the end, Z realizes that he knew what love was all along, it just hadn't computed. Jessie Sima's whimsical illustrations highlight her charming story, and readers will especially admire her warm palette.