Written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisk Feng, A Hug is for Holding Me highlights how the natural world quietly and profoundly speaks to us about love.
Exploring the wilderness, a father and daughter take note of speckled eggs “nestled in a tree” and “eggs hold[ing] hatchlings warm and snug.” In plain language, the little girl also expresses the restorative and nurturing power of cocoons and seashells. It’s as if everything in nature is embraced in an eternal hug, kept safe from harm. And from this fact, she knows she too can feel the same love and protection from the simple act of giving and receiving a hug.
I also admire the illustrator’s techniques in further drawing us into the little girl’s perspective. We readers (of all ages) are like children, looking up at the big, wide world. Each page in this 24 page book is a wide-angled, double page spread. The leaves of trees are drawn in big, sweeping shades of blue and green, objects are defined by their general shape and color, and Dad appears towering-almost giant sized. Visual details are absent but not because they’re lacking. While the world is big, creation is hard-wired to nurture and care. On land, in the sea, and in our hearts, we can rest assured of this truth, which is the one detail that really matters. We just need childlike faith to see it.
A great read especially for Valentine’s Day, A Hug is for Holding Me is a book preschoolers will love to cuddle up with.
The best Valentine’s Day gifts are the simple pleasures of food, fun, and friendship as author Jonathan London and illustrator Andrew Joyner show in Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and Duck is distressed she may not have a valentine. Taking a hint from her feathered friends nearby, she decides to send invitations-in secret to Hippo, Turtle, Pig, and Elephant, asking each to meet at the park at 4pm and to “bring something for [his/her] Valentine.” Every card is decorated with a “big red heart on it,” though it’s clear Hippo holds an extra special place in Duck’s heart because his card is the only one that has a “red rose … above a big red heart.”
And so the fun begins! Every time a friend receives a card, she or he begins wondering just who that valentine might be. Each hopes for someone specific. Turtle, for example, sees the picture of the “big red heart” on the card as a pizza that’s missing a slice. This makes sense, of course, because his special friend is Pig who works at the local pizzeria, Pig’s Pizza.
As the anticipation builds, kids will no doubt love being “in” on the secret, and they will roar with laughter watching Duck stealthily drop off the cards to avoid detection. Well … while the characters may not see Duck, little wandering eyes will most definitely notice a feathery behind sticking out of a bush or two!
The onomatopoeia popular in London’s beloved “Froggy” series is thankfully present here as well, helping preschoolers and early elementary children “read” the story. And even if readers are new to the “Duck and Hippo” series, they can sense the strong friendship between the characters and learn important values of sharing and kindness. I also like the hidden “lesson” of time-telling. Whenever the time of day is mentioned in the story, Joyner cleverly includes a clock to indicate the time, with the hour and minute hands in contrasting colors. From illustrating a grandfather clock to an alarm clock to a pocket watch, Joyner invites readers to discover all the fun and different ways of telling time—there’s even a sundial in Turtle’s yard!
By 4:00 the secret is finally out, though Duck’s love for her friends is evident from the start. What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to create an opportunity for everyone to gather and express their gratitude for each other.
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness
In What is Given from the Heart, celebrated author Patricia McKissack and debut picture book illustrator April Harrison define the true meaning of gift giving.
“Already poor,” little James Otis and his mother “got poorer last April” after the sudden death of his father. Having lost the family farm in June, they move into a “run-down shotgun house in the Bottoms.” Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, more loss follows: James’ house floods and his dog Smitty disappears. Yet as long as they have their health and strength, his mother reminds him, they “‘are blessed.’”
Two weeks before Valentine’s Day, James slowly begins to understand his mother’s courageous words. When Reverend Dennis requests the congregation to prepare love boxes for the needy, he includes on his list a mother and daughter who have “‘lost everything in a fire.’”
For the first time in a long time, James begins to change perspective. Thinking about another person’s pain makes him aware of what he does have. Tucked “warm and toasty” under Mama’s quilt, James reviews in his mind all the items he owns that might be useful to Sarah. When he sees Mama repurposing the “‘only nice thing’” she has to make a handmade gift for Mrs. Temple, he reflects on how he, too, can sacrifice a beloved belonging to the benefit of someone else’s happiness.
McKissack’s themes of compassion, kindness, and empathy are carried through Harrison’s soft color palette and endearing mixed media art. Though the items in the house are sparse, we can see the love abiding in James’ home from the family pictures hung on the walls. My favorite illustration is the close up of James and the pensive expression in his eyes, as he ponders what is in Sarah’s heart and the kinds of things she might like to receive.
Despite having very little, James comes up with a beautiful gift that Sarah gratefully accepts. Handmade and straight from the heart, James’ gift helps Sarah know that she is seen and understood. This is a priceless gift every one of us can treasure.
A wonderful read for older elementary children, “What is Given from the Heart” reaches the heart not only on Valentine’s Day but everyday of the year.
- Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
For more Valentine’s Day book suggestions, click here.