This Is Not a Valentine
Chronicle likes to push the envelope, and in this case, it is covered with hearts—or maybe not. The point of the book is that a stereotypical Valentine is not what the author wants to deliver. Instead Carter Higgins wants to talk about playing Duck Duck Goose or blowing the wish flower (dandelion) for the last cinnamon bun. This is not a Valentine because there are no jewels, just a dime store ring in a plastic case. This is not a Valentine because it isn’t typical pink but instead brown, orange, and purpley-blue.
The word not is underscored every time it is used. The whole point is that the author wants to send something less frilly and girly and not heart-covered. But there are hearts on the last page and a big red heart on the cover and hearts incorporated into much of the artwork.
The writing is childlike and sweet, with cute references to school lines, in which the sender is the caboose and the recipient is near the front. The narrator’s voice talks about cooties, cavities, bellyaches, and old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the bottom of the lunch bag. The sender gives the recipient a rock with sharp edges.
The art, by Lucy Ruth Cummins, is childlike, spare, and wonderful. It all takes place during a day of school. The children are diverse—white, black, Asian, bespectacled, large and small. Lots of white space with black letters make the primary-color art pop off the pages. The school bus looks as though it has been colored in with crayons. The endpapers are plain lavender.
Some of the lines were lost on this reviewer. A bushel s of tulips that smell like grannies fresh out of the garden? I wish I understood it. I am sure the writer knows what it means. The illustrator either understood what was implied in the words or had lots of help from the art director.
The book is small and almost square and will make the perfect Valentine for anyone who is not into pink and frilly. The book is the antithesis of pink and frilly. It is red and black and golden, with sweet sentiments and childlike thoughts.
It is not a traditional book. But it is from a boy’s point of view (according to the illustrator), and it works. It will be a nice addition to a holiday filled with girly things. It shows what else can symbolize friendship and a close bond besides syrupy goo and frill.
The last line has me stumped. I’ve read it a dozen times and don’t get it. But maybe that’s the point. Or maybe not. If I had a four year old and I read it every night for the month of January and half of February, maybe I would understand it, or maybe it would grow on me and I’d give it a pass.
Either way, this one’s a keeper.