Monday, February 14, 2011

Puppy love

At this time of year, one can't help but notice the heart-emblazoned kids' books cramming the shelves in our local chain stores. Pawing through bags of candy hearts and other commercial love-related products, I decided to look at two board books pubbing just in time for Valentine's Day.

Dog food, frisbees, bubbles from a jar... what do these have in common? If you ask Tucker, a small blue-collared dog from Leslie McGuirk’s latest board book, Tucker’s Valentine, he will tell you that this short list comprises just some of what he loves most in the world. Tucker’s simple tastes are challenged by a spotted, quiver-wielding Cupid with grander plans for his fellow four-legged friend, resulting in an exhaustive chase to impress some Valentine’s Day spirit on the young pup. With very simple artwork and text, this easy read presents a straightforward case for life and love in one’s own way. Apart from gender-role stereotypes displayed by female character Cupcake (her love is motivated by the idea of procreating with Tucker), this book makes a sweet addition to the Valentine’s Day market.

Monica Sheehan’s Love is You and Me expresses “What Love is” between a dog and a mouse. I can’t help but feel this picture book is geared more toward the rom-com audience of love-struck adults celebrating Valentine’s Day, rather than young children. Considering the situations in which our characters find themselves -- beach vacations alone, car rides, long distance telephone conversations -- I find myself picturing grown-up female readers holding a box of chocolates, with a ratty copy of Eat, Pray, Love by their bedsides. (My suspicion is only reinforced with an “Eat, Play, Love” reference in the illustrations.) In spite of its mixed-audience approach, one (young or old) can’t help but feel a Valentine's tug of endearment for Sheehan’s characters as they demonstrate their many definitions of love for the reader.

-- Andrea L. Curtis

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