Sweet, yet unyucky, tales for Valentine's

KIDS' BOOKS

February 13, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Valentine's Day is OK for consenting adults who go in for that hearts and flowers stuff, but it can be torture for kids. Many ``TC third-grader has been publicly humiliated when the object of his/her unrequited love rips open an envelope and shouts, "Oh, yuck! It's from Vaseline Face."

(My mother believed in the liberal use of petroleum jelly as preventive maintenance against chapped lips -- she slathered it on me as if she were a mechanic packing a wheel bearing with grease.)

Crushes are inevitable, of course. But must we institutionalize them? For kids, Valentine's Day seems to stress the unattainable: Will I get a card from the most popular girl in class, who until now has gone out of her way to ignore my existence?

Instead, why not use the occasion to celebrate the friendships already cemented? Kids of all ages tend to take their close friends for granted, but here's a book that can help straighten out priorities -- especially the day after Valentine's Day, when egos may need soothing.

* "The Friendship Book," by Woodleigh Hubbard (Chronicle Books, $9.95, all ages) is a slim little book in a slipcase. Ms. Hubbard paints whimsical animals in a folk art, art deco, just plain funky style.

There are blue dogs who might be cows and yellow cats dressed in fishnet stockings. A turquoise cow shares her dreams with a bird in a bow tie, and a red horse sends a letter to a yellow dog atop a neighboring planet.

The messages are simple: "A friend is the first one you call with news of any importance. . . . A friend will tell you the truth when you need it most. . . . Friends make each other laugh."

It makes a fine gift that lasts a heckuva lot longer than an overpriced bunch of roses.

* "Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch," by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz (Bradbury, $13.95, ages 4-7) is a gentle reminder of how rewarding it can be to reach out to lonely people.

Mr. Hatch is about as lonely as they come. He lives in a gray world, walking from his house to his job at the shoelace factory and then to the newsstand and the grocery store on his way home every night, never saying anything to anybody.

One day, the mailman delivers a huge box of valentine's candy to Mr. Hatch, with a card that reads, "Somebody loves you." Thrilled by the idea of having a secret admirer, Mr. Hatch suddenly comes alive.

He goes out for a walk, shocking his neighbors with his smile and his friendly hello. He takes his heart-shaped box of chocolates to share with his co-workers at the shoelace factory. After a few weeks, he stops wondering who sent him the valentine and just enjoys spending time with all of his new friends.

Then the mailman comes to tell Mr. Hatch that the package he delivered on Valentine's Day was supposed to go to a different address. Mr. Hatch falls back into his gray funk until all of his new-found friends come up with a permanent cure.

* Here's a classic parent-to-child, or child-to-parent, Valentine's Day gift: "Love You Forever," by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw (Firefly paperback, $4.95, all ages). It's one of those books you love or you hate. Women tend to like it more than men.

It opens with a young mother rocking her baby boy, singing, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."

The boy grows older, and at different stages in his life -- the terrible 2s, age 9, the teen-age years, after he moves out as an adult -- his mother waits until she's sure he's asleep and then she crawls into his room, takes him in her arms and sings the same refrain.

Then one day she calls him and asks him to visit, because she's very old and sick, too sick to finish the song. So he takes her in his arms and sings, "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living, my Mommy you'll be."

When he goes home that night, he lifts his baby daughter out of her crib and passes on his mother's song to the next generation. It sounds sappy, but it's not without its silly touches. It turns me into a sentimental fool faster than any of that yucky hearts and flowers stuff.

* Wrapping up the Valentine's Day theme, local illustrator Kevin O'Malley will be autographing his latest book -- a new rendition of "Froggy Went A-Courtin' " published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang -- at the Waldenbooks in Towson Town Center today from 1 to 3 p.m.

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