Books for kids: Two picks with a lot of heart

Books for kids: Two picks with a lot of heart

Although Valentine's Day is still a couple of weeks away, you'll want to get these books in advance so you and your children will have plenty of time to enjoy them.

"The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever" is a new book by Illinois author Brenda Ferber (2012, Dial Books, illustrated by Tedd Arnold).

"Leon had a crush. A secret crush. A dreamy crush. A let-her-cut-in-line-at-the-water-fountain crush," the book begins. Leon makes his love a paper valentine that reads, "Dear Zoey Maloney, I love you!"

The valentine has other ideas, however. "Pul-eese! You can't tell Zoey Maloney you love her!" it informs Leon. The valentine runs away, singing, "Love is yucky. Stinky too. It will turn your brain to GOO!"

With Leon giving chase, several groups of kids join in. The boys route for the valentine and the girls for true love. Into the candy shop, the chase continues, where the valentine runs smack into Zoey Maloney — and her own paper valentine. Zoey and Leon look at each other. The two valentines look at each other. Then the crowds utter "Whoa!" and "Ohh!" as both couples smile and love triumphs.

While everyone is feasting on chocolates and candy hearts, Leon's valentine whispers to the other, "Love is yummy. Love's divine. Won't you be my valentine?"

Arnold's expressive watercolor and ink illustrations capture all the charm and humor of this well-told story.

In "Bear in Love" (2012, Candlewick Press, written by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand), we meet bear, who lives in a small cave in the woods. On one particular morning during his daily stretch, Bear sees something unusual on the rock outside his cave.

"'What is that?' the bear said. It was orange and long and pointy and had green bushy leaves at one end. 'It smells nice,' the bear said. 'It might be good to eat.'"

Bear takes a nibble and skips off through the woods singing a happy song. The next morning, bear finds two things. The watercolors show bear's blush as he gazes at the two carrots.

"Someone must have left them for me. I wonder who?" Bear says. Off he goes through the woods singing an "I wonder who" song.

The next morning, there are three carrots and then a whole pile. "Someone must like me, someone is nice, Very good, yum yum yum, Someone is nice," Bear sings.

Bear decides to leave a gift for his friend. He puts a piece of honeycomb on the rock outside his cave, tries to stay awake to see who shows up, but wakes up the next morning to find a daisy on the rock. "This is frustrating," thought the bear while smelling the flower. The next night, he leaves some blueberries, sits right next to the rock and falls asleep again.

A few nights later, sitting in the moonlight, bear hears a beautiful song and finally meets his special friend, peeking out from the bushes. Here's how the text describes their meeting:

"You are some cute little bear," the bear said.

"And you are quite the big strong bunny." (You might think there would be some confusion at this point, but apparently not.)

Bear and bunny sit side by side, singing songs as the sun goes down.

This book combines Pinkwater's clever deadpan style with Hillenbrand's sweet, blushing bear to make a fun, engaging read.

Alice B. McGinty ( is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children as well as a writing teacher, manuscript coach and the co-regional adviser for the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

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