Valentine’s Day at our house isn’t about mom and dad getting dressed up and going out for a nice dinner (although maybe it will be again soon! ) instead we celebrate it as a family and talk about love, friendship, and respect. These 14 picture books are about all kinds of love. Romantic, platonic and lots of love you find in families. Some of these may not even seem like books about love but dig a littler deeper, and you’ll see they are… or, at least, I think they are. These are some of my very favorite picture books, and I hope you love them too.
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Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton. This author is a preschool parents dream, short and easy to read melodic books with illustrations to die for. The story is simply a little love song about all the ways the dog loves the puppy, simple and touching. As an educator something I love is that the dogs don’t have an obvious race, they don’t even have an obvious gender which is perfect. Regardless of who loves who in your family, your child can see you in the dog and themselves in the puppy! I think that is the perfect Valentine! My son didn’t warm up to this book right away, but now not only does he love it he is very very specific that only I can read it to him. It’s become a big favorite in our house.
Best Friends (Owen And Mzee) by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff is a board book with real photographs of the friendship of orphaned baby hippo and his 130-year-old adoptive tortoise named Mzee. The text is simple and perfect for toddlers, although older children will better understand how amazing the story is. There are so many learning opportunities between these pages from the Tsunami to learning about hippos and tortoises. The real lesson though is about friendship, and I like that it shows animals being affectionate, something rare to see and something that can help foster a true appreciation for animals in young kids.
Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) by Florence Parry Heide is such a fantastic ( and funny) fairytale about a little princess who has a very odd problem. She can’t keep her feet on the ground, so her parents worried that she would literally float away weigh her down. The problem with being weighed down is that she can’t be herself and one day when she is set free to float she discovers that that is who she is. The only problem left is how does she get down? Luckily a little boy with a big heart and a kite comes to help. He’s not a rescuer coming to fix everything simply a true friend helping. His quiet actions teach more about love than any grand romantic gesture. I love this book and the messages of breaking free from your limitations and of being yourself while staying connected to those you love.
Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse is a well-loved book. I have read it many times but never reviewed it. There are a lot of books about children testing their mom’s unconditional love, but this one stands out for me. In it, the little girl seems to go out of her way to aggravate her mom and really test her love. The mother is fantastic because she isn’t gushy or sickeningly sweet, she says she would get angry, worried, sad depending on what her daughter tests her with. However, after each honest answer, she follows it up with how she will always love her. Kids need to know even if they make us sad or angry it doesn’t change the depth of our love for them.
Did I Tell You I Love You Today? by Deloris Jordan is a very practical yet heartwarming look at all the ways parents show love to their children every day, from feeding them healthy food to praying after they go to bed. My son loved all the big boy things in the book like, the school bus, basketball, and the playground. I teared up reading the book, but I cry at American Idol so that may not be indicative of anything!
Henry in Love by Peter McCarty is a sweet book that will transport you back to your elementary school crushes, but it won’t just appeal to the adults it’s got plenty for the little ones too. Henry has a crush on Chloe although all that is ever really said is that he thinks she is lovely. The best part is that Chloe seems to like him back. This book can teach children a lot about interpreting people’s actions to explain feelings. Simple but expressive illustrations give subtle clues that give great opportunities for conversations about what it means to love not just to feel love.
I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt is a wonderful mushy book that will appeal to kids that aren’t so into mush. A little boy in his PJs asks his mom if she will still love him even if he was a series of terrible monsters. It reminds me of “The Runaway Bunny” but less saccharine and creepy. Sorry if I have just called your favorite book creepy, but I’ve never been a fan of “The Runaway Bunny.” Back to this book and why I like it, I love that the little boy in the book keeps trying to find ways to make him unlovable, and the mom keeps finding ways to love unconditionally. There is a deeper meaning here, and moms will see past the fun illustrations to the real heart of this book, which is no matter what we love our children. When I found this in a thrift store and read it quickly, I couldn’t look at my son in his stroller throwing puffs on the floor without tearing up.
The I LOVE YOU Book Kids need to know that love is unconditional and this book drives that point home is a simple, bright and funny way. I cried through reading most of it, but my son laughed and loved it. I specifically loved that the author includes that a child is loved even when they are sad, not sleeping and more. The cover of the book has a cut out heart shape and would be a great add-on to a shape activity about hearts.
The Kissing Hand by Audry Penn is an absolute favorite. Chester is a raccoon who like most of us doesn’t like change. In his case, it’s starting school. He wants to stay home with his mama and play with the friends he already has instead of going to school away from her and his friends. So his mama explains to him the magic of the kissing hand. The real magic is the message that we have to do things that scare us sometimes but that the love of our family is always with us to help us through. Get this book.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson is a much-debated book. It’s the true story of two male penguins in Central Park zoo who didn’t have any interest in the girl penguins but definitely liked each other. When the zookeepers noticed that they were in every way a matched pair, they also noticed that they prepared for a baby just like the other penguins. Time after time they were sad until they were given an egg to care for. Just like all families love and care is what matters when creating a family and baby Tango and his two daddies have thrived. My son loved this book and asked me to please see the penguins when I was in NYC. I didn’t have time to, but I wish I had. Their story simplifies a very debated topic, and I think it’s a great book not only to explain how all families are different but also how love and care is what makes a family even for penguins.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is one of those books that makes me cry just when I think of it. If you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s not sad. It’s about a little boy who is acting up and gets sent to his room. While in his room his imagination runs wild and he is transported to the world where there are no rules, no parents and no consequences for bad behavior. Ultimately though Max’s heart pulls him back home where he is loved most of all, even when he’s wild. I think this is an amazing love story about parents and children and unconditional love.
Hair for Mama by Kelly A. Tinkham is beautiful. The story is about a little boy who is desperate to find some hair for his mama who has lost hers to chemotherapy. Marcus wants mama to be in the family photo, but she doesn’t want to be the way she looks. His mission comes to a climax when he shaves off all his own hair hoping to give it to his mama. When the barber sweeps it up with the other hair on the floor, Marcus is heartbroken and goes home in tears. I was sobbing reading this, I knew it was a story about a mom having cancer but the way the author wrote it, it was magical. The complex emotions this little boy felt for his mom and she for him, jumped off the page, and you can’t help but cry. I wasn’t sad, I was touched by the love and desire to fix his mom and make everything better, and his parents’ tenderness to his feelings. I can’t recommend this book more highly. I should note that this is not a book for toddlers; I would probably wait until a child is 4-5 before reading them this gem.
The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jennifer Wojtowicz is one of those books that stays with you. The rink is a little boy who’s family is strange, Rink is no exception, with every full moon he sprouts flowers, from his head. At school he is an outsider and only when a new girl comes to school does he make a friend. He reaches out to her because she too is an outsider, not at school but in her family. In the end, the kindred spirits celebrate their uniqueness. This odd romantic story will warm your heart and serves as a great lesson about how we all feel different and like an outsider sometimes. The illustrations by Steve Adams will stun you, they were so vibrant and paired so perfectly with the story. Wonderful!