I have been looking forward to this one for awhile. My son is a big Loren Long fan and ever since Last Stop On Market Street I am fairly obsessed with Matt de la Pena. I purchased it as a Valentines gift and it struck a note.
This book expands love.
I chose this for a read-aloud today. A jumpy kindergarten class loved it and I dug in for the sweet stuff, "My dad made me burned toast once too!" said one of the boys. "I had a nightmare once and my granny gave me a cuddle," said another. It was good stuff.
Then I took the book to my group of 4 year old Head Start preschoolers. As I was walking in the Head of the Program looked at me and laughed. "Good luck in there today. They are pumped up!" And they were. Twenty kids in red and pink heart shirts with bags of candy splayed out on the tables. They didn't say hello, they ambushed me. I received more hugs on my entry today than I've had all year from this group.
With all the energy I wondered if I had brought the right book. The language is a bit heavier than I typically try with this age group. The length is generous and the arc of the story is more of a flow than a punch.
I started by asking them to tell me something that they love. "My mom", "my brothers", "my pink heart shirt." It was sweet but they were super squirmy and talking over each other.
Then I started to read.
What doesn't really make sense is how a quiet book like this enraptured the class. They were spellbound. Every picture, every word, every page turn had them wide eyed and listening. It was beautiful. I explained a few things along the way. I reread a few sentences that were particularly beautiful. They never missed a beat. When I asked if they had ever had a nightmare they nodded. When I asked if someone gave them a hug after the nightmare they nodded again in a way that melted my heart.
The best though was when the girl in the book looks in the mirror and sees love in her reflection. I took a moment to look out at them and that's when a beautiful brown eyed, honey-brown skinned girl who had never spoken during my story time raised her hand and said in a quiet voice, "she looks like me."
"Yes," I said. "Beautiful like you."
It's a gorgeous book for many reasons but mostly because of the way LOVE becomes a word that includes so much you want to burst.
Happy Valentine's Day.