The holiday of love is here, and with it we’ll get another round of candied hearts and valentines made by hand. Love is sold as googly-eyed and happy and frictionless. Red hearts and cupid’s arrow and happily ever after.
But love isn’t so, well, lovey. Sometimes it’s hard and challenging. Sometimes it’s quiet and peaceful. Sometimes it’s messy and confusing. And the task of helping children understand how love shows up in the world falls to the adults in their lives.
No pressure or anything.
To get some assistance with those conversations, here are five fantastic picture books that showcase love:
Loving Yourself: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow
Molly Lou Melon is short with buckteeth and a squeaky voice. Her grandmother guides her toward accepting and celebrating herself, saying at one point, “believe in yourself and the world will believe in you too.” When Molly Lou Melon moves to a new town, she has the chance to put her grandmother’s lessons to the test. This book is excellent for showing how to love yourself just as you are, and for teaching different ways to respond when being teased.
- What do you love about yourself?
- Have you ever been teased about something? What are some ways you could respond when someone teases you?
Loving Nature: Owl Moon by Jane Yolan and John Schoenherr
The main character and her father travel into the woods at dusk in search of owls. After a few attempted owl calls, they finally get a response and a glimpse of the glorious animal. The illustrations focus largely on the beautiful quiet winter landscape, while Yolan’s reverence for the natural world is obvious in her words. The combination of both gives the reader a chance to revel in that wonder too.
- What is your favorite animal and why? What’s your favorite natural landscape and why?
- Plan an adventure in the natural world, letting the child be in on the details of what you will look for and need.
Love is love is love is love: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole
Inspired by a true story, male penguins Roy and Silo begin doing everything together during the normal mating season for male and female penguins. They even try to sitting on their nest of rocks in the hopes of hatching an egg, but have no luck. One of the zookeepers notices their behavior and gives them an egg, completing their family with the birth of Tango. Perfect for beginning the conversation about LGBTQ families.
- What makes Tango’s family different from yours? What makes Tango’s family the same?
- Discuss the LGBTQ families the child knows and what’s awesome about those families.
Giving Love: Love Is by Diane Adams and Claire Keane
The main character finds an abandoned duck and cares for it over the course of a year, before deciding she needs to release it back into the wild. This story shows the struggles that sometimes come from taking care of another living being, as well as the joy of love and heartbreak of letting it go. Great read for a child who is about to get a new pet or has an aging pet, and makes a nice segue into a discussion about caring for others.
- What sorts of ways did the girl in the story give love to the duckling?
- Who and/or what in your life needs to be cared for? What can you do to give love and care for that person, animal, or thing?
Unexpected, Realistic Love: Love by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long
This gorgeous, recently published book explores the many ways love shows up in the world, and how it exists in places we overlook or in moments we don’t usually connect to love. Both the text and the illustrations speak to the ways love is not always shiny and happy, and how it exists in a variety of forms. The book presents an honest portrayal of love and gives the reader a chance to feel it in real, relatable ways.
- Let the child lead the discussion. Give them a chance to discuss what they see in the illustrations as you read, and ask questions as they come up.
- For children hesitant to speak up with questions, ask what they see in the book that is familiar to them, and what they want to know more about.