Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Messages From The Heart

It is a greeting given in friendship.  It is a written declaration of devotion.  It is a token of endearment.  On February 14th, collectively by more people than any other day of the year, love is celebrated.  Brave souls will reveal their sincere feelings for others.  If the fondness is known, shared and has stood the test of time, it is honored for the treasure it is.

You can be a Valentine, the cherished individual, or you can give someone a Valentine, a greeting, a declaration or a token.  This is NOT a Valentine (Chronicle Books, December 26, 2017) written by Carter Higgins with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins offers readers less than traditional displays of tenderness.  They are nonetheless genuine and straight from the heart.

This is not a valentine,
since those come with buckets of roses
and bushels of tulips
that smell like grannies
fresh out of the garden.

On the bus ride to school on Valentine's Day a girl gives a classmate, a boy, a Valentine card.  In response he gives her a handful of dandelions, some blooming, others ready to make wishes come true and several bare.  As he hands her another token he is quick to remind her, this is not a valentine.

Each gesture of kindness and friendship by him to her during the day reveals how well he knows her.  He realizes what he gives her next is not the hues frequently found on Valentines nor is it any of her favorite colors, but it is a color worn by superheroes and she is a superhero to him.  When their teacher asks them to make portraits, his drawing of her is filled with imperfections but his attempt is pure perfection.

His answer to them being separated in the drinking fountain line is an expertly aimed paper airplane.  He has to get her attention as best as he can.  During science he imagines them being sick together from a lesson with negative results but he chooses to find the silver lining.  In the cafeteria at lunch and on the playground at recess, the boy finds readily available mementos to present to his friend.  His purpose for choosing each one is a reflection of his affection.

As the school day closes, the two walk to the bus chatting together.  Unlike the morning, they are riding home side by side.  The boy speaks one final line leaving readers with a profound thought to ponder.

The brilliant beauty of this book penned by Carter Higgins is its truth.  There are many ways to demonstrate friendship and love; sometimes denying either is a demonstration of the opposite.  With the openness and genuineness so easily found in children, this boy allows us to see the wonder in loving someone.  His reasons for selecting each item will stay with readers.  They disclose the depth of his character.  Here is a passage.

This is not a valentine,
since it's got sharper edges than
dainty old lace.
But if you play duck duck goose
with kids who run real fast,
you'll just get stuck in the stew pot.
So meet me at the hopscotch squares.
My lucky rock will help.

Although the title on the opened dust jacket claims this is not a Valentine, the looks on the boy's and girl's faces say otherwise.  The color choices and the size of the book give you the sense this is a Valentine.  To the left, on the back, the ribbon-wearing frog is leaping away to the left from the spine on the same cream canvas.

The book case is a scattering of Valentine envelopes each sealed with a small red heart.  They are placed on a white background on both sides of the case.  The title appears in the center on the far right.  A shade of lavender covers the opening and closing endpapers.  It is a slightly lighter hue than the color of the girl's dress.

Before the title page a single Valentine envelope bears the name Kevin. (At the close of the book there is a notable difference.) Illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins begins her visual story on the following pages.  The verso shows the front of the school bus as it pulls up to the stop.  The boy and the girl are seated together on a bench waiting on the title page.  She is about to give the boy a Valentine.  The next wordless two-page picture shows his reaction.

Rendered in brush marker, gouache, graphite, colored pencil, crayon, ink and charcoal the images created by Lucy Ruth Cummins are brimming with texture and charm.  The children in their facial expressions and body postures exhibit happiness.  You can't look at them without smiling.  A full page is dedicated to each of the keepsakes given to the girl.  Lucy Ruth Cummins switches perspective to focus our attention on a particular moment in the story; when the ring color matches the color of the girl's shoelaces, when the children are drawing the portraits or eating their lunch.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy, seated at the back of the room, is passing a "gift" to the front of the class where the girl sits.  This image is on a cream background spanning two pages.  Our attention is drawn to the colorful clothing of the students.  Their desks, in a row, left to right, are pencil sketches.  On the side of each desk is a pink heart.

This is NOT a Valentine written by Carter Higgins with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins is a Valentine to readers from these two talented women.  It is a touching testament to the variety of Valentines given and received.  Each one is as precious as the other.  You will want to add this delightful title to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Carter Higgins and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Both women visit All The Wonders for a book cover reveal with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  At 12 x 12 and author Melissa Roske's siteCarter Higgins is showcased.  Lucy Ruth Cummins is interviewed at BOOKish.

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