Growing Reader


9 Valentines to the Books My Family Will Always Love

by Iva-Marie Palmer

Background credit: BlurryMe/Shutterstock

Valentine’s Day, to me, has always been best celebrated by not limiting it to an expression of love between you and your one true love but as dozens of expressions of love and appreciation to the many who bring you delight and deserve the compliment. I think this has something to do with how much I enjoyed handing out those punch-out valentines to every member of my class as a kid.

And, so, when I think about February 14 and where my praise and gratitude should go, I realize I have a lot of books to thank. Books have been there when I most needed them and, so often, when I pull one from our shelves, I realize it has significance beyond its pages. Like the mementos we share with those we love, these are some of the books that remind me of times in my sons’ lives and call up specific memories I don’t want to forget. For that, each deserves a short appreciation — in the form of a love poem, which I’d certainly write on punch-out valentines and give to them if I could.

  • Cinnamon

    by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan

    A mysterious tiger, a girl who doesn’t speak,
    A fairy tale set around the world, halfway…
    My sweet son just learning to form words, a bit late—
    This one touched him (and me) more than we can say.

    Nathan, my younger son, 3, has a speech delay and only recently has started uttering more and more words. Just as he began speech therapy, we found Cinnamon at our library. In it, the princess of the title is blind and does not speak, which causes her parents to ask all the kingdom for help to get her talking. Nothing works, until a tiger finds his way to the palace. This is very much a fairy tale and though Nathan’s own experience finding his words has been different, I know he sees magic in a character on the same quest as he is.

  • Maxi the Little Taxi

    by Elizabeth Upton, illustrated by Henry Cole

    With books, my youngest,
    his patience wore thin.
    Until, Maxi, you drove in!
    Thank you, for answering my prayer
    to finally keep his butt in the chair.

    Kids are all different, and while Clark, our 7-year-old, would happily sit in our laps for books, sometimes two or three in a sitting, Nate was squirmy from day one. If we wanted to read to him, we had to follow him from room to room, hoping he’d pause to look at a picture. Maxi the Little Taxi was a library find of his (even if he wouldn’t sit to read the books, he loved pulling them off the shelves) and the day we brought it home, we read it no less than three times in a row. Since those first trips with Maxi, Nate has found more and more books worth his full attention, but Maxi the Little Taxi is one we always roll back to.

  • The Hueys in The New Sweater

    by Oliver Jeffers

    It didn’t take long to fall in love with each Huey, 1 through plenty,
    Your silly words we read, in times upwards of twenty.
    Then one day you made my son’s sweet heart stop
    When we had to return you in the library book drop.

    You never forget the first book you dreaded returning to the library. Or, maybe you do. But you definitely remember the book your child watched you put in the book drop and then sat on a nearby bench to cry and mourn its due date. This was that book for Clark, one we read every day we had it at home, and one of the first books where I felt I truly mastered different vocal stylings for the characters. (And, I’ll admit, when you yield your child’s giggles, you thank whatever inspired your material.)

  • Go, Dog. Go!

    by P.D. Eastman

    Dogs at parties and in hats, dogs going around in cars…
    Our son never got tired of your tails (or tale) after a hundred times.
    We thought, if you disappeared, we’d thank our lucky stars,
    Even if he’d miss your silliness and rhymes.
    But then when we needed you, you were there for the boy we call ours.
    And for that, you’ll have our love for a lifetime.

    Parenting is sacrifice. And, while there’s nothing at all wrong with Go, Dog. Go!, the exact qualities that grab a little one (nonsense, repetition, dogs going around in cars) and make them want to read a book dozens of times in a row are the same ones that can start to make a parent’s brain feel more fried than ever before. But Go, Dog. Go! was reliable and when Clark had to have a small operation at a children’s hospital when he was seven months old, it was the book we brought with, along with his Kermit stuffie, and I won’t forget how glad I was to have it with us.

  • Harriet the Spy

    by Louise Fitzhugh

    Girls are gross, my son said, and I rankled.
    I’d taught him better than that!
    So my heart goes to the young spy, Harriet, a true hero...
    With her, my son’s silly notions did I combat.

    After years of easily befriending both boys and girls, Clark, somewhere around first grade, started to fall into that line of thinking wherein the motto “No girls allowed” takes hold. I wasn’t having it and so I introduced Harriet the Spy as our nightly chapter book. Clark was instantly intrigued by this heroine and her agency documenting the doings of her New York neighborhood. I was instantly grateful for the chance to show him that a girl could be more than a friend: She could be a role model (even if a slightly mischievous one) too.

  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

    by Judy Blume

    Oh, for Judy Blume my love runs deep.
    I bought you one day on a whim…
    I thought in a pile my son you would keep.
    When he devoured you in a night,
    Oh my grin.

    There are moments as a parent that you hope for, even if you know better than to count on them. I had many a favorite author as a kid, but Judy Blume was and remains the grand dame of kids’ lit for me. I picked up this book (the start of the Fudge stories) on a whim and brought it home to surprise Clark, thinking it would go in his to-read pile and — if I could hope for anything — that one day he might leaf through and enjoy it. Imagine my delight when several hours after giving him the book, I found him sprawled over his covers, laughing aloud, nearly finished with the whole thing.

  • The Phantom Tollbooth

    by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer

    For so long the story of Milo and his magical trip was one that I held fond,
    That even as my son was still in my belly, I planned to read this and to bond.
    Now he’s a bigger boy with a little brother; the years they’ve sped!
    This book will always and forever remind me of reading that baby to bed.

    I hadn’t read this since I was a child, but I bought a copy of it when pregnant, entirely with the idea that I’d read it with my kids someday. I’d planned to wait until Clark was older and I was sure he’d understand, but — because both my spouse and I worked — we adopted a fairly involved bedtime ritual that included many books. Eventually, I decided to add a chapter of this after the picture books we read. I still remember those tired nights falling asleep with Clark on my chest and my finger holding our place in the book. We’ll have to read it again now that he and Nate are old enough to get it, but I’ll still think of those baby days every time I pick it up.

  • The Cricket in Times Square

    by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams

    Oh, Chester the cricket’s adventures in the city!
    How did I have no idea they existed?
    I got to discover this one with my older son
    And now am learning my younger likewise can’t resist it!

    One of the best parts of loving someone is sharing a new experience with them and though it’s a classic, The Cricket in Times Square was a book I’d never even heard of until I picked it up one day for my bug-loving child. Who knew I’d find it as magical as he did? The book was one of Clark’s early favorites and now Nate and I are reading it together. Besides the story itself, the cricket’s adventure opened up room for us to talk about all the places we want to see. I thank it for the opportunity.

  • Middlemarch

    by George Eliot

    I lost my mind a little, when my babies numbered two…
    What I did in those scattered times, is something I’d recommend to you.
    I picked up this gorgeous classic, a long one but worthwhile for sure,
    To George Eliot I owe my sanity, I hold this book dear as my baby brain cure.

    After Nathan came home and my husband returned to work after his paternity leave, I was often home with a new baby and a 4-year-old. My anxiety spiked. Unlike with my older son, by the time Nate arrived, I was self-employed and working on a deadlining book project. Even though my husband was endlessly supportive, the only person who could figure out how to balance the roles was me.

    It may seem counterintuitive to pick up a huge book just when I felt stretched thin. But reading has always calmed me, and I decided mommy brain be damned! Middlemarch was what I would read. And I loved every word. Sometimes, I even read passages aloud to a near-sleeping 2-month-old Nate, because treating his tiny self to beautiful words seemed to be soothing to both of us. As a woman trying to keep her head above water, navigating new terrain, I took inspiration too from the fact that Mary Ann Evans (the woman behind the pen name George Eliot) did so much through her work, in a time when she couldn’t even put her own name on a masterful achievement. So, to this book that helped me feel back to myself, I will always hold you dear.