As Valentine's Day draws near, and even little ones begin sending Valentine cards to their friends, why not teach (or remind) your child of the true meaning behind the holiday? Nancy J. Skarmeas' The Story of Valentine's Day is an effective way to do this.
This short book begins by explaining that Valentine's Day is a holiday where cards, candy, and gifts are given to people we like. The illustrations by Stacy Venturi-Pickett show adults exchanging gifts and children decorating with hearts in a classroom setting. Then the author explains, in the simplest terms possible, why February 14th is a holiday.
"Long ago, in the city of Rome, there lived a man named Valentine. He was kinds and all the children loved him."The illustrations show an older man holding a Bible. (No mention is made that he might be a priest or monk.) We learn that the King of Rome made a law preventing young men from getting married so they could all join his army and be better soldiers. Valentine, the author says, "tried to help the young men and women." The accompanying illustration seems to show a wedding ceremony. The King didn't like this, so he threw Valentine in jail. The children were saddened, so they made cards and wrote letters to Valentine, hoping to comfort him. One day, a blind little girl brought food to Valentine in prison. He thanked her and prayed with her, and miraculously, the girl could suddenly see. Valentine later sent her a letter and signed it "from your Valentine." Today, the author concludes, we remember these events by sending cards called Valentines. Valentine's Day is a time to show our love for our friends and family and to "remember that all god's children should love one another."
What I Like: Valentine's Day is one of those old holidays that's built upon many traditions - some pagan, some Christian, and some secular. It's impossible for us to know exactly who the original St. Valentine was (the Catholic church acknowledges at least three saints of this name), and how much of the story is legend and how much is fact. Nonetheless, this board book does a great job of giving the basic, beginning elements of how February 14th received a special name. It's also a terrific way to help steer the day into a chance to share Christian love. My two year old simply loves this book, and asks to read it again and again.
What I Dislike: I've never read the story of the blind girl in any reliable history or lore books or websites; nor have I read that children wrote Valentine letters while he was in jail. That doesn't necessarily mean these things aren't a legitimate piece of lore, but I do question whether this is a part of the Valentine's Day history that should be offered in a book that hopes to pare down the day's many mysteries into one simple board book. As your child develops an understanding of reality vs. fable, you might use the reading of this book to point out which parts might be myth.
Also, the illustrations in this book, while not bad, aren't all that exciting. Oddly, the way the illustrator renders each person's face makes them all look nearly the same.
Overall Rating: (On the lower end of) Very Good.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 3 - 5, but my two year old enjoys it, and I think slightly older kids will, too.
Publishing Info: Candy Cane Press, 2002; ISBN: 0824941845; board book, $6.95.
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