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by Kat Yeh

I have just finished my second year of PiBoIdMo and I can’t stop thinking about how much I love what I do. I love the blank page that is suddenly no longer blank. I love that for a living, I get to be a picture book author. Because when you write picture books, you get to Make Things Up. You get to take something that never existed in real life and make it real. And if you’re lucky, one day it becomes a book you can hold in your hands.

In 2003, I took a class at Columbia’s Teachers College. Let me clarify. I took an amazing class entirely devoted to the Art of the Picture Book. Taught by Professor Barbara Kiefer, former chair of the Caldecott Committee. The previous years between 1999 and 2003 had been a blur. In a short span of time, my first child was getting ready to go to school, I had a second child, and my father passed away. I had always wanted to write children’s books and had a pretty big stack of manuscripts and scribbled ideas piled up in my office. In the midst of everything that was going on, I somehow decided that it was time to take a chance.

The class was wonderful. We held a Mock Caldecott Award and pitched our personal nominees. We experimented with making hand-bound books. We were given lists of museums and galleries to visit for inspiration. And one day, the list included an exhibition of Chinese Calligraphy.

I went early one morning. I remember how still the rooms were. I remember standing alone before a wall of parchment paper and stunning brushwork and being overwhelmed with memories of my father. How he loved spending time with my daughter. How he shouted with joy when he heard I was pregnant with my son. How along with his many artistic pursuits, he loved working with his brush and ink. That day, I began to write the story of how my father introduced my children to the art of Chinese Calligraphy.

Flash forward 5 years. The kids were a little older. There was a little more breathing room. I now had a somewhat daunting stack of manuscripts and scribbled ideas and I decided it was time to take another chance and actually try to get published.

My first picture book, YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House, December, 2009) came out shortly after that. Through the SCBWI, I was introduced to the amazing New Jersey chapter, run by Kathy Temean. One of my first events was a Mentor Workshop with the opportunity to have a manuscript critique. I brushed off my Chinese calligraphy story. Looked at it with fresh eyes and made changes. Then took a deep breath and brought it to my meeting with editor Stacy Cantor from Walker Books.

It was a good meeting.

Stacy teamed me up with illustrator Huy Voun Lee and two years later, THE MAGIC BRUSH: A story of love, family, and Chinese characters (Walker Books, January, 2011) was on the shelves.

I will never forget the first time I sat with my children to read it. How my daughter looked at the pages showing the first Chinese characters my father ever taught her. How my son reached out to touch the opening spread—a beautiful illustration of him and his sister, laughing with my father in a garden. How they listened to the story of that special time they were lucky enough to share with my father.

Time that only ever existed in that book.

Because only few weeks after I had told my father that I was expecting another child, he had a stroke. He lay in a coma when my son was born and never opened his eyes again. He never got the chance to meet my son or teach my daughter calligraphy or laugh with the three of them together in the garden.

But when you write picture books, you get to Make Thing Up. You get to take something that never existed in real life and make it real. If you’re lucky, one day it becomes a book you can hold in your hands. And that is real enough for me.

Kat Yeh lives on Long Island, NY where she can see water everyday and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. She is the author of YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME, Random House Books for Young Readers (2009) and THE MAGIC BRUSH: A STORY OF LOVE, FAMILY, AND CHINESE CHARACTERS, Walker Books for Young Readers (2011). One of these days, her website will be up.

Parents of the previous generation who wanted to bestow all their mushy, gushy love on their kids–in book form–had Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever and Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You for bedtime reading. Cuddled under the covers, snug and cozy while turning pages, is there any better way to share a deep parent-child bond?

But it’s time for those books to move over and make way for new Valentine’s classics!

I can’t think of a better gift for the holiday than a book. Candy rots their teeth, plus you end up eating most if it yourself, don’t you? (Well, I do.) And where will you store yet another Build-A-Bear that gets forgotten by March?

Valentine’s Day belongs to books. And these three are perfect picks to declare all your mushy, gushy love. And grandparents, take note. These books are just right for you and your grandkids, too.

I Love You More Than Rainbows
by Susan Crites
Illustrated by Mark & Rosemary Jarman
Published by Thomas Nelson

With whimsical illustrations as bright as rainbows, Susan Crites’s book uses analogies children can easily understand to explain the concept of love. Kids are crazy about ice cream cones with sprinkles on top, puppies, birthday parties, sleigh riding and hot cocoa. But as great as those childhood favorites are, parental love still trumps them all.

Try inserting your child’s favorites while you read this book. With my kids, “I love you more than albino rock pythons, Sun Chips and Daphne from Scooby-Doo” might work well. Don’t ask about the snake, but I could use help finding something to rhyme with Scooby-Doo. Yabba-Dabba Doo? Anyone have a Hanna-Barbera rhyming dictionary?

But I digress…

With a jaunty rhyme that never gets too sing-songy, this book is a joy to read aloud, and the bold colors will delight a young audience.

Published by Thomas Nelson, I Love You More Than Rainbows won a Mom’s Choice Award and is available in hardcover and in board book form—at a great price, too. There’s even a Kindle version.

Me with You
by Kristy Dempsey
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
Published by Philomel Books

When Kristy Dempsey wrote this story, she couldn’t imagine that her editor and illustrator Christopher Denise would interpret her characters as granddaughter and grandfather. But after reading this book, you’ll agree, there’s no more perfect a pair.

Me with You celebrates the joys of being yourself around someone you love, the comfort a great relationship brings. Grandpa is always there to support his favorite young cub, even when she’s feeling selfish and gruff. The two allow each other to express themselves, always knowing their love will not waver.

Me With You also highlights the importance of spending time apart from those you love, “to be the kind of you that you can be when you’re alone.” This book is a good choice for children who are apprehensive about separation from a loved one.

This rhyming book offers a smooth, gentle beat, and the light, airy illustrations breathe of spring. Denise has mastered body language and facial expressions to demonstrate the deep bond shared by this “pair beyond compare.” A favorite page features Grandpa in a Babe Ruth pose, pointing to the outfield as his granddaughter cheers him on. (I have to mention the blades of grass, which you may think are insignificant, but I’ve never seen such luscious fields, I want to take off my shoes and run across this book.)

You don’t have to be a grandparent to fall in love with it this Valentine’s Day.

You’re Lovable to Me
by Kat Yeh
Illustrated by Sue Anderson
Published by Random House

The theme of You’re Lovable to Me is unconditional love: parents love their children no matter what they do.

Mama Bunny is having a rough day keeping track of her Bunny Babies and all their hare-y mischief. But no matter what they do, Mama Bunny reminds them that through their joy and sadness, their frolic and frustration, “You are my bunnies. And you’re lovable to me.”

Once her bunny babies are tucked in, Mama bunny crashes on the couch. Oh, how we parents can relate! Mama Bunny’s father arrives and upon seeing his exhausted daughter, he reminds her, “You’re lovable to me.”

If this review had a soundtrack, it would be Elton John’s “Circle of Life!” This book reminds our children that we were once children, too–and that everyone needs to be reminded that they are loved.

Sue Anderson illustrates in a simple, pastel style that takes advantage of white space, complementing the sweet story with a gentle, relaxed mood. The nostalgic feel of this book makes it my top pick for being a New Valentine’s Classic!

What are your New Valentine’s Classics?

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