As a school librarian, I was challenged with providing picture book read alouds for the class parties at my school. Each year I struggled with finding acceptable choices. There are many books about Valentine’s Day, but none of them really stood out to me. Many picture books discuss crushes, which can be an awkward and sometimes an inappropriate subject with elementary school children.
After much deliberation, I’ve put together a list of my favorite Valentine’s Day books to read one on one or out loud to a group of children. These are the books that are always a hit with my students and my own children. Some of the below books are not specifically Valentine’s Day themed, but still fit with the major characteristics of the holiday.
Love, Z by Jessie Sima, 2018
(Ages 3 – 8)
Love, Z is the tender story of a robot searching for the definition of love. On his quest, he meets several new friends who share what love means to them. The sweet explanations are perfect for driving home the idea of love for children.
The illustrations could not be more charming. There is an adorable cat dressed as a captain that makes me smile with every read. This is one of those feel good books that you will want to share again and again!
I just adore Jessie Sima’s clever, creative books! If you haven’t read Not Quite Narwhal (2017) or Harriet Gets Carried Away (2018), I highly recommend you visit your library immediately and don’t forget to grab Love, Z while you are there!
Love Is by Diane Adams; illustrated by Claire Keane; published by Chronicle Books, 2017
(Ages 3 – 8)
I just adore this sweet story about love and letting go. The story centers on a little girl who finds a lost duckling and cares for it. The charming illustrations and poetic text showcase the time they spend together through midnight feedings, early mornings, and messy baths. When the cold arrives, the girl realizes it is time to set the duck free. “Love is nudging gently tugging, coaxing baby from the nest. It’s getting to the edge and hoping, letting nature do the rest.” In the spring, the girl nervously returns to the pond and finds her duck grown. They reunite in a tender hug providing the perfect end to this lovely story.
Reminiscent of a parent raising a child, many adults and children will enjoy this sweet journey through love. The illustrations perfectly capture the girl’s emotions and the lyrical text makes for a wonderful read aloud. Moreover, the girl shows compassion, maturity, and resilience making her an excellent role model for children. This endearing story is a real winner on many different levels.
Hedgehugs by Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper, 2015
(Ages 3 – 7)
Even though this is not specifically Valentine’s Day themed, I love this book for this time of year. Horace and Hattie are hedgehogs that are the very best of friends, which makes it even more painful that they cannot hug due to their spiky quills. The story follows their friendship through the seasons as each new plan to hug is thwarted. In the winter they roll in snow, but their hug is too cold and in summer they use strawberries, but they prove to be too sticky.
One day Horace stumbles across a sock hanging on a clothesline. He investigates and wriggles into the sock until his head pops out of the heal. Hattie finds her own floral sock and they discover that they can finally embrace without any pain. I love the ending stating, “So the next time you see someone wearing mismatched socks, or if one of your socks goes missing, you know what it means. A hedgehug has happened!” My son and I still joke every time we can’t find a missing sock that there is a hedgehog running around hugging his friend.
Bird Hugs by Ged Adamson, 2020
(Ages 4 and up)
Bird Hugs is the uplifting story about a bird who soars to new heights when he finds self-acceptance.
Bernard is born with unusually long wings that prevent him from flying. While initially disappointed that he can’t join the other birds in the sky, this empathetic protagonist finds another use for his oversized limbs. When he overhears an orangutan crying, he wraps his wings around him in a comforting embrace. Soon all of the animals want to share their sorrows with Bernard and receive an uplifting hug. Through helping others, Bernard finds happiness and friendship.
With messages of compassion, accepting differences, and embracing your gifts paired with lovely artwork, this book is a real winner!
Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich, 2019
(Ages 3 – 8)
Have you ever seen a cuter cactus?? While he may be adorable on the outside, Hank is a cactus whose prickly disposition keeps the creatures of the dessert at bay. When a cowboy comments that no one wants to hug a cactus, he realizes that he is lonely and could really use a hug. When a tumbleweed rolls by, he seizes his chance to make amends and a new friend in the process.
This cactus may be small, but he is full of personality that is expertly captured through the expressive illustrations. I also love how the pictures beautifully portray the dessert landscape through various phases of the day.
This book is perfect for my sweet, but often grumpy three-year-old. I love the message that even at our grumpiest we can still change for the better!
Love by Stacy McAnulty ; illustrated by Joanne-Law-Vriethoff, 2018
(Ages 3 – 8)
Using simple text and charming illustrations that feature a diverse group of children, readers will experience examples of love in everyday moments. This sweet and tender book is perfect for Valentine’s Day and all through the year.
The Secret Life of Squirrels: a love story by Nancy Rose, 2016
(Ages 3 – 6)
Nancy Rose created the first book in this series, The Secret Life of Squirrels (2014), by photographing the squirrels in her backyard. She continued to add miniature sets to capture more photographs and create the story of Mr. Peanuts in search of a friend for Valentine’s Day.
It is almost impossible not to smile at the adorable squirrels. This is one of my favorite go-to’s to read to a class. It is always a hit with the kids!
Hug Machine by Scott Campbell, 2014
(Ages 4 and up)
This book may only be a few years old, but it is considered a classic by many. The simple story follows a young boy who shares hugs with anyone who needs them. Adorable details are paired nicely with a message of compassion and friendship in this sweet tale that is perfect for Valentine’s Day and all year long!
The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond, 1983
(Ages 3 – 5)
This is an oldie, but one that many teachers in my school still love to use. One day, it magically rains hearts and a little girl collects them to make unique Valentines for her animal friends. It never rained hearts again, but the clever and creative protagonist discovers hearts all around her for future Valentines.
Love Monster and the Last Chocolate by Rachel Bright, 2015
(Ages 3 – 6)
Love Monster returns from a vacation to find a box of chocolates on his doorstep. He excitedly plans to eat the entire box, when he is struck by the idea of sharing with his friends. He proceeds to have an inner struggle debating whether or not to share the delicious treats (reminiscent of Mo Willem’s Should I Share My Ice Cream). In the end, he decides to share… he is a love monster after all. In a surprising twist, he discovers that his friends are the ones who had shared the last candy with him.
This is a great story to read anytime, but with a box of chocolates being a popular Valentine’s gift, it provides a nice lesson during this holiday. As most children have difficulty sharing, this is an easy story to relate to. I think it is valuable for children to see Love Monster’s internal struggle and that he eventually makes the right choice to share. The ending leaves the reader with a perfect lasting thought, “You see, sometimes it’s when you stop to think of others…that you start to find out just how much they think of you.” A valuable lesson for all.
Love, Ruby Valentine by Laurie Friedman; illustrated by Lynne Avril Cravath, 2006
(Ages 4 – 8)
This story follows Ruby and her pet cockatoo, Lovebird, as they begin their countdown to their favorite day of the year, Valentine’s Day. Ruby tirelessly decorates Valentine cards, bakes treats and wraps gifts for everyone in town. She works so hard, in fact, that the exhausted girl sleeps through Valentine’s Day. When she awakes, she is disappointed that she won’t be able to share her love with the town. With Lovebird’s encouragement, she decides to deliver her Valentines anyway.
Despite Ruby’s initial trepidation of sharing her Valentines a day late, the townspeople are thrilled with Ruby’s kindness. “And that’s when Ruby realized that saying ‘I love you!’ doesn’t have to wait ’till Valentine’s – any day will do.” Ruby is such a likable, enthusiastic, and thoughtful character one can’t help but root for her. I loved the message of telling the people you love how much you care about them any time of year. This is an appealing story that is a perfect read aloud for Valentine’s Day.
The Love Letter by Anika Aldamuy Denise; illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, 2019
(Ages 5 and up)
When three anthropomorphic animal friends each find a love letter, they mistakenly believe it is intended for them. The letter makes Hedgehog feel cheerful, Bunny helpful, and Squirrel carefree. They are all crushed when they discover the letter was not actually for any of them, but realize that they are in fact loved by their friends.
After seeing how joyful the letter made each animal feel, I decided I’m going to write a small love note to each of my children from February 1st – 14th. I plan on writing one thing I love about them on a heart-shaped paper and giving it to them each morning.
Superlove by Charise Mericle Harper; illustrated by Mark Chambero , 2014
(Ages 5 – 8)
This is not specifically a Valentine’s Day book, but I’m listing it here because it is a fun celebration of weddings and love. This book is perfect for those children out there who love weddings and dream of being a flower girl. The main character declares herself Superlove and is determined to hold a wedding marrying her pet cat, Pinky, with one of her stuffed animals. The imaginative little girl creates the perfect wedding scene only to be ruined by her uncooperative cat. Her parents save the day by participating in the wedding instead. The cat’s expressions are humorous and the story promoting imaginative play is cute.
A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger; illustrated by Dan Santat, 2014
(Ages 5 – 8)
The little boy from Crankenstein (2013) is back and is as cranky as ever. Despite his mother and classmates’ attempts to engage him in Valentine’s Day activities, he continues his refrain of “Yechhh!” at each offering. Not even his heart undies can turn his day around.
The illustrations are hilarious as Caldecott winning illustrator, Dan Santat, perfectly captures Crankenstein’s anguish as he is surrounded by pink hearts all day. As in the first book, his one saving grace is finding a best friend who understands exactly how he feels. It is difficult to find a fun Valentine’s Day read aloud for upper elementary age children, but this is one that will engage even the biggest Valentine’s Day naysayer.
Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Scott Campbell, 2011
(Ages 6 and up)
This is my seven-year-old son’s current favorite Valentine’s Day book. Filled with amusing word-play, the story of Mortimer the zombie searching for love is perfect for those kids who prefer spooky to mushy. Balancing gore, humor, and a sweet ending, this is a fun and unique love story that has tons of kid appeal.