Anyone who follows children’s books knows there’s been a ghastly outpouring of the I Love You So Much picture books–ghastly, because mostly they are pretty bad. And dumb. I’ve been working on an article for Horn Book (Sept issue) and the section on these books got pulled out to keep the article more focused, which means yay! A pre-written blog post! I could go on and on with lots more examples, but I’m lazy so here’s what I wrote:
One of the biggest booms in picture book publishing over the past few years has been in the I Love You So Much market, which now includes books for grandparents to express their feelings too, as in Billy Crystal’s heartfelt but amateurishly written I Already Know I Love You: “I’m waiting to show you the stars, / storm clouds, and the moon. / I want to make silly faces / and laugh just like a goon.” Though children may enjoy sitting one on one with a grandfather to read this book, the focus is all on the adult, not on the child and they are very unlikely to want to read it otherwise.
There are dozens of mediocre, adult-centered books—and a good rule of thumb is if the title includes the word “I” or “You” it is probably not about a child’s feelings—but fortunately there are a few that withstand scrutiny. Kady MacDonald Denton’s Would They Love a Lion? shows a little girl playing at being a variety of animals, but always wanting to be sure that her family will still love her. The beautiful book-making, with thick, textured pages and the warm mixed-media illustrations center around the child’s experience, not the adult’s, and conveys a tremendous feeling of love at the same time.
Patrick McDonnell’s Hug Time shows a little kitten overflowing with so much love that he wants to hug the world, and sets about it one hug at a time. The book’s small size contrasts nicely with the big imagination and feelings, and it all concludes with the advice “Start with the one who’s closest to you. Hug time!” Again, the focus is on the child, not an adult, but it still would help adults to express that loving feeling to the child.
The book that probably kicked off the I Love You So Much boom by its popularity is also a very good book in its own right. Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You is the solid story of Little Nutbrown Hare trying to postpone bedtime by challenging his father, Big Nutbrown Hare over which of them loves the other more. The emotional heart of the story isn’t a generic expression of love but the back and forth competition between father and son. The illustrations are both beautiful and funny, and it’s a satisfying story.
So my advice to you is if you are lucky enough to still have your father with you, and I sure miss mine, you don’t need a smoochy-woochy book to tell him so. Just tell him yourself. And maybe give him a hug.