Book Beat Picks for Valentine’s Day Gifts

picture books to read aloud on Valentine’s Day—

This is NOT a Valentine by Carter Higgins

This book is not a valentine. It doesn’t have lacey edges or sugary hearts. But it is full of lucky rocks, secret hiding spots, and gumball machine treasures. This is a book about waiting in line and wishing for cinnamon buns. About recognizing that if you care so much about someone not thinking you care, maybe you really do. But wait—isn’t that exactly what love is about? Maybe this book is sort of a valentine after all. A testament to handmade, wacky, bashful, honest love—sure to win over the hearts of all readers—this offering from debut picture book author Carter Higgins and children’s book veteran Lucy Ruth Cummins is the perfect gift to celebrate every relationship, from parent to child, sibling to sibling, partner to partner, crush to crush.


Valensteins by Ethan Long

Something strange is in the air on this dark, cold night.

The members of Fright Club are always ready to scare, but tonight Fran K. Stein has something else on his mind. He’s busy making something, and the other monsters want to know what it is.

Could it be a mask with fangs? A big pink nose? Or maybe a paper butt? No . . . it’s a Valentine!

That means one thing . . . EEEEK!! Is Fran in love? What could be scarier than falling in love?!?

In this hilariously spooky story by Geisel Award-winning author and illustrator Ethan Long, even the scariest of monsters have true feelings.


for middle-grade readers—

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing is Helen Frost’s beautiful novel-in-verse about summertime and coming of age. From the poem “I Am Not”:

You’re a snoop and a spy, Abi yells. I’ve never seen

her so mad. It was a coincidence, I keep insisting.

Do you think I care enough to try to find out

where you and your stupid boyfriend are kissing?


Love, Ish by Karen Rivers

A rich and moving story about how one girl’s celestial-sized dreams for a future on Mars go heartbreakingly awry when an unexpected diagnosis threatens her future. Read an excerpt:

As a planet, the Earth is mostly OK, I guess. It’s just not for me. You don’t have to try to change my mind. It won’t work! I know that there is plenty here that’s terrific. But none of it is enough. Like, it’s hard to argue against blue skies and puffy white clouds, fresh-cut lawns and cold, clear lakes, but these things are already on their way out. Thanks to global warming, the lawns are all dead and the lakes are drying up and the sky is polluted. We’ve wrecked it. Global warming is a real thing. You can pretend it’s not, but that’s just dumb. It’s science.

There are still things that will make me ache inside from missing so much: ice cream and lying on the living room floor watching TV and my parrot, Buzz Aldrin. I know that I’ll lie in my dome, hearing nothing but the howling Mars wind, and I’ll miss the silvery-shivery sound the wind makes in the trees when I’m lying on my bed watching the shadows of those leaves moving around on my wall.


two new anthologies for poetry lovers—

How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times with a foreword by Elizabeth Alexander

In times of personal hardship or collective anxiety, words have the power to provide comfort, meaning, and hope. The past year has seen a resurgence of poetry and inspiring quotes—posted on social media, appearing on bestseller lists, shared from friend to friend. Honoring this communal spirit, How Lovely the Ruins is a timeless collection of both classic and contemporary poetry and short prose that can be of help in difficult times—selections that offer wisdom and purpose, and that allow us to step out of our current moment to gain a new perspective on the world around us as well as the world within.

The anthology features canonical favorites like Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson alongside emerging contemporaries like Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong, and Ada Limón. Here’s an excerpt from local poet Jamaal May’s “There Are Birds Here,” from which the anthology pulls its title:

For Detroit

There are birds here,

so many birds here

is what I was trying to say

when they said those birds were metaphors

for what is trapped

between buildings. No.

Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman

One hundred of the most evocative modern poems on joy, selected by an award-winning contemporary poet Christian Wiman, a poet known for his meditations on mortality, has long been fascinated by joy and by its relative absence in modern literature. Why is joy so resistant to language? How has it become so suspect in our times? Manipulated by advertisers, religious leaders, and politicians, joy can seem disquieting, even offensive. How does one speak of joy amid such ubiquitous injustice and suffering in the world?

From Lucille Clifton’s “Hag Riding”:

but when i wake to the heat of morning

galloping down the highway of my life

something hopeful rises in me

rises and runs me out into the road

and i lob my fierce thigh high

over the rump of the day and honey

i ride    i ride


love, philosophically, or unconventionally—

What Love Is and What It Could Be by Carrie Jenkins

In What Love Is, philosopher Carrie Jenkins offers a bold new theory on the nature of romantic love that reconciles its humanistic and scientific components. Love can be a social construct (the idea of a perfect fairy tale romance) and a physical manifestation (those anxiety- inducing heart palpitations); we must recognize its complexities and decide for ourselves how to love. From the introduction:

When we wonder what love is, that’s part of the philosophical enterprise. More specifically, it’s part of metaphysics: the ongoing project of trying to figure out what is real, what the world is like, and what is possible. There is more philosophy going on in people’s everyday lives than you might think. Is love real? What is it like? What is possible in the realm of love? These are deep—and old—metaphysical questions. And for a few years now, I’ve been captivated by them. I never planned to work on love; I started my career thinking about the philosophy of mathematics. But love snuck up on me and wouldn’t let me drop it. The mind wants what it wants.

Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations that Only They Have Words For by Rebecca Schuman

Schadenfreude is the story of a teenage Jewish intellectual who falls in love – in love with a boy (who breaks her heart), a language (that’s nearly impossible to master), a culture (that’s nihilistic, but punctual), and a landscape (that’s breathtaking when there’s not a wall in the way). Rebecca is an everyday, misunderstood 90’s teenager with a passion for Pearl Jam and Ethan Hawke circa Reality Bites, until two men walk into her high school Civics class: Dylan Gellner, with deep brown eyes and an even deeper soul, and Franz Kafka, hitching a ride in Dylan’s backpack. These two men are the axe to the frozen sea that is Rebecca’s spirit, and what flows forth is a passion for all things German. First love might be fleeting, but Kafka is forever, and in pursuit of this elusive passion Rebecca will spend two decades stuttering and stumbling through German sentences, trying to win over a people who can’t be bothered.



& unromantic gifts for the morbid—

The Deaths of Henry King by Jesse Ball, Brian Evenson, & Lilli Carre

In The Deaths of Henry King, the hapless Henry King, as advertised, dies. Not just once or even twice, but seven dozen times, each death making way for a new demise, moving from the comic to the grim to the absurd to the transcendent and back again. With text by Jesse Ball and Brian Evenson complimented by Lilli Carré’s macabre, gravestone-rubbing-style art, Henry King’s ends are brought to a vividly absurd life.

Henry King’s 18th death is described as follows:

Henry King ate six and a half pounds of glass before bleeding to death. “I believe that’s a record,” said his friend.


Women Who Kill by Sarah Tanat-Jones

There is nothing more shocking or fascinating than the story of a homicidal woman. We are told that violence is a man’s domain – that a woman is pre-programmed to nurture and protect. Women who break this taboo are hated and reviled; demonised in the press and imprinted upon our collective psyches. This book profiles 19 female murderers throughout history – from powerful female warriors such as Boudicca and Agrippina to the revenge killings of Ruth Ellis and Phoolan Devi to the outright psychotic butcherings of Mona Fandey and Juana Barraza. Beautiful and evocative illustrations by Sarah Tanat-Jones make their stories even more compelling.

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