In all of the excitement about chocolate and flowers, it wouldn’t hurt for us to stop for a moment for a lesson from the bunnies in The Valentine Express by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.Minna begins the day at school learning some of the tales of the possible origin of Valentine’s Day (including the story of a man named Valentine, who was kind to children and would send notes signed “from your Valentine”). When lessons are over, the school day includes the typical classroom Valentine’s Day party.
As Minna and her younger brother Pip walk home after school, they run into one of their neighbors. Minna realizes that the grown-ups in their neighborhood might not have received any valentines. So she and Pip decide to make valentines for them.
Minna gets out her art box, filled with colored paper, glue stick, markers, scissors, string, and other crafty things. They work hard to create valentines that will be meaningful for each of the neighbors—for example, a homemade puzzle for the neighbor who they saw walking home holding a package from “The Puzzle Works Shop.”
Once they have a valentine ready for each of their neighbors, they load up Pip’s wagon and become “the Valentine Express.” They deliver valentines, kindness, and joy throughout the neighborhood.
There is so much I love about this book. There is, of course, the overall idea of Minna and Pip deciding to do something thoughtful for others to make them happy. It is such a sweet, simple way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Ms. Wallace has done a wonderful job sharing this ideal without letting the lesson get in the way of the story.
Kindness shows up in The Valentine Express in smaller ways as well. The interactions between Minna and her brother Pip are beautiful, as Minna is always encouraging to her younger brother. For example, after Pip tries (somewhat unsuccessfully) to cut out some construction paper hearts, they have the following exchange:
Pip held something in his hands behind his back. “These are not good hearts, Minna.”
“Can I see?” Minna asked.
Pip put some of his hearts on the table and stuffed the rest into his pocket. “They are my practice hearts.”
Minna thought for a minute. “That’s OK, Pip. You were busy helping me.”
Another charming part of The Valentine Express is that Minna and Pip decide to make the valentines out of basic art supplies. In a time when it has become far too easy to stop by the store for the box of printed valentines, Ms. Wallace has reminded us all how nice homemade valentines can be (she has included a page full of them earlier in the book as well).
Finally, Ms. Wallace has shown exactly what can be done with those art supplies. Using cut paper, scissors, and a glue stick, she made three-dimensional artwork to illustrate The Valentine Express. The effect is inspiring.
Ms. Wallace has a great website at www.nancyelizabethwallace.com. It lists all of her books (there are many!) and provides some cut-paper activities for readers to try at home. You can even make some puppets for a puppet show!
Have you read any great books lately?