Falling for the First Time
I think I've established that I'm a bibliophile, a dreamer, and a writer. I'm also a romantic at heart. I'm not sure I'd qualify that as a 'hopeless romantic' like Nicola Yoon does in her bio, but a romantic nonetheless, in every sense of the word. (Yes, I made my med school friends visit the Lake District with me on a trip to England, even though I had already been there. Because the Romantic Poets were some of my favorites when I was growing up. Thanks for accompanying me, Serena and Cecile!)
So instead of giving you a list of Valentine's Day themed children's books for the holiday, I decided I would ask my community of friends and family a similar question(s):
What book reminded you what it was like to fall in love for the first time? Or a book you fell in love with?
I got a wide range of answers, for varying reasons.
Diem: My favorite book about love is PD Eastman's Are You My Mother? This book has a special place in my childhood since it was the first book I remember owning. It was read endlessly by my brother and I, and now this old book has been passed down for my my children to enjoy. A wide-eyed, delightful baby bird looking for his mother encounters many strange and friendly animals and a big machine on this journey. The simple and beautiful illustrations enhance the story further. The art work allows this book to seamlessly turn into a picture walk where words do not need to be read in order to understand this loving story. The ending is happy and sweet as both baby bird and mother are reunited with the help of a mysterious big and loud machine.
P. Marin (children's book writer/Illustrator): What I remember most about kindergarten - besides Puff the Magic Dragon being played on a guitar - was my teacher, Mrs. Thompson, reading to us from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. It was that day lying on a checkerboard rug that I felt my heart grow bigger. It had no choice. To hold all that joy and love, it had to grow.
Marigold Haske: The Dot and The Line by Norton Juster. This book is funny and sweet and hit home to someone who fell for a squiggle or two in her youth! (Marigold also included a link to the animation that was made inspired by this book.)
Middle Grade/Chapter Books
Mrs. M: The very first book I fell in love with was Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I read and re-read that book at least 50 times during my third grade year. I loved the portrayal of Ramona's family--they weren't perfect, but they were a loving family whose problems were both entertaining and believable. Also, any book that includes names like "Yard Ape" is tops with me. It was the book that made me fall in love with reading and, ultimately, led me to job as a librarian.
Adult Books and YA
Melissa Tioleco-Cheng: Just Kids by Patti Smith. I love it because it speaks about the kind of love that evolves in order to last a lifetime. (Mapplethorpe dies a gay man.) And it is so beautifully written—brave and generous.
D.S: Love Story by Erich Segal. This book was the epitome of romance, love, and tragedy for two young college students.
I've mentioned before that the Twilight series helped me through a difficult time in my life. But I admit that I was reluctant to read the book in the first place. At the time I was in a book club with several friends I did residency with. I went to our meeting without having read the book. Gasp! I know. What kind of bookworm am I? I just wasn't interested in reading a book about vampires, teen vampires no less. But when I finally sat down to read Twilight, even though there are many things I would change, there was something about the way Stephenie Meyer wrote Bella Swan and Edward Cullen that made me remember what it was like to fall in love. And, I'm not the only one--the Twilight saga not only spawned a series of movies, but there is STILL a following for its fanfiction for those who never want the series to end. (Or those who wanted to make changes and what-if stories to the original.) And, yes, I'm still waiting for the re-boot of the series in film. It'll happen. Someday.
Similar to Twilight, Rainbow Rowell created such fantastic chemistry amidst the awkwardness between her titular characters in Eleanor and Park. I love that Eleanor and Park are so uncertain with each other and uncertain with themselves, but they still feel so much as they are falling in love. Rowell created characters with so much depth, and realness. And, of course, I love that Park is a mixed Korean-American teen living in a majority white area. I related to Eleanor's encounters with Park's mom very well. And the fact that they bond over The Smiths is always a plus in my book. My two qualms (NOT SPOILERS): the ending is so ambiguious, which is okay, but it felt unfinished. At least give us a sequel, Rainbow Rowell!
My other qualm is that some of the details feel 'plugged in'. What do I mean by that? The novel is set in the 1980s and the ways Rowell describes their lives is spot on. But here and there, there are details sprinkled in that feel too 'writerly', like she had to add them in to remind the reader that it is set in the 80s. And, yes, I'm usurping 'writerly' as a critique--one of the writers I knew when I was a grad student, would often say something felt too 'writerly', when she was critiquing a piece. What did she mean by that? She meant that a detail was placed just for the writer's enjoyment, or it's out of place with the rest of the piece. A tiny critique of a great YA novel, but a critique nonetheless because those were the moments that pulled me out of the story.
Overall, though, Eleanor and Park is an easy read and will having you fawning and fan-girling and falling in love all over again. It is my favorite book by Rowell.