There are a few different ways you can read This Is Not a Valentine by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Cummins . Before the text begins, a boy and a girl are waiting for the school bus when she hands him a red envelope. A page turn shows the children on the bus, in different rows, the boy opening the envelope, and exclamation point above his head.
The story begins as the children are getting off the bus at school, the boy approaching the giver of the card, explaining, "This is not a Valentine," as he hands her a small bouquet of dandelions. What follows is text that reads like a poem as he continues to give the girl gifts throughout the school day.
My favorite is when he presents her with a ring from a vending machine saying,
This is not a valentine, since jewels and gems belong in treasure chests or museums or on ladies who sing at the opera. And the fanciest ones don't don't come out of some machine at the grocery store anyway. But this one matches your best shoelaces. If it won't get past your knuckles you could wear it on a string.
I read reviews that called This Is Not a Valentine an anit-valentine, which is kind of obvious given the title. As someone who bristles when it comes to consumer driven holidays, I definitely like the anti-valentine take on this charming, beautifully designed book. But, after several readings, I think that This Is Not a Valentine (and the not-valentines that the boy gives the girl) are actually the best kind of valentines there are - heartfelt and chosen with thoughtfulness and attention to the recipient. The boy gives the girl the cape he wore to school, telling her, "red is pretty good for superheroes, and you are my favorite one." He gives her his lucky rock, telling her to meet him at the hopscotch squares since she'll just get stuck in the "stew pot" if she plays duck duck goose with the fast kids. Cummins's marvelous illustrations compliment and enhance the story. Her cartoonish, half-finished illustrations are highlighted by still-life portraits of the gifts given, presented on crisp white pages while all other illustrations appear on pale, creamy pages. Also, as the story unfolds, Cummins shows other students receiving and opening red envelopes similar to the one the girl gave the boy, adding a lovely aspect of inclusivity. Hopefully, kids (and adults) will read This Is Not a Valentine and feel o.k. about giving out unique, unexpected valentines and gifts for any gift-giving occasion, especially in a time when Americans spent a record $9.1 BILLION dollars ($83.13 per person) on Halloween related items in 2017 and retail stores being displaying Christmas themed items months in advance. This Is Not a Valentine is exactly the kind of valentine we need!
As a cool aside to readers interested in the world of picture books, Carter Higgins is a librarian at an independent school in Bel Air and also an Emmy-winning visual-effects and motion graphics artist. She writes about the art of picture book design on her blog, The Design of the Picture Book. Lucy Ruth Cummins also works a couple of different jobs. She is an art director and illustrator and visiting her website, it was an absolute delight seeing the picture books she has worked on (one of my absolute FAVORITE Adam Rex picture books) as well as the covers of some very cool YA and middle grade novels I have enjoyed. I have to be honest and say that I do kind of judge a book by its cover, and I take notice of the design of a book, the quality of paper used, the thickness of the cover, the dust jacket and the book case. There is nothing I like better than when the book case is different from the dust jacket, which, of course, it is for This Is Not a Valentine. It's like a bonus, a surprise gift. It's a treat for me to learn about the backgrounds of the author and illustrator of this book and get a glimpse into their work worlds.
Source: Review Copy