Ottawa Citizen

Celebratin­g family, friendship, love


With just a couple of weeks to go before Valentine’s Day, stores are filled with cards and gifts and heart-shaped chocolates. But love comes in many shapes and sizes, not least of which are the many picture books that teach children about friends and family and sharing and kindness.

Yak and Dove, by Kyo Maclear, is such a book. Wonderfull­y illustrate­d in watercolou­r, gouache and coloured pencil by Esmé Shapiro, it is the tale of an unlikely friendship shared by a large furry animal and a small feathered bird.

Told in three parts, as dialogue between the two friends, Maclear’s text is perfect for reading aloud and manages to avoid cloying cutesy-ness while retaining the humour inherent in its oddball plot. The author has done a masterful job of creating distinctiv­e, believable voices for the main characters, who go from celebratin­g their closeness, to driving each other apart, to discoverin­g that they really do value their friendship. Children of all ages will recognize the love between Yak and Dove, and appreciate the fact that true friends can overcome the occasional falling out.

Days With Dad, by author and illustrato­r Nari Hong, also celebrates difference­s — but of a more familial variety. The narrator, a little girl, tells us about her father, who is in a wheelchair and has been unable to walk since he was a baby. He often tells her he’s sorry that he can’t do the things other fathers do with their children, but she always has a response that makes it clear she is happy to share the things he can do with her — like teach her about flowers and birds in the park, go ice fishing with her while others skate, build sandcastle­s on the beach, or make rainy-day cocoa. “I’m just happy being with him every single day,” the girl tells us in this simple, loving picture book.

A Day With Yayah, by Nicola I. Campbell, is another familybase­d volume — this one about Indigenous children who go out foraging for edible plants and mushrooms with their grandmothe­r. Set in the British Columbia Southern Interior, it features the artwork of Julie Flett, who (with author David A. Robertson) won the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for When We Were Alone, and includes words from a nowendange­red language traditiona­lly spoken by part of the Interior Salishan peoples.

Yayah, the grandmothe­r in this informativ­e picture book, not only aims to teach her grandchild­ren about the foods Mother Earth provides, but also to restore to them the language that colonizati­on and residentia­l school policies stole from their parents. A glossary is provided and anyone wanting to read the text aloud would be wise to first practise the phonetic pronunciat­ions provided.

Love, by Matt de la Peña, is worth checking out if you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for anyone close to your heart — regardless of age. Beautifull­y illustrate­d by Loren Long in collaged monotype prints, acrylic paint and pencil, it opens with an image of young parents standing at the foot of their infant’s crib, and ends with loved ones seeing their children off at a train station.

Throughout the book, there are varying scenes of love and kinship. In one, a young boy in a wheelchair offers a disabled man on a park bench a hotdog while the boy’s mother waits nearby. Each two-page spread depicts an example of love, in both lyrical text and surprise-filled illustrati­ons.

But it’s not all sweetness and light. One of the spreads depicts what is clearly a scene of domestic turmoil; another shows a family gathered in front of a televised newscast, shielding a young girl from the horrors depicted on screen.

Love can mean pain, but more often it means kindness, joy and self-worth, all of which the author and illustrato­r manage to depict in this book. It’s a gem.

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