If your mind is turning to hearts and flowers, that's probably because Valentine's Day is just a few days away. Sprout's seriously excited about Valentine's Day this year, which is interesting considering that it's not a holiday we are overly effusive about around our house. Oh, we do the obligatory cards for his classroom companions (Star Wars Lego themed this year, because homemade cards take time and Mommy is tired). And we get him a couple small gifts -- in particular a book, because I'd rather emphasize International Book Giving Day than a candy-fueled Cupid fest.
And if you're looking for a terrific book to give a child, maybe something that celebrates love but isn't overtly Valentine-oriented, today's pick is a great choice. Paul Meets Bernadette is the debut picture book by author/illustrator Rosy Lamb, and it's one of our current favorites. This is the kind of quiet title that can easily be passed over -- it's pretty unassuming, and the title's one that might or might not stick in your mind. So I really wanted to be sure to call it out here on the blog, because I think the message and the medium Lamb employs for her story are just right for storytime at home or in the library.
The plot is simple enough for even younger preschoolers to easily grasp: Paul is a goldfish, and he's lonely. His life consists of swimming in circles and the biggest variety in his day is changing directions. Then one day Bernadette appears. She's a goldfish like Paul, but she has a decidedly unconventional way of looking at the world. Suddenly Paul is noticing everything, with Bernadette's help of course. And the world is pretty amazing, when right outside your bowl there's a boat, a cactus, and even a family of elephants!
Sprout got a huge kick out of Paul Meets Bernadette, largely because he's at that stage where he finds it hugely funny if we say things wrong on purpose. Like sometimes I'll tell him to wash his face and feet (instead of hands) or Daddy will call him Jasper (the cat's name). So when Bernadette starts identifying the objects for Paul, Sprout can't help but laugh -- considering that the boat she sees is really a banana, the cactus is really an alarm clock, and the family of elephants is a teapot and tea cups. Sprout just howls at this, and I expect he isn't the only kiddo who will do so. Plus this plot device opened up a great opportunity for us to talk about perspective, and how when you don't see much of the world, it's easy to misinterpret what you see, or think that one viewpoint is the only way to see things. Hmm, surprisingly deep insights, no?
And that's why I love kidlit in general, and books like Paul Meets Bernadette in particular. Because picture books like this one work on so many levels - as a beautiful visual treat, as a gentle story of friendship and the power of love, and as an opening to develop critical thinking skills in our young ones. That's why picture books are essential fodder for little minds. So if you really want to give your kiddo a treat this Valentine's, skip the conversation hearts and go for a book like Paul Meets Bernadette instead -- believe you me, it's one they'll remember after the candy is long gone.
Paul Meets Bernadette by Rosy Lamb, published by Candlewick Press
Sample: "Paul used to go around in circles. / He made big circles and little circles. / . . . And then one day, Bernadette dropped in."