We are celebrating Contours of Love for the first quarter of the year. Naturally, our theme would not be complete without me featuring this picturebook that has raised quite a great deal of tear-filled discussions during the beginning of the year.
I am speaking, of course, of nothing but Matt Dela Peña and Loren Long’s Love. Thank you to the indefatigable Linda Baie of Teacher Dance for hosting this week.
Written By: Matt de la Peña Illustrated by: Loren Long
Published by: G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018
ISBN: 1524740918 (ISBN13: 9781524740917). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
There is a lot that has already been said about this gorgeous title. It is everything that they said it would be, and more. The buzz about this book has increased considerably following Matt de la Peña’s plaintive and reflective questions published in Time about whether authors should be honest with children about difficult themes, and the importance of not shielding young readers from darkness. This is brought about by an illustration from Love that a supposed gatekeeper in children’s lit in the US deemed to be too heavy-going for children.
In Matt’s article, he asked: If I had the chance to ask Kate DiCamillo anything, it would be this: How honest can an author be with an auditorium full of elementary school kids? How honest should we be with our readers? Is the job of the writer for the very young to tell the truth or preserve innocence? Kate DiCamillo responded to these questions with a beautiful essay of her own, as to why children’s books should be just a little bit sad, also published in Time.
This exchange made me reflect on the privilege of love. Or what it means to love. In all our discussions about diversity, this picturebook cuts to the core of it by showing this image for example, accompanied by such lyrical text, that is almost like a refrain:
The text is innocuous enough – but in the image we see even more expressions of love, unarticulated: a young boy in a wheelchair; an old, ostensibly-homeless man in crutches; freshly-grilled hotdog swimming in mustard offered like a gift; a young mother waiting in the sidelines, looking on.
This book invited me to ponder even more deeply about how we privilege certain types of diversities over others. We celebrate differences, yes, but only those that don’t make us uneasy.
Anything that may prove to be somewhat unsettling, we avoid, stamp down, or disallow access to altogether – by virtue of the fact that we can afford to do so, from a privileged position of power, heteronormativity, or simply a self-righteous, close-to-divine claim to what is right or appropriate.
But it’s not only stars that flame out, you discover.
It’s summers, too.
And there’s the rub. Try as we might, stars fizzle out, the weekend is over even before we inhaled Friday night, and people disappear from our lives. Disallowing access to these narratives does not make it any less true, or painful.
But beautiful stories such as Love, told in gorgeous prose-poetry, provides us with a unique opportunity to help young readers navigate their way around such feelings of uncertainty, wrapped around moments of uneasy silence brought about by terror and disbelief. There is so much fear in raw stories such as Love because they bleed truth while remaining beautiful; the realization that one can both burn while remaining resplendent – beauty in pain as is my mantra – is something that parents (or teachers) find difficult to convey, perhaps because this remains uncharted (or quite possibly, unresolved) territory for them. How sad that love can be so ill-defined, bounded, crumpled up and forced into a much-too-small container when it has always been meant to fly free, one with the heavens.
My absolute favourite from this exquisite picturebook is this spread, detailing a love overlooked:
And in time you learn to recognize
a love overlooked.
A love that wakes at dawn and
rides to work on the bus.
A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.
That, right there, is poetry. I have read this book aloud so many times, but my voice always cracks when I get to this page, despite myself.
What is love for you, dear Poetry Friday friends? How does love overlooked taste like for you?
#LitWorld2018GB Update: USA