I never thought of “love and marriage” as a topic anyone would sit down to write a kids’ books about. I never sought out children’s books about love and marriage to read with my child. They just kind of wandered into the library bag… and some of them have become our favorite books. When I looked at them as a group, I was pretty pleased with what they say about how relationships should work! So here are some really fantastic stories about good people and good love. Leave us any suggestions in the comments, especially books featuring people of color or other kinds of diversity!
Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee by Alice Faye Duncan, with art by Catherine Stock. This is one of my all-time favorite kids’ books. Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee couldn’t be more different, but their young neighbor Bradley witnesses quite a transformation when one party gets motivated. The child’s point of view narration leaves a whole extra level for adults reading the book to enjoy, without taking away from what young readers get out of it.
The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Peter De Seve. The Duchess isn’t interested in anything the least bit ordinary, but the Earl of Norm seems completely ordinary, and he really likes the Duchess. A sudden culinary crisis may help him win her heart… Peter de Seve is a renowned artist for the New Yorker so the book is just gorgeous, and his wife Randall de Seve’s story is sparingly and beautifully told.
Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler with art by Kurt Cyrus. Feuding neighbors fall in love after a tornado destroys their common fence, allowing their cows to peacefully coexist. Possibly the only children’s book wedding you’ll ever see with cows as bridesmaids, but that’s not the only reason why I like it. It’s just fun. Try singing the cows’ names if you get tired of reading them all, it’s way more engaging that way for both reader and listener.
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by Tony Wilson, with art by Sue deGennaro. Prince Henrick really wants to fall in love and get married, but he’s a little skeptical that the “sensitive” type of princess who passes the traditional (and horrible IMHO) pea-under-the-mattress princess test would be right for him. He likes hockey and camping after all, and he’d prefer to share those passions with the right gal. His own version of the test is ingenious and charming. Quirky story, quirky illustrations, and just the right amount of cute.
Stormy’s Hat by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Andrea U’Ren. We read this way back when Boy Detective was a bitty thing, and he mostly was interested in trains. We read it again when he was six, and I wish I had a photo of the look on his face when railroad man Stormy dismisses his wife Ida’s attempts to help him find the perfect hat. Boy Detective shook his head when it happened a second time, and said “No!” out loud, like he was trying to give poor Stormy some advice. He was delighted when Ida finally put her foot down and equally delighted when Stormy apologized and promised to always listen to Ida from then on. No one’s perfect, but everyone can learn and grow.
Pirate Vs. Pirate: The Terrific Tale of a Big, Blustery Maritime Match by Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. This is in the pirates post, too, but I’m repeating it here because it’s just so dang cute. Bad Bart and Mean Mo face off to decide who is the best pirate in the world… only to discover that they have an awful lot in common. Their contest and its eventual resolution is pitch-perfect. Mean Mo is officially my favorite female pirate, and I really appreciate how Boiger and Quattlebaum present her as a woman who is not petite and conventionally pretty.
Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman, with art by Mike Dutton. I was worried this would be an “issue” book explaining marriage equality. Issue books are important and we’ve read quite a few of them, but often the stories and writing aren’t that compelling outside of the lesson imparted. This book, though? A delight to read. Donovan has SO many responsibilities on the big day, and each step in getting ready is presented with subtle humor. Boy Detective shook his head a few times, kind of smiling, saying “I don’t think you can do all of those things! Not guaranteed 100%!” He was also pretty pleased with himself that he guessed early on what kind of big day it was. (The child loves attending weddings. Mostly because of the cake.) The art is just beautiful and I teared up during the wedding ceremony… just like I do at real weddings!
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. When the widowed Tulip Jones ends up with 35 million dollars and moves to By-Golly Gully, Texas, she has no idea how much trouble is waiting for her! Everything is bigger in Texas, including the line of suitors who want to marry the widow. Her plan to get rid of them seems doomed to fail, too… so luckily her gal ranch hands have a backup plan. Very few tall tales are this funny and sweet, and I’m pretty sure this is the only one with giant turtles.
The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story retold by Joseph Bruchac, with pictures by Anna Vojtech. This classic, sweet book won over this folktale/fairytale skeptic. The art is gorgeous, especially the people, and the story is simple but very readable. The basic storyline: The first man and woman have a fight because she picked flowers instead of making dinner while her husband was hunting. They both get mad, and she runs off. Her husband realizes he was a jerk but he can’t catch up to her because she’s so fast. The sun takes pity on the guy and tries to get the woman’s attention long enough for her husband to catch up and apologize. Good message, good book to diversify your reading list, and really pretty pictures. Bruchac is from the Abenaki tribe and he’s written a lot of children’s books, so I look forward to reading more of them.
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, a Japanese folktale retold by Katherine Paterson and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Fans of classic Japanese art will appreciate the inspiration for the Dillons’ illustration work on this book. It’s the story of Yasuko and Shozo, who serve a harsh lord with a bad temper. Yasuko liberates a drake that the lord has imprisoned away from his mate. Shozo, a former samurai, takes the blame even though Yasuko begs him to let her confess. Their compassionate natures lead to a deep bond, but their love puts their lives at risk. The lord declares they must have been co-conspirators and sentences them to death. Yasuko and Shozo’s relationship is founded on real compatibility, and develops over time. That’s something you rarely see in Hollywood, and it warmed my heart. They’re good people, and their goodness is rewarded. Paterson keeps a “fairy tale” tone, but her text still sounds fresh and has personality. I especially enjoyed reading this out loud.
And that’s the list! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!