Olive and the Valentine’s Spell takes a child’s viewpoint about the relevance of Valentine’s Day in his young, romance-free life as important questions are asked about what he is expected to do to celebrate it at school.

Helen Millman’s picture book receives engaging drawings by Vanessa Alexandre as the first-person kindergartner narrator considers this confusing concept: “Am I supposed to love someone on the bus, on the train, or in my class? I am afraid. It feels too strange, and now my stomach is acting wild.”

As a full-blown panic attack begins to emerge over the expectations of love, marriage, and romance that seem to surround “the Valentine,” a wise mother listens to her son’s wild imagination and calms him with the admonition that they can stand together to defy the idea that love should be a requirement on that day.

Further thought brings even more conflict, with a quasi-rhyme structure exploring these emotions and their ramifications: “Suddenly, a sad feeling rushed into my heart. It was clear to me then that “no love” is not as cool as I had thought. With no such feeling in the world, the opposite of love from now on will rule.”

Olive and the Valentine’s Spell is heady reading for the young in several ways. The structure presents rhyme that works in some places and is somewhat of a stretch in others, embracing concepts that parents and read-aloud adults will find perfect for discussion, but likely too complex for a young mind to absorb independently.

If the frightening concept of required love is banished from Olive’s world, it will be a cold place, indeed.

Adults who choose this story for read-aloud will find its many concepts lend perfectly to further discussions about love, world unity, empowerment, choices and consequences, and commitment.

While Olive and the Valentine’s Spell will prove challenging on some levels, it goes where few (if any) other picture books attempt in focusing on a child’s imaginative fears over a holiday he perceives as being largely “for grown-ups,” and in presenting alternative possibilities within his control that prove not as scary as facing the Valentine concept of love for others.

The final message of using holidays for personal empowerment is worth fielding the story’s complexity to arrive at its nuggets of wisdom. Olive and the Valentine’s Spell provides a very different take on Valentine’s Day’s meaning and its sometimes-frightening expectations.

Picture book collections that look for holiday interpretations of a different nature will welcome the unexpected journey undertaken by this young boy and his mother.