Reviewed by Matt Lebois for Readers’ Favorite
In Olive and the Valentine’s Spell, Helen Millman presents a picture book with rhyming prose, exploring a kindergartener’s feelings about the prospect of Valentine’s Day. Olive reveals in first-person his feelings about the meaning of Valentine’s Day and love in general. Fearing that Valentine’s Day means he will have to get married and that this means an end to all the joys of childhood, Olive hides under his bed. But intervention from Momma leads him to think more about everything love means to him; how wonderful food tastes when made by his family, how bedtime stories and his parents’ affection feels, and more. Olive comes to realize that love is more powerful than his fears, and he embraces the coming celebration.
The lively, brightly colored illustrations by Vanessa Alexandre really make this picture book pop, and I appreciated the depiction of a multicultural peer group for Olive. As a parent, I share the feeling that Valentine’s Day can be problematic for young children with its traditional focus on romantic love. I appreciated our preschool’s conversion of ‘V-day’ to ‘Friendship Day’ to provide kids with an appropriate experience. I similarly enjoyed this book’s interpretation of love’s many expressions in a child’s life. The tenderness shown between mother and child is also endearing. I found the rhyming lines of text sometimes overlong, extending beyond the simple meter more common to books for this age group, and some of the language and ideas seemed beyond Olive’s age, but overall the words capture the joy and tribulations of childhood.