Matt de la Peña and Loren Long’s ‘Love’ honors what makes us who we are

  • Sharyn Vane
  • Special to the American-Statesman
12:00 a.m. Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 Insight and Books
“Love” (Putnam/Penguin, $17.99) by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long

It’s tempting to eschew picture books once children are past a certain age.

From suggested age ranges to the excitement over young readers’ ability to move into more challenging texts, there are plenty of reasons driving the shift into heftier volumes as the years progress.

But it would be a mistake to leave picture books behind completely. Nonfiction picture books, with their mix of well-researched detail and alluring illustrations, can spark interest in a topic or person. And the format can also be a platform — in deceptively simple words — for exploring the deepest of emotions.

That’s the case with “Love” (Putnam/Penguin, $17.99), a collaboration between Newbery medalist Matt de la Peña and New York Times best-selling illustrator Loren Long. The pair will be at BookPeople on Jan. 20.

“Love” plumbs all facets of the emotion, from the sweet scenes of parents’ wonder at a newborn to the heart-wrenching pain of loss. There’s a scene of a family gathered around a glowing television screen, inspired by the 9/11 tragedy. And there’s a young boy curled up with his dog under a piano, a drained whiskey glass atop the baby grand and upset grownups flanking the edges of the frame:

“It’s not only stars that flame out, you discover,” de la Peña writes.

“It’s summers, too.

“And friendships.

“And people.”

De la Peña has tackled complex topics before, such as in his 2015 picture book “Last Stop on Market Street.” The story chronicled a young boy’s post-church ride with his grandmother, who gently counsels her grandson to notice the intangible riches in his poverty-stricken neighborhood. “Stop” won the Newbery medal, the highest honor in children’s publishing, as well as making multiple “best of” lists.

Like “Stop,” “Love” also celebrates the less marquee-level moments in life, from an older brother’s culinary attempts (“a slice of burned toast that tastes like love”) to the “made-up stories your uncles tell in the backyard between wild horseshoe throws.”

Long — creator of the “Otis” series as well as illustrator of President Barack Obama’s book “Of Thee I Sing” — noted on Twitter recently that “Love” marks the first time he’s discussed themes and shared sketches with an author.

His illustrations feature a different child on each page, covering a wide breadth of racial, gender and economic diversity: A Muslim girl in a headscarf contemplates the sky above her, those story-telling uncles are Hispanic and the happy couple gazing into the crib is multiracial. It’s a welcome reflection of the world, quietly offering a mirror that underscores how love transcends the world’s many divides. (All ages)

Other books to pick up this month

Leonora “Leo” Logroño’s family runs the best bakery in tiny Rose Hill, Texas, but she’s always been told that she’s not old enough yet to help. When Leo discovers that the secret to their sweet treats is a dash of magic, she sets about trying to join the family business in every way possible. Houstonian Anna Meriano shows how Leo’s experimenting with her own magical skills can go hilariously (and horribly) awry in “Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble” (HarperCollins, $16.99), the first in a planned middle-grade series. (Ages 8-12). … Poet Mahogany Browne, featured on HBO’s “Brave New Voices” and “PBS NewsHour,” will be in Austin later this month with “Black Girl Magic” (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99), an illustrated picture-book version of her anthemic poem encouraging young black girls to rise above their often-limiting portrayals in the media. Browne will be at Austin Eastside, 2900 E. 13th St., beginning at 2 p.m. Jan. 28. Tickets for the event, which includes brunch, are $12-$20 and are available on Eventbrite. (The book is aimed at elementary-schoolers, although older children and adults will find much fodder for discussion in the themes.)