February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

All We Need Is Love: Matt de la Peña sends a Valentine to the world | Up Close

Photo by Heather Waraksa

In a lyrical ode to the bonds of family and community, the Newbery Medal–winning author and best-selling illustrator are on top of their game in the match made in heaven. Love is a stellar picture book (Putnam, 2018) that begs to be shared with everyone you care about.

What made you want to tackle a book about love?
The poem started out as a response to the current political divisiveness in our country. Every time I turned on the news, it was someone bashing someone else. I have a three-year-old daughter, and I couldn’t help but view this divisiveness from the perspective of a parent. All I wanted to do was write an empowering poem about love that I could read to her at night. But like every other idea I have, it morphed into something slightly different during the writing process. The poem became more about the evolution of love in a child’s life. In the beginning, love is given to us. And this passive love is important, of course. But it’s also incomplete. Eventually, a child needs to learn how to recognize love on her own.

Did you have a specific audience in mind?
I think I might be a pretty simple person. The audience I have in mind for all my books is myself. And maybe those within an arm’s length of me. I never imagine an audience beyond my own apartment. In this case, I imagined addressing my young daughter. I was talking to her about love, making sure to acknowledge the loss and sadness that exists in the margins of love.

Kids often have to face grim realities. Why was it important for you to convey that there is love to be found, sometimes when it is least expected.
I just finished an essay on this very subject in which I pose the central question: Is the job of the writer for the very young to tell the truth or preserve innocence? I guess for me, acknowledging sadness is vital if you’re going to explore love. Some great picture books are 100 percent reaffirming. But I wanted to do something emotionally complex, even if it limited our audience some. Sadness exists. I personally think the most important beat of the book is when the child dreams that love is gone, only to wake up in the arms of a loved one who whispers, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s love.” And maybe that’s my most important role as a parent—not to eliminate hurt and heartache, but to support my daughter through such moments.

How do you think that recognizing love helps individuals build empathy and community?
Loren and I were intent on making this book as inclusive as possible. Not just racially inclusive but ideologically, economically and geographically inclusive, too. I grew up near the Mexican border in San Diego. Loren grew up in rural Kentucky. Yet we both have parents who gave us love. My hope is that a kid (and parent) from the city will recognize in these pages that a kid (and parent) from the country is fueled by the very same emotion. Love.

Can you talk about your first reactions to Loren Long’s ­spectacular, luminous paintings?
I’m going to be honest, Love was nothing more than a humble poem before Loren got a hold of it. He made it a picture book. He made it art. I teared up when I saw his illustrations for the first time. Especially the spread with the Mexican grandma cautioning her grandchild to stay put with an oven-mitted hand while the rest of the family watched footage of some new tragedy unfolding on the TV. That was my childhood. I felt “seen” in my own book!

How do you hope this book will be shared and used?
I hope parents share this book with their children. And I hope educators share this book with their classes. But I have my own plans for the book. I’m delivering the commencement speech at my alma mater this spring, University of the Pacific, and I’m giving a copy of Love to every graduate I address. Because it is my hope that these young people (our future) go out into the world with love and empathy.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Luann Toth About Luann Toth

Luann Toth (ltoth@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor of SLJ Reviews. A public librarian by training, she has been reviewing books for a quarter of a century and continues to be fascinated by the constantly evolving, ever-expanding world of publishing.

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Comments

  1. HoldingMyNose says:

    This article is in poor taste in view of the sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Pena, don’t you think?

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