A LITTLE LIBRARY - Children's book is all heart - literally

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I'm a little relieved that Valentine's Day has come and gone. Even though I'm married, and thus assumed to have couple-y plans for the day, the holiday has always felt stressful.

It holds no special significance for me or my husband, but we both still feel pressured to celebrate because not doing something will somehow be evidence of a lack of love or thoughtfulness. We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays without prodding, and I begrudge this commercial holiday for edging into what is an otherwise happy marriage.

That said, it's been appealingly simple to review books that go along with the season we're in, which is why, in what could grudgingly be referred to as the month of love, I want to tell you about the children's picture book "Henry's Heart" (Henry Holt, 2011), by Charise Mericle Harper.

Henry's actual heart is a protagonist in this tale of love, health, and everyday life. The heart is a fully fleshed-out (hmmm) character that thinks and talks. He has likes - fresh fruit - and dislikes: potato chips, which he calls "crunchy, salty disks of doom."

In reading "Henry's Heart," we learn what a person's actual heart looks like and does. But this anatomy lesson with its occasional textbook-worthy words ("delivers," "circulation," and "carbon dioxide") comes with adorable illustrations, colorful characters, silly jokes and the tale of wholly likable Henry.

"Henry's Heart" is the result of two years that Harper spent working with her intended audience - early elementary school students - to create a book they would enjoy. Her care and attention to detail is evident in every page.

Reading "Henry's Heart" aloud at story time would be a daunting task; instead, Harper's design seems best suited to the beginning reader, who will have fun exploring all of the details, drawings, speech bubbles and funny comments the pages contain.

The pages are utterly absorbing because of Harper's artwork, composed with acrylic paint and collage on watercolor paper. Her cute, wide-eyed people and miniature collaged storefronts are a delight. (Check out Harper's blog for cute crafts, similar sketches, and a few more details about the "Henry's Heart" project: drawingmom.blogspot.com ).

The tale of Henry and his heart carries well without defaulting to strict classroom fare, and in any case the educational elements that Harper works into the book aren't dry, but fun. By the end of the book, we've learned about the function and design of the heart.

I've also picked up these tips: eat healthful, heart-friendly food, exercise, and listen to your mom when she uses "your whole, entire name in a sentence." Good advice, all around. And despite its leaning toward the physical heart rather than the metaphorical one, "Henry's Heart" is ultimately a story about love. It will probably make your heart happy to read it.

Zoey Smith works at the Whitman College Bookstore and is helping expand the children's book section. She can be reached at smithze@whitman.edu.

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