A much-discussed image from “Love,” by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long. (Putnam)
By, Nora Krug
As anyone will tell you, love is complicated. But when should we share that reality with children — and how? Matt de la Peña’s best-selling picture book “Love” has pushed these questions to the fore.
“Love” celebrates love — love between parent and child, love between siblings, self-love and, most dramatically, love lost. In one arresting image, illustrator Loren Long depicts a boy hiding under a piano, being comforted by his dog. Above, two adults argue; a chair has been knocked over and a glass of liquor sits on the piano’s edge. The text beneath it reads: “But it’s not only stars that flame out, you discover. It’s summers, too. And friendships. And people.”
Prior to the book’s publication, a major book buyer had threatened not to carry the book because of this scene. De la Peña and Long pushed back. The book buyer relented.
De la Peña feels strongly that children grappling with emotional difficulties should be able to see themselves in the books they read. “An uncomfortable number of children out there right now are crouched beneath a metaphorical piano,” de la Peña wrote in Time last month, and it is vital that they know they are not alone.
As de la Peña tours the country promoting “Love,” readers — of all ages — are coming out from underneath the metaphorical piano. Last week, for instance, a 50-year-old woman handed the author a note, which he later posted on Twitter, about how much the book meant to her:
“As a child, I never saw my experience in the sweet little picture books the librarians read to us or any of the happy endings deemed appropriate for young audiences. I can’t imagine how different things would have been for me if I had a book like this with my feelings right there on the page.”