The Top 10 Picture Books About Love
I think my feelings about Valentine’s Day can best be described as ambivalent. I’m not a Valentine’s Day curmudgeon by any means, but it’s certainly not my favorite holiday. I suppose I’m comparing it to Christmas or Halloween, and doing so probably unfairly alters my opinion of it. Ultimately it probably comes in as my second favorite B-list holiday. But, don’t get me wrong, I love love. I just like my love to be all-the-time love, not just Valentine’s Day love, whatever that is.
The funny thing is, when I started thinking about writing a list of picture books about love and Valentine’s Day, I very quickly realized it would be much easier to just leave Valentine’s Day out of the equation altogether. The only Valentine’s Day specific stories I particularly enjoy are the Charlie Brown ones - Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Valentine. I love watching Charlie Brown get up the nerve to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl as much as the next guy, but Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of true love, and I think that necessitates leaving the holiday-themed books off this list entirely.
A great deal of picture books about love are about parents’ love for their children. And that makes sense considering the audience. But I also wanted to make sure to include several different kinds of love on this list. It’s not as easy as you might think to find picture books about romantic love - or two parents simply loving each other. Maybe people don’t think that’s what kids want to hear about, but I don’t necessarily think that’s true. Picture books expose our kids to a wide range of feelings and emotions and life experiences - and I think it’s a big missed opportunity if we don’t find romantic love in there somewhere.
The 10 books on this list make us very happy in our family - as can probably be expected with books about love. They are all a celebration of the peaceful and perfect feelings we feel when we are with the people that we love - and when we feel like we belong. We ranked the 10 books on the list very scientifically based on how happy they make us, and how powerfully they make us feel the love they’re all trying to convey.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. These links will lead you to view the books' listings on Amazon.com.
Written and Illustrated by Nancy Tillman
Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You is certainly one of the most popular books out there about loving your kids. The board book version is a popular choice for baby showers from my experience, and for good reason. The illustrations are beautiful and dreamlike and there are two very specific moments that give me butterflies and make my hair stand up. One of them is the buildup to the really effective repetition of the phrase “you are loved”.
In the green of the grass… in the smell of the sea… in the clouds floating by… at the top of a tree… in the sound crickets make at the end of the day… “You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.
The other moment comes at the very end when the entire concept of the book reveals itself. It ends so beautifully, and it makes me reflect on our #1 mission as parents - wrapping our child in a blanket of love that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It’s the greatest gift we can give.
You are my angel, my darling, my star… and my love will find you, wherever you are.
Written by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell and Illustrated by Henry Cole
This is the real life story of two male penguins from the Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo, who love each other. The zookeeper noticed how they spent all of their time together, and they even built their own nest. They took a large rock and treated it like their egg, as they saw all of the other penguins doing.
One day, another penguin couple had two eggs but could only take care of one - so the zookeeper gave it to the two boys. They took care of the egg together, a baby Penguin named Tango hatched, and they raised the chick as a family.
There’s nothing more beautiful than finding the person you want to spend your life with. When you are surrounding by the people you love and you feel like you belong, there is nothing better. And, like Romeo and Juliet, we’re all suckers for stories of overcoming obstacles to pursue our love. Unfortunately, these days one of those obstacles is still sometimes society. And, whether we’re in penguin society or human society, it makes me feel good inside to see anyone say I love who I love.
Written by Matt de la Peña and Illustrated by Loren Long
I’m a big fan of the picture books by Matt de La Peña. He has a knack for slipping in really poignant moments into his works, and for making us feel deeply for his characters in a really short amount of time. And they pretty much always make us reflect on what’s important in life - a reflection I always enjoy having. This beautiful collaboration with Loren Long is no exception.
Love roughly follows a timeline of an entire childhood all the way until it’s time to set off on their own. But it doesn’t just follow one kid - it bounces around to different characters. In many ways it’s similar to the traditional concept of love picture books - making sure our kids know they are loved. But it’s also an exploration of all of the different kinds of love and how it manifests itself. Considering how difficult it is to explain where love comes from, I think Love does a remarkable job.
This book really shines when it explores the moments in which the children think they can’t find love anymore - perhaps when dealing with divorce. And it’s absolutely amazing when the book shifts to finding love in overlooked places.
And in time you learn to recognize a love overlooked. A love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus. A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.
There’s also a remarkable two-page spread about loving yourself that takes you by surprise - and every kid should hear again and again.
Written by M. H. Clark and Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
You Belong Here is a real work of art. Every single page could legitimately be hung on the wall. I really love the colors and the style a lot. I can’t stress enough how good it looks. The text itself is a poem, and it belongs to the category of convincing someone how much they are loved and how they are right where they belong. We all know how perfect and soothing it feels to be at home - to feel contentment and be right where you’re supposed to be.
Of course the story is also about being with the person you are supposed to be with. The cool thing about this poem is that it allows for a couple of interpretations. While the illustrations definitely suggest we’re talking about parents and their children, the text seems to leave open the possibility that the poem is for anyone that you love. It could just as easily be written for a husband or wife who fits together with you perfectly, and when you’re together you are right where you belong.
And you belong right here, where you’re home,
and where I hold you close.
Of all the wonders I’ve ever known,
you’re the one I love the most.
But whether you interpret the story as an ode to your child or your significant other, You Belong Here will certainly leave everyone reflecting about where they belong and where they are most complete.
Written by Margaret Wise Brown and Illustrated by Clement Hurd
The Runaway Bunny predates Brown and Hurd’s other classic collaboration Goodnight Moon by 5 years, and I think it’s my favorite of the two. It has really beautiful and imaginative pictures, and I’m certainly partial to books about love over books about saying goodnight.
This is my very favorite book in the genre of convincing your kids how much you love them. It has a great rhythm to it that makes it really fun to read. The little rabbit points out how he’ll escape, and the mom comes up with how she’ll always be with him. Kids enjoy watching the mom and baby bunny transform in the images as they play an imaginary game of chase, and the color illustrations on every other page are wonderful.
I love the message in The Runaway Bunny. Not only are we showering our kids with love so they know they belong, but Mama Bunny is basically pointing out how her little bunny is her entire life, and that she’ll always be with him in some way.
Written by Sara O’Leary and Illustrated by Qin Leng
This book has a very important message for everybody - love is love. Absolutely no child should grow up believing that the love they are surrounded with in their home is somehow worse than other loves.
This book begins with a classroom assignment to describe your family. One of the students goes last because she’s afraid her family is too different. It turns out it’s because she has foster parents - just one of the many different kinds of families on display in this inspiring story.
She asked my foster mother to point out her real children.
”Oh, I don’t have any imaginary children," Mom said. “All my children are real.”
This book makes me feel so good. All children need to look through this window into the lives of their fellow humans. This is a lesson on the equality of love that everybody needs. You love who you love and you belong where you belong.
To see even more about A Family is a Family is a Family, make sure to check out our full write up on this wonderful book.
Written and Illustrated by Edward Monkton
This little book is a big favorite around here because it’s an adorable, well-executed description of romantic love. Instead of humans, however, A Lovely Love Story is about a dinosaur and a lovely other dinosaur. It’s definitely cute, and it’s really funny how they describe each other’s eccentricities.
I LIKE this Dinosaur,
thought the Lovely
Although he is fierce he
is also TENDER and
he is FUNNY.
He is also quite CLEVER
though I will not tell him
this for now.
In the end this cute little book is about falling in love, it’s about funny little quirks of men and women, and it’s about finding the one you want to grow old with - and enjoy the beautiful Earth and the warm sun together. Like I mentioned before, picture books about romantic love seem to be a rare commodity, so I particularly love sharing this book about falling in love with the kids.
Written and Illustrated by Jessica Love
Jessica Love is an amazing artist. The illustrations in Julian is a Mermaid are really gorgeous - like an old classic Disney animation touched up with watercolors. It looks so good. And the message in this book is absolutely perfect.
This is all about unconditional love. Julian loves mermaids, and, when he sees a group of people dressed as mermaids on the train with his abuela, his imagination really kicks into high gear.
“Abuela, I am also a mermaid.”
When he gets home he has a good idea. He grabs plants, he grabs the curtains, and he fashions himself his very own mermaid costume. When Abuela sees what he’s done, her reaction is everything. It’s inspiring, it’s beautiful, and it’s true, unconditional love. There simply isn’t a better book for loving people for who they are - loving people completely and supporting them to follow their dreams and their imaginations and their hearts. That’s what being a parent and loving somebody is all about.
2. I Like You
Written by Sandol Stoddard Warburg and Illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast
Everyone should own this adorable little book. It is impossible not to feel happy when you read I Like You. It’s playful and it’s very funny and it does a great job pointing out the little things that make us love each other. Sometimes it’s hilariously specific and sometimes it’s hilariously vague. Not only is it incredibly sweet, but it’s a great lesson in comedy too.
I like you because
When I tell you something special
You know it’s special
And you remember it
A long long time
You say remember when
you told me
And both of us remember
I love this book a lot, and it seems hard to do it justice without experiencing the combination of the classic illustrations and the clever text firsthand, so I hope you take my word for it that it’s a masterpiece. It’s the perfect book for celebrating all sorts of love - romantic love, friendship, parent and child - and I couldn’t recommend it more.
I like you because
I don’t know why but
Everything that happens
Is nicer with you
I can’t remember when I didn’t like you
It must have been lonesome then
Written and Illustrated by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree came in at #5 on our list of the best picture books of all time, and it’s because this book is so full of love it brings tears to my eyes every single time I read it. I honestly don’t think there’s a better book in the world to teach what it means to love somebody.
The tree’s love for the boy is heart-wrenching, and it’s the perfect representation of true, pure love. There is no selfishness in love. The boy’s behavior in this book is the perfect foil for the tree’s true love. It can certainly be viewed as an analogy for being a parent - or any unrequited love. When kids grow up, their parents cease to be their everything, but not the other way around.
What I particularly like about The Giving Tree is how big of an effect it has on adults. It doesn’t make my kids cry. I think kids are more likely to pull a moral lesson about selfishness out of the story, but as they grow older they will understand that the true emphasis of the story is the beautiful, unstoppable love that will always be there no matter what.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you! What’s your family’s favorite picture book about love? Do you think there any worthwhile Valentine’s Day specific books? And do you know any picture books about romantic love? Let us know in the comments?