by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I’ve always wanted to write Hallmark greeting cards.
That may not sound like such a great professional aspiration to you, but in my family, we exchange lots of cards for special occasions: birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, anniversaries, graduation, and most relevantly, Valentine’s Day.
It can be too hard to choose between a sappy, sweet card and a funny, edgy one, so we typically purchase two—or sometimes even more than two—to convey the complete circle of feelings.
I was lucky enough to know and share cards with my great-grandmother, my two grandmothers, my in-laws, and my parents (still going strong). When my children came into the mix, my card purchases grew exponentially—two cards from each of my kids to each of their great-grandparents and grandmothers and grandfathers. You can do the math.
(I found this box of Hallmark cards—the price was $1.99, so it was a while ago—which I decided not to send.)
Being a card writer always struck me as a fascinating job. As a heavy card consumer and a word person, I used to think that it would be satisfying and interesting to spend my working hours trying to convey just the right message—matched with the perfect illustration or photograph—in a manufactured card.
I didn’t know this was an actual job until I came to Scholastic and met Craig Walker, the late, great, inspiring, funny, brilliant, and ever-classy editor (who came up with the idea for the original The Magic School Bus series and edited it brilliantly). Craig hailed from Kansas City and did, in fact, work as a senior editor at Hallmark Cards.
Another Newman family card custom is to give the two or more cards (usually with a present) to the celebrant and then pass them around the table for everyone to read. This sharing ritual embarrasses (and annoys) most friends, extended family members, and party guests who didn’t grow up this way.
For example, we passed all our cards around the table at my father’s 88th birthday party in Newton, Massachusetts, and, as usual, it made my husband and my kids squirm. My sister and I just read all the cards as they were passed to us—as if it’s perfectly normal to share others’ personal and heartfelt messages intended for the honoree.
As book publishers, writers, readers, and word people, we spend much of our time trying to find just the right words. For books. For catalog copy. For blog posts. For thank-you notes, condolence cards, Valentine’s Day cards—and for me, Special Love Delivery notes to my children.
I have always been a full-time working mother, and while I love my job, I wanted to make sure my kids knew I was thinking about them while I was away from home at the office. In the bring-your-own-lunch days (when I would overcompensate by making multicourse over-the-top brown bag lunches), I would always include a note in their sandwich bags labeled: “SPECIAL LOVE DELIVERY.” Or “SLD” for short.
Each SLD to Rebecca and John came in an envelope, and while probably not the perfectly crafted message, it was just about how much I loved them and how great they are. I figured in the midst of a tough school day, my kids could use a little unconditional love. And often in the course of our busy days, we don’t have the time—or maybe we are too self-conscious—to actually say unequivocally positive things to our children.
Later on, when John and Rebecca converted to cafeteria lunches, I would slip the SLDs under their bedroom doors at night so they would find them in the morning.
(I remember author Judy Blume told me she would also slip notes about hard-to-discuss topics under her daughter Randy’s door at night.)
I am not a psychologist, but I believe there are little pockets of obsessive behavior in all of us. I am also not a hoarder, but I have a lot of trouble throwing away cards people have given me.
I finally realized (and I have this same experience when I try to weed out books from my shelves)—it isn’t always the card itself that I want to hold on to, but the memory of the person who gave it to me and what we were doing at that time that I want to stay connected to. These cards are, for me, memory triggers.
And I see now, years after my kids have moved out of their childhood bedrooms, that they saved their Special Love Delivery notes.
Because cards and special notes have always had such an important place in my life, I can really relate to Mouse in this week’s Dollar Deal, Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond.
“The simple text, endearing characters, and sweet, uncomplicated depiction of a well-known holiday also make this an apt choice for a read-aloud.” —School Library Journal
I love Laura Numeroff’s books, and I love the simplicity and empathy and emotion of Laura and Felicia’s If You Give…series. These books have delighted kids and teachers and parents since If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was first published in 1985.
Fun fact: the book became so popular that it was featured (twice!) by Charles Schulz in a Peanuts comic. The series was even honored by First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama at the Celebration of American Authors in 2001 and the Easter Egg Roll in 2009, respectively. Today, 15 installments in the series later, the modern classic is still a classroom favorite.
In this delightfully winsome picture book, Mouse crafts custom Valentine’s Day cards for his closest friends, sharing with them the things that make each one of them special. I have a feeling that, if we talked, Mouse and I would find that we hold similar respect for the geniuses at greeting card companies.
Growing up, celebrating Valentine’s Day was first very exciting and fun, when all the kids would give each other valentines, and the teachers would often supplement if a child wasn’t getting enough. As we got older, it became more stressful for me: Which valentine card would send the right or wrong romantic message? What should I give that kid in the class who I really didn’t like? And how could I find the perfect card for my teachers, whom I always adored?
I was talking with my husband, Jeff, about our blog this week, and he had happy memories of his elementary school Valentine’s Day celebrations:
David too remembered the love in his early Valentine’s Day celebrations at school.
“In first grade, I had my first experience exchanging valentines in the classroom. We all made mailboxes on our desks out of cut paper the day before. Then on Valentine’s Day morning, we went around and delivered our mail. There was great excitement and laughing as we scurried to put our cards in each other’s mailboxes.
“When I returned to my desk, I was saddened: there were only a couple cards in my mailbox. I was beginning to feel down when the teacher announced that she had more mail to deliver. I remember her putting a bunch more in mine to make it fuller.
“My teacher became my hero for protecting my heart on my first Valentine’s Day.”
I’ll stop there, but another several decades of Valentine’s Day through my teenage years, dating, marriage, and later, family life involved lots of flowers, gifts, celebratory meals…and Valentine’s Day cards.
This week, the blog team was so excited to spread the Valentine’s Day love by munching on delicious compliment cookies in Cooked Up from a Book; celebrating the meaning of friendship in the Book Boys’ latest episode of Read It Up; diving into social skills and positive emotional growth in Book Talks; and even hearing from Laura Numeroff herself in Behind the Scenes.
So in the spirit of finding just the right word—and trying to spread the love to all in our lives—we are featuring Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! as our Dollar Deal book this week. In a gentle and universal way, Mouse reminds us—kids and adults alike—of the power of being kind.
Always important. Never more important than right now.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs