I’m going to open my review of Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds with two quick moments of full disclosure. Ready? Here goes. Full Disclosure #1: My daughter is an unabashed fan of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I’ve mentioned her love of Rosenthal’s Little Pea board books on the blog before and she’s consistently fallen head over heels for every other Amy Rosenthal book we’ve brought home from the library or bookstore. (She particularly digs Duck! Rabbit!, This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations, and The Wonder Book… three books that I can definitely recommend as well.)
Illustrator Peter Reynolds is also a pretty big deal in children’s lit – his picture book, The Dot, is supposed to be fantastic – but, I’d admit, he’s one of those children’s book creators whom we’ve somehow missed entirely. Plant a Kiss is actually the first Peter Reynolds book we’ve ever read (it won’t be the last), and the only reason I point that out is to reassert that Amy Krouse Rosenthal really was the driving force for my daughter wanting to read this book. So, in terms of full disclosure, just FYI, we were TOTALLY predisposed to like this book.
Full Disclosure #2: Amy Krouse Rosenthal started a viral campaign a few weeks ago to get more people talking about Plant a Kiss and was offering copies of the book to people who felt they could act as a “Plant a Kiss Ambassador” and just let people know about the book. I sent Amy an email, got the NICEST response possible, and quickly received a copy of Plant a Kisswith a beautiful little message for my daughter inscribed on the title page. So… again, not only were we big fans of Amy Krouse Rosenthal in the first place, but she then showed my daughter an immense amount of kindness, so, again, we’re talking about a RIDICULOUS level of predisposition for really, really wanting to like this book. Are we clear on that? OK. So, what’s the verdict?
Plant a Kiss is a pretty great book.
(Pause for the cynical heart of the internet calling bullshit on my very existence.)
Are you still with me? OK, I’m glad I was so upfront about my metric ton of favorable biases about Plant a Kiss, but, my positive prejudices aside, I think it’s hard to deny that this is a very warm-hearted, very well executed picture book that a lot of kids will really enjoy.
But I can understand why some parents might not be into Plant a Kiss. Why? Here’s the thing – I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty cynical person. I’m sarcastic, I love edgy, jaded authors, I complain a lot, I enjoy irony to the point where I’m a captain’s hat, a Wilco shirt, and a 24-day beard growth away from being a hipster – I am a part of the generation that PERFECTED eyerolling. I am a cynical bastard.
BUT, when I became a parent, I quickly realized that that cynicism is MY BAGGAGE. It’s not my kid’s. My daughter wears her heart on her sleeve 24/7 and, you know what, I’ll be damned if anyone, particularly her dad, makes her think that’s a bad idea. As a parent, it’s my job to get wide-eyed with wonder – to gleefully regale her with tales of pokey little puppies, magic, and adventure – and to not let my inner black-hearted, liberal arts critic-side ruin her fun. I’m not saying that I’m sheltering my daughter. I’m not. If she’s going to decide that the world is NOT a fine place and is NOT worth fighting for – more power to her – but I want that to be her decision, not mine.
That’s a very long-winded way of saying that, parents, if you can’t check your cynicism at the door, don’t bother reading your kid Plant a Kiss. Just give it to them, have them read it by themselves, and kick yourself when you hear them giggling from the next room.
Plant a Kiss reminds me a lot of Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed – a home library MUST for your kids – in that both books are about unbridled optimism and faith triumphing over doubt. The premise of Plant a Kiss is told to us through Rosenthal’s short, clever verses and Reynolds’ wonderfully comic drawings. (Reynolds’ style reminds me of early Charles M. Schulz Peanuts cartoons mixed with Jules Feiffer, which, if you’re unfamiliar with Schulz or Feiffer, simply means that his characters are simple yet complex and intensely engaging.)
The story opens with: “It goes like this. / Little Miss / planted a kiss.” We watch a young girl with a shovel plant a kiss into the ground, as if it were a seed. The girl cares for it, going through cycles of “Sunshine / Water / Greet / Repeat” as she waits for her kiss to grow. We watch her wait and wait and, in one of my favorite page-spreads, we even see the young girl’s faith briefly waver in two deceptively simple pages – one titled “Doubt”, the other “Pout”.
On the very next page, the kiss begins to sprout of the ground, thrilling the girl and introducing the reader to one of the more novel aspects of Plant a Kiss. When the kiss emerges from the ground, it comes out in a colorful cloud of glitter – yes, GLITTER– that swirls around the girl and her friends like sentient pixie dust. And the publishers actually found a way to have real glitter printed onto the page, so the pages really do sparkle.
(As someone who works in publishing and knows the horrible realities of four-color printing, I’m actually amazed that they found a way to print with glitter so well. It must’ve been a HUGE pain. And, just FYI, the glitter effect is extremely well done. Our house has seen many, MANY really crappy glitter birthday cards or coloring kits that have coated our furniture in sparkles for MONTHS, but the glitter in Plant a Kiss is composed and glued so well that you won’t have to worry about any of it coming off on your kid’s hands or clothes.)
I was originally worried that the glitter was going to be a one-note gimmick, but the story and illustrations are so well done that it’d be a huge disservice to dismiss this as just a “glitter book.” Oh, and my five-year-old daughter LOST HER MIND about the glitter. She’s not even a particularly girly-girl and yet she went nuts for the glitter effect. Her eyes got huge, her hands explored the textures on each page – she was legitimately delighted. (It reminded me of that moment of watching kids discover the final blinking pages of Eric Carle’s The Very Lonely Firefly.)
Once the glitter kiss sprouts, the young girl gathers her friends and, despite their warnings to not waste her new bounty, she collects the swirling kiss dust and travels around the world sharing her magic sparkling kiss with anyone she can find. And, in the end, she’s pleasantly surprised to learn how much goodwill one kiss can generate.
Again, this is NOT a book for cynics. It’s a book about faith and compassion being a limitless resource that needs to be shared. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but, I get it, if you’re just coming back from a Lars von Trier double-feature, it might be hard message to swallow. There are some families who are simply not going to be able to handle a book with such a sunny disposition.
But, parents, just remember two things. First, this book isn’t for you, it’s for your kid. And, second, Rosenthal and Reynolds bring so much talent and skill to the retelling of this simple tale that, as a parent, their virtuosity won me over. It’s hard to be cynical when you’re impressed. And I can’t imagine parents being able to ignore the cleverness and subtlety of Rosenthal’s staccato verses or being able to overlook the depth of Reynolds’ illustrative talent. Plant a Kiss isn’t a glitter book. It’s a book that glitters and the majority of the glitter is supplied by Rosenthal and Reynolds. (The rest is supplied by those poor bastards who had to glue all this glitter onto the pages. I fully expect that, in five years or so, we’ll hear all about their class-action lawsuit for their multiple cases of “Sparkle Lung.”)
Again, I’m predisposed to liking Plant a Kiss. It’s from an author we like a lot, who turned out to be an extremely nice person, so, fine, take this review with a healthy grain of salt. But I urge you to give it a chance and see if it works for your family. You might be surprised. (And, if you’re not surprised and you’re a cynic, hey, I’ve just given you something new to hate, so win-win.)
THE DETAILS ON PLANT A KISS
AGE RANGE: Two and up. This is a book that is big and bright enough that you could read it to even younger kids. Toddler might really appreciate the sparkles and the textures provided by the glitter effect throughout the pages.
PAGE COUNT: 32 pages
RELATED WEB SITES: The official HarperCollins page for Plant a Kiss is actually a great resource with art previews, videos, and links to the websites for Amy Krouse Rosenthal (which you can find here) and Peter H. Reynolds (which you can find here).
BUY IT, BORROW IT, OR FORGET IT?: It all depends on what level of cynicism (or anti-cynicism) Plant a Kiss inspires in your family. (So, doing a library test run might not be a bad idea.) Personally, I think Plant a Kiss is going to be a HUGE gift book – I can particularly see it selling big as an Easter book or as a spring baby shower staple.
IF YOU LIKED PLANT A KISS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
- The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson – One of the best board books ever. EVER. A little boy plants a carrot seed and waits and waits, while his family tells him to give up and lower his expectations. One of the most simple and powerful books in our library. The first time we turned the page where the carrot finally appears out of the ground, my daughter GASPED. It’s that good.