<B>A sweet treat for Valentine's Day</B>Here's a book that will have you singing along as you read. In <B>The Ballad of Valentine</B>, Alison Jackson's simple yet clever text matches the cadence of the classic song, "Clementine:" <I>In a cabin, in a canyon,Near a mountain laced with pine,Lived a girl who was my sweetheart, And her name was Valentine.</I>Valentine's love-smitten suitor lives on a cliff on the side of a steep peak, where he fervently types valentines to his love. Alas, matters of geography and "acts of God" (cyclones, blizzards, etc.) intervene, meaning that Valentine never gets his messages of love. Of course, any woman would love Valentine's suitor for his do-or-die tenacity, especially since most men don't seem to care a fig about sending valentines. This fellow won't be stopped: when the mail person fails him, he resorts to a series of hilarious efforts, including a homing pigeon, smoke signals, Morse code, a train and the Pony Express, all to no avail. Young kids will chuckle at the man's desperate though fruitless efforts, and Tricia Tusa's illustrations are an absolute delight, lighthearted and full of humor. Her animals are especially expressive and animated, yet appropriately scruffy-looking for their rural, isolated life. The man's dog is a constant observer and participant, leaping in the air to try to catch some of the 40 letters his master types for his sweetheart.
Tusa says she based the figure of Valentine on a doll she had when she was 10 years old, and Valentine is a true indomitable spirit, a dogged mountain woman whose towering hairdo indicates her staunchness. The flip side of "Mr. Valentine's" failed efforts is that we also get to see Valentine at work on her farm, all the while tending to her duties and her own special project. Eventually we realize what she is up to: making a cake for her sweetheart, who by this time has given up on Valentine's Day. Yes, <B>The Ballad of Valentine</B> has an appropriately happy cliffhanger of an ending, making it a fun-loving tribute to the labors of love and its ultimate rewards, even in the face of seeming impossibility. <B>Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.</B>