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Valentine gift ideas for young readers

Love is in the air.

Suddenly greeting cards have words like "kisses" with "big hug" and "love bug"! It's a time for chocolate, flowers, lacy things, books and an assortment of special gifts.But aurora borealis as a gift? Carl Sandburg thought so and he wrote a poem about it. NOT EVERDAY AN AURORA BOREALIS FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY: A LOVE POEM by Carl Sandburg. Illustrated in full color by Anita Lobel. Knopf. $13.

Some called Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) the poet of America's common people. It has been said that he was "a quintessential poet that speaks to the heart of children of all ages." But whatever his descriptors, Sandburg wrote with energy about many subjects that touched our lives.

"It is because I love you I give you for your birthday the aurora borealis" begins this never-before-published poem. The love-struck young man slips in the gift of the aurora borealis as he attempts to bring it to his sweetheart. He finally wraps it around her doorstep "that fine stack of shimmering swimmering lights, that good old reliable aurora borealis" promising to find another one when she asks for it.

And if his love writes and asks for a rainbow? Well, you know what that faithful suitor will do then! He'll find it for her. He's a struggler and he'll go to any length to prove his love.

The turn-of-the-century verse is illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Anita Lobel, who dips her brushes deep into luminous colors that swirl across two-page spreads defying margins and borders. There is as much rhythm in the tangle of aurora borealis and rainbows as there is in Sandburg's flowing text. A brilliant match and a perfect gift for a Valentine's surprise!

If a love poem isn't what you had in mind for a Valentine's gift, here are a few others to try:

FROGGY'S FIRST KISS by Jonathan London, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, Viking. When Froggy thinks the new girl in class, Frogalina, is the cutest frog he's ever seen, there are giggles galore as he tries to tell her so.

ARTHUR'S GREAT BIG VALENTINE by Lillian Hoban, Harper-Collins. The irresistible Arthur tries to make a Valentine for his best friend. This "I Can Read" book is just right for the beginning reader.

Another beginning reader is SUPER-FINE VALENTINE by Bill Cosby, illustrated by Varnette P. Honey-wood, Scholastic. Written by America's loved comedian and storyteller, this latest in the series of "Little Bill" books affirms the value of friendships and family relationships and encourages children to solve problems fairly and creatively. Each book features a letter to parents by children psychiatry specialist Dr. Alvin F. Pois-saint.

THE VALENTINE THAT ATE MY TEACHER by Dean Marney, Apple Paperbacks/-Scholastic. A silly story that will delight children in grades two through four because this happens right in a classroom. But I'm not going to tell what happens to the substitute teacher!

VOICES OF THE HEART by Ed Young (Scholastic) is the ultimate picture book that could be a Valentine gift of love. This is a personal book that portrays 26 Chinese characters, each describing a feeling or emotion and each containing the symbol for the heart done in collage translucent paint.

Happy Valentine's Day and happy reading!