Several years ago, a mysterious package arrived at our house on Valentine’s Day: a plain brown box addressed to our entire family with a return address “TMVDP.” The package weighed almost nothing.
It weighed almost nothing because the box contained four lunchbox serving-size bags of potato chips. Nothing else. Or at least I thought there was nothing else until I dumped the box upside down and a slim book fell out — Daniel Pinkwater’s Big Bob and The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato.
Our lives have never been the same.
I’m not sure how I did not know about this book before The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato visited us, but I didn’t. I tell you the story so you will know. The book is out of print; do not be deterred. It can be easily procured.
Big Bob and Big Gloria are the second-biggest and first-biggest kids (respectively) in the grade. Their teacher is Mr. Salami. He used to be a race-car driver. Also a jet pilot and deep-sea diver. He’s a good teacher for Big Bob and Big Gloria and their friends.
But he’s lacking a little oomph and creativity around Valentine’s Day. He describes how they will celebrate: They will make and exchange valentines and decorate the room. Big Gloria and Big Bob are dismayed. Clearly, Mr. Salami does not enjoy Valentine’s Day. They decide something must be done.
So they ask Mr. Salami if The Magic Valentine Potato will be visiting. Mr. Salami is not acquainted with The Magic Valentine Potato, and so the kids have to explain, which they do on the spot as they are creating the details of TMVDP’s reign.
TMVDP is a magical potato character who visits on Valentine’s Day, they tell Mr. Salami. He brings valentines and potato chips to all good children. He’s a benevolent fellow, not unlike Santa Claus. He is Magical.
Mr. Salami is intrigued.
The next several chapters of this clever book (it’s an early reader — the chapters are two to four pages long) show the children in Mr. Salami’s class working hard to create a magical Valentine celebration for their teacher. They make potato print valentines and crêpe-paperesque hanging decorations from pink toilet paper. They get Mr. Willie, the janitor (and Big Gloria’s uncle), to let them in the school early so they can decorate and prepare the Valentine surprise for Mr. Salami.
But on the morning of Valentine’s Day, it’s not Mr. Salami who is surprised — it’s the kids. Before Mr. Salami even arrives, a mysterious visitor appears — a lumpy potato-like visitor in a red cape and mask. The children recognize the identity of the visitor immediately: The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato has come to visit!
TMVDP announces that Mr. Salami has been detained. He hands out valentines and potato chips to every child. He dances around the classroom in his benevolent potato-like way.
“I thought you made him up,” Big Bob says to Big Gloria. “I thought I did, too.” Big Gloria says.
This book is magical. I have read it to pre-school classes and at mixed-age Valentine Storytimes and elementary school parties. There are clues in the pictures that explain the mystery, but none of the rapt children, no matter their age, figure it out. They are simply over the moon when valentines and potato chips for the entire group mysteriously arrive.
My nieces and other folk in our lives are visited by the Magic Valentine’s Day Potato each year now. It adds a zany twist to Valentine’s Day. And every year, like clockwork, the TMVDP sends a package to our house on Valentine’s Day. My kids have no idea who this mysterious benefactor is. Blessings on her head for introducing us to TMVDP.