Matters of the heart matter most on Valentine’s Day, so it’s only fitting to spotlight a book that reveals heart shapes in unexpected places, including a crumpled paper napkin, a patch of grass, and a coiled garden hose. Using his iPhone, Eric Telchin has photographed these and 4,000 other heart-shaped objects since first spotting a heart-shaped puddle of chocolate ice cream on his kitchen counter in July 2009. He has compiled a selection of these photos, accompanied by minimal poetic text, in See a Heart, Share a Heart, a small-format picture book released by Dial in December.

“This book happened so serendipitously,” says Telchin. “I photographed that heart-shaped ice cream spill on a whim, and over the next year I saw more and more hearts that I couldn’t ignore – and I decided to photograph them and share them with others.” He framed a collage of his first 100 heart photos to give to friends, and began posting his photos on Facebook. He also launched a Web site to showcase his heart photos, and people who saw them online began sharing their heart sightings with him. “The reaction to my heart photos was incredible – and often very emotional,” he says. “More and more people showed me hearts that they had seen in different places, and the whole thing grew and grew and took on a life of its own.”

Including life as a book. Telchin’s realization that kids as well as adults were responding positively to his heart photos, and sharing their own, sparked an idea. “I began thinking, what could be cooler than taking pictures and sharing them in a book with kids all over the world – which I guess was a pie-in-the-sky answer to, what I should do with this?” he says. He decided to reach for the sky and found an agent, Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media, who helped Telchin put together a book proposal and placed See a Heart, Share a Heart with Nancy Conescu, executive editor of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Conescu first heard about Telchin’s book project over lunch with Volpe, and almost immediately had a heart sighting of her own. “I thought it was a novel idea for a book, and walking back from lunch I literally saw a heart shape in the sidewalk,” she explains. “I thought the book would open kids’ eyes to different things, and let them see the world in a new way. It certainly changed my perspective on things. Looking for hearts is something anyone can do anywhere, and being able to share them with others is exciting and empowering for kids.”

The editor says that Volpe and Telchin initially conceived of two versions of See a Heart, Share a Heart, one a photographic gift book for adults and the other a picture book about a boy who sees hearts everywhere. “I felt it was more of a gift book that would appeal to all ages, so what we finally came up with was a combination of the two ideas,” she says.

Telchin is grateful for Conescu’s guidance. “Nancy saw something that I didn’t initially see in the book, a synergistic combination of photos and words, with a concentration on the photos,” he says. “She had a vision that totally clicked and gave this project incredible life.”

The author, who still takes five to 10 heart photos each day and faithfully posts a “Heart of the Day” on his Web site, is currently working on a proposal for a second children’s book based on photos taken with his iPhone. Not ready to discuss details, he describes the project as “totally different, but is a natural extension of my first book.”

Telchin has visited numerous schools in his home state of Florida, and is always impressed at children’s ability to spot hearts – even in their own classrooms. “I think adults sometimes stop themselves from thinking outside the box, but kids are able to see hearts in everything, even if it isn’t a perfect heart,” he says. “One little girl told me that sometimes other kids call her names, but finding hearts helps her let that slip away. They seem to give a message of hope in tough times. And I think the book also sends a reminder to pay attention to and appreciate your surroundings. It’s amazing to me as an artist to put something out there and have people embrace it.”

See a Heart, Share a Heart by Eric Telchin. Dial, $12.99 Dec. 2012 ISBN 978-0-8037-3894-2