What is Love? | Mac Barnett


What is Love? written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Carson Ellis

Out Now from Chronicle Books; 44 pages

About the Author: “Mac Barnett is a New York Times-bestselling author of stories for children. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. Mac’s books have won many prizes, including two Caldecott Honors, three New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Awards, three E.B. White Read Aloud Awards, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Germany’s Jugendliteraturpreis, China’s Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Award, and Italy’s Premio Orbil. Mac lives in Oakland, California.” (Bio taken from author’s website) 

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About the Illustrator: “Carson Ellis is the author and illustrator of the bestselling picture books Home and Du Iz Tak? (a Caldecott Honor book and the recipient of an E.B. White Read Aloud Award). She has illustrated a number of books for kids including The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket, and The Wildwood Chronicles by her husband, Colin Meloy. Carson has been awarded silver medals by the Society of Illustrators for her work on Wildwood Imperium and on Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide. She’s the illustrator-in-residence for Colin’s band, The Decemberists, and received Grammy nominations in 2016 and 2018 for album art design. She works sporadically as an editorial illustrator for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and others publications and exhibits art on occasion. She’s represented by Nationale in Portland. Carson lives on a farm in Oregon with Colin, their two sons, two cats, one llama, three goats, many chickens, and an unfathomable multitude of tree frogs.” (Bio taken from illustrator’s website)

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“A sports car, a donut, a lizard, a ring. The first snow of winter, a maple in summer. A grizzly bear, this pebble right here—these are all things people told me love is.” 

What is love? That is the question at the center of this vibrant and heartwarming picture book. The story begins with a little boy asking his grandmother what love is. When she advises the boy to set off into the world to find out for himself, he does just that. What follows is a journey of discovery for the boy as he travels far and wide, asking many interesting people (and a few animals) the same old question, “what is love?” In the end, however, the boy discovers that the answer to his question may have been inside him all along. 

What Is Love? contains a perfect mix of humor, silliness, and heart. Reading this story felt simultaneously like going on a thrilling adventure and returning to the safety of home. By showcasing the varied answers that can be given to the same seemingly simple question, Mac Barnett offers the reader a lesson on the power of perspective. When the fisherman says love is a fish and the farmer says it’s a seed, they are both right, because what a person loves is unique to them. 

Ellis’ illustrations are nothing short of mesmerizing. From lush plants to starry skies and open ocean, the nature scenes depicted in the book help set the tone for each new setting along the boy’s journey. Ellis also uses delightful little details, such as a dog’s tongue-out grin and a carpenter’s bandaged thumbs, to create a quirky cast of characters. I appreciated the diversity represented in the characters in terms of race, sex, age, and more. 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this special book is that love means something different to each and every one of us. So, tell me, what is love? 

PRR Writer, Emily Pimental