cover image What Is Love?

What Is Love?

Mac Barnett, illus. by Carson Ellis. Chronicle, $17.99 (44p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7640-6

“What is love?” a tan-skinned boy in a blue shirt asks his grandmother as she cuts flowers in front of their cottage. “I can’t answer that,” she says; “If you go out into the world, you might find an answer.” As he subsequently inquires, he finds that each person defines love as something that reflects them: to the fisherman, love is a fish; to the carpenter, it’s a house; to a dog, it’s chasing a cat. Gouache paintings by Ellis (In the Half Room) give the story a fairy tale atmosphere, and a sense of theater, too, as rakishly costumed characters pose like actors on a stage. Barnett (A Polar Bear in the Snow) injects humor by making the book’s hero honest to a fault. “But I don’t like fish,” he says to a fisherman. “They’re slimy and taste bad. And they have creepy eyes.” To these and all his other objections, the characters repeat, “You do not understand.” The humor isn’t often reflected in Ellis’s spreads, which retain her distinctive look throughout—an aesthetic perfectly suited to the tender moment when the boy returns home to the person who answers his question. Ages 3–5. Agent (for Barnett and Ellis): Steven Malk, Writers House. (Nov.)