Parents need to know that "Love," by Newbery Medal-winning Matt de la Pena ("Last Stop on Market Street") and illustrated by Loren Long ("Otis"), highlights the ways love is expressed and the ways that love shows itself simply and unexpectedly in everyday life. The illustrations feature warm, loving families of different races, most in humble circumstances. These families live in trailers by the sea or run through summer sprinklers in urban playgrounds, and their strong examples deliver the book's message: We can look for and notice real human connection and love. Most spreads are warm and reassuring, but a couple tackle more complex issues (a child affected by parental substance abuse, protecting kids from disturbing images on TV).
WHAT'S THE STORY?
"Love" begins with "two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed, and the sound of their voices is love." It moves on to other simple examples of love, for instance, a cabdriver who "plays love softly on his radio while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city," and "a slice of burned toast that tastes like love" offered by a brother. It ends by reassuring kids that when the time comes for them to set off on their own, they'll leave armed with love. While the book hints that life can be laced with worry and pain, it highlights examples of love.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
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This book about love, featuring folks of different races, offers gentle instruction in how to look for love in all the right places by noticing it coursing through everyday life. In "Love," families and neighbors connect and have fun and support one another in simple yet deeply meaningful ways. Author Matt de la Pena and illustrator Loren Long collaborate to present examples that are sweetly touching. A dad catches a bus at dawn for work, while an older brother offers his little brother a simple breakfast. A boy in a wheelchair offers a hot dog from a street vender to a homeless man on a park bench. Four uncles toss horseshoes in the shade of backyard palms. A schoolgirl drops a dollar in the guitar case of "a man in rags outside the subway station" who's playing "love notes that lift into the sky like tiny beacons of light."
The gorgeous illustrations are full of tender detail. In one particularly affecting spread, the text says, "the face staring back in the bathroom mirror – this, too is love," as we stare into a young girl's soulful eyes. Long and de la Pena wisely don't shy away from acknowledging that life has its challenges, and for some kids, the challenges are serious. The few pages about strife might be confusing, presenting more questions than answers. What exactly's happening with that family gathered worriedly around a TV? (Long and de la Pena have referred to this as the "9/11 page," where a mother tries to block something horrific on the screen to protect a toddler from seeing it.) Or the one where a boy is cowering under the piano while a man stumbles away from a whiskey glass? (De la Pena has said there was addiction and divorce in his family.) Families can talk about those scenes as they otherwise get lost in the lovely, lyrical text and art, and the larger message about love.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 6 and older
Quality: 4 out of 5
Educational value: 2 out of 5
Positive messages: 5 out of 5
Positive role models: 5 out of 5
Violence and scariness: 1 out of 5
Language: 0 out of 5
Author: Matt de la Pena
Illustrator: Loren Long
Genre: Picture Book
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: January 9, 2018
Number of pages: 40
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