Cover image for Carl and the meaning of life / Deborah Freedman.
Carl and the meaning of life / Deborah Freedman.
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2019.

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : colour illustrations ; 30 cm.
Audience/Reading Level:
Ages 3 and up.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
FRE Book Easy Collection

On Order



From the often Caldecott-buzzed Deborah Freedman, a sweet and funny story about finding your place in the world. Carl is an earthworm. He spends his days happily tunneling in the soil until a field mouse asks him a simple question that stops him short- "Why?" Carl's quest takes him on an adventure to meet all the animals of the forest, each of whom seems to know exactly what they were put on this earth to do, unlike the curious Carl. But it's not until the world around him has changed that Carl begins to realize everyone, no matter how small, makes a big difference just by being themselves.

Author Notes

Deborah Freedman ( is a trained architect who now works as an author/illustrator. She is the author of This House, Once, Shy, By Mouse and Frog, The Story of Fish and Snail, Blue Chicken, and Scribble.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Freedman introduces Carl by telling readers what he is not: "Carl was not a bird" (nor a bear, nor a beaver). Carl is an earthworm, and he lives underneath the other forest animals. A cross-section of soil shows Carl next to a curling line of type describing his daily activities: "burrowing, tunneling, digesting dead leaves... turning hard dirt into fluffy soil." When a field mouse asks him why he does what he does, Carl's search for answers keeps him away from his work, and the earth dries up around him. "I can't find any grubs!" cries a ground beetle. With that, Carl understands his purpose. Freedman's spreads shows how tiny organisms help to keep the natural world in balance in this inventive worm's-eye view of the web of life. Ages 3-5. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Carl is an earthworm, always moving under the ground, digesting leaves and turning hard dirt into fluffy soil. When a field mouse asks him why he does that, Carl suffers an immediate identity crisis. He heads up and out into the world to see if any of the other animals can tell him his purpose and the meaning behind his actions. No one has any answers for himnot a mother rabbit, a haughty fox, or a nosy squirrel. After a long time spent questioning rather than burrowing, Carl suddenly realizes that there are no longer any animals to ask since, with the earth having turned barren and dry, they have all moved on in search of food and shelter. It is here that Carls epiphany leads him back down into the soil, doing his work and making it rich again. Animals return, seeds sprout, and clover blossoms once againthanks to Carl. Freedman (Blue Chicken, rev. 1/12) wraps up her story with a light touch, leaving it to readers to deduce the role of an earthworm in maintaining ecological balance. Carls existential woes are illustrated via delicate earth-toned watercolors on expansive, full-bleed double-page spreads; playfully winding type is used on the spreads showing Carls burrowing habits. The words the meaning of life in the books title allow young readers to use their inferencing skills, as the storys message is clear but not explicitly stated. A brief authors note is appended, inviting readers to think about how they, like the indomitable Carl, help the earth. julie Danielson March/April 2019 p 58(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.