Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Need To Know

There comes a time in every person's life when their most-used phrase consists of a single word.  It is used frequently during a question and answer conversation.  Sometimes it's used repeatedly, perhaps because the ones saying it know how irritating it can be to some people.  Other times this three-letter word helps to satisfy a mind full of never-ending curiosity.  It's an inquisitiveness which will serve them well over the course of their lives.  It's a search to be informed, understand and become whole.

This single word is why.  It's used with the appropriate punctuation as the title of a new picture book by two-time Caldecott Honor winner (First the Egg and Green) and two-time Geisel Honor winner (First the Egg and One Boy), Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Why? (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, August 13, 2019) explores chats between a patient bear and a need-to-know rabbit, revealing the depth of their friendship.

asked the rabbit

"Because flowers need water
to grow," said the bear.

From watching the bear with his watering can to sitting on a hill with the bear at nighttime, the rabbit cannot stop asking one question after another question.  During daylight, after finding out why the bear had a telescope on the hill, rabbit needs to know about the bear's over consumption of jugs of honey.  Can you guess why?

Everywhere the bear goes, the rabbit follows, keeping up a constant conversation.  The rabbit even wonders about the bear's inability to follow him down his own hole to his home.  The rabbit's struggle to maintain his grip on a branch and a subsequent fall prompt two more inquiries and replies.

As the seasons shift the bear and the rabbit watch and ponder the flight of geese in their familiar formation.  From colorful leaves to falling snow, the rabbit seeks answers.  When a dead robin is discovered in the snow by the rabbit, the bear admits to sometimes not having the knowledge to respond.

The snow continues to coat the ground, becoming deeper and deeper.  The bear turns to go, but the rabbit asks him to stay.  Now it's the bear's turn to say:


The rabbit's words are guaranteed to elicit a collective sigh from all readers and listeners.

When I think of Laura Vaccaro Seeger, I think of her as a storyteller for our souls. She is a master of words and language, choosing them with care to convey exactly what we all need.  In this narrative we comprehend the curiosity of the rabbit but also value the capacity of the bear for kindness through their give and take dialogue.  When it switches with the bear asking the one-word question, the purity of both their hearts are revealed.

The illustrations in this title are rendered using watercolor.  When you open the dust jacket the bear's body extends over the spine to the back, creating an entire scene.  The layered colors in the sky, grass, and the bear's and the rabbit's bodies invite you to reach out and touch them.  This setting on the dust jacket, all of them throughout the book, emanate warmth and gentleness.

Beneath the jacket on the smooth, soft dark teal book case, the bear and the rabbit are embossed on the front. They are seated on a small hill next to and facing each other.  A lighter teal covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Laura Vaccaro Seeger begins her visual story on the title page.  The rabbit is hopping after the bear that is carrying a watering can.

Each page turn displays a luminous two-page picture with the exception of two pages.  These two pages have smaller images to accentuate the pacing, leading to bear's statement.   When Laura Vaccaro Seeger shifts her perspective, we stand in awe at the portrayal or want to leap into the closeness depicted in the illustration.  Is it me or do I see a tiny, tiny symbol of love in one picture?

The body postures on the bear and the rabbit as well as their facial expressions endear them to us.  These help to make us a part of their conversations.  This is why when seeing the concluding image of the story, which Laura Vaccaro Seeger paints on the verso page, readers will want to hug this book.

One of my many, many favorite visuals is a double-page picture.  The rabbit is tumbling from the branch he was holding after losing his grip on a windy day.  On a sky-blue background with wispy clouds, thicker in the corners, along the sides and along the top and bottom, he is shown three times, left to right.  First, he is facing left, on the left, like he is hopping in air.  Then, on the right, all his limbs are spread with his mouth wide open as he asks:


Nearing the right-hand corner, he is still on his back, but he is trying to slow his drop.  (Bear catches him on the next page.)

Why? written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a book to cherish for its insightful presentation of friendship, for the exuberant spirit of inquiry and the huge capability for compassion exhibited by her characters.  It will find a place in all readers' souls.  It would be interesting to read this first without bear's replies to see what children's predictions might be based on the wonderful illustrations.   You could also have discussions on other why? circumstances.  I highly recommend you have a copy of this in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Laura Vaccaro Seeger and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Laura Vaccaro Seeger has an account on Facebook and Twitter.   There is a five question Q & A at The Horn Book with Laura Vaccaro Seeger in December 2018.  Laura Vaccaro Seeger visits author Tara Lazar's Writing For Kids (While Raising Them to talk about her process and this book.  This book and Laura Vaccaro Seeger are highlighted at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You will love seeing the artistic process.  At a publisher's website you can view the title page.

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