Why?, illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, published by Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Holiday House), ISBN: 978-0823441730, ARC reviewed, to be released: August 13, 2019.
Anyone who has hung out with an inquisitive child will recognize and relate to this book’s scenario: a little rabbit (a stand-in for the child reader) keeps asking the bear “why?” about various situations. And yet Laura Vaccaro Seeger, the gifted two-time Caldecott honor winner, takes the seemingly simple situation and adds a poignant spin to it that elevates the work to another level. Although warm, her lovely watercolors never feel saccharine or cutesy. The animals emerge as pensive, soulful creatures, never cloying. Seeger makes them appear realistic even when engaging in anthropomorphic behavior (like looking through a telescope). I love Seeger’s approach to her topic. We don’t get the rabbit’s full question, only a “why?”. The bear’s responses help fill in the blanks, as do Seeger’s evocative illustrations. The questions start off as relatively breezy with the bunny wondering why bear waters flowers or why bear enjoys honey. But they grow in intensity, laced with a sense of melancholy. Soon rabbit bombards bear with a bunch of questions, and bear, when posed with a question about a dead bird, finally has to admit that they don’t have all the answers. It’s a surprising gut punch, a moment of vulnerability on the bear’s part. Sometimes elders don’t have all the answers. Seeger turns the situation around during the book’s final moments with the rabbit saying something that prompts the bear to ask “why?”. Although snow falls from the sky, the warmth of their friendship shines through. The final image is haunting and beautiful.