cover image The Book of Whys

The Book of Whys

Gianni Rodari, illus. by JooHee Yoon, trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar. Enchanted Lion, $27.95 (152p) ISBN 978-1-59270-364-7

Based on columns that Rodari (A Daydreamy Child Takes a Walk) wrote for Italian daily newspaper l’Unità from 1955 to 1958 in which he addressed wide-ranging topics from young readers, this quixotic collection of poems provides comical answers for each query. Evergreen wonderings such as “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” and “Why do your eyes sting when you chop an onion?” prompt playful yet scientific responses rendered in rhyme that paint witty stories infused with vivacious word play. Kindness radiates from a reply regarding the nature of mermaids: “Perhaps I should tell you, cautiously but with/ utter sincerity, that mermaids and sirens/ never really existed.” When asked why one cannot feel Earth’s spin, he responds with a ditty: “There’s a spaceship christened Planet Earth,/ Hurtling through the void, the place of our birth.” In “Why don’t you talk about proverbs anymore?” the author describes them as contradictory and encourages readers to create their own for amusement. The compassionate and educational replies are enhanced by midcentury-modern-style color pencil illustrations by Yoon (Supposing...), who depicts worshipped Egyptian cats, figures of varying skin tones engaging in myriad activities, and whimsy galore, making for a simultaneously thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud work that tackles questions regarding flights of fancy and contemporary existence. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)