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THE BOOK OF WHYS by Gianni Rodari


by Gianni Rodari illustrated by JooHee Yoon ; translated by Antony Shugaar

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 2024
ISBN: 9781592703647
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books

Translated questions from kids, answered by renowned Italian children’s writer Rodari in his 1950s newspaper columns.

Rodari, who grew up during Mussolini’s reign, briefly joined the Fascists to obtain work but actively resisted the regime. His ethos shines through in this work; respect for his child audience mingles with his pro-labor, anti-authoritarian outlook. He often appends mini-parables and rhyming ditties to his answers. Throughout, Rodari excoriates proverbs for their fusty, contradictory didacticism. Responding to “Why do we have to study?” he notes that learning helps students make the world “a better and more beautiful place”—yet he urges children to seek lessons beyond books, in firsthand experiences. His brilliant riposte to why gold is so precious locates its answer in the human labor expended to extract it. He then skewers the proverb “Silence is golden,” avowing that if “it’s the right time to express your point of view, then silence isn’t even worth as much as…sawdust.” Rodari provides pithy answers to basic queries about rainbows, light bulbs, and auto engines. There are koanlike nuggets for some “whys,” from “Why are kings kings?” (“because they say so”) to “Why does it rain? (“because of the sun”) to “Why do we all wish for things?” (“wishing…amounts to living”). His riff on the secret to lifelong happiness is lovely and affirmative: “You learn it from life.” Depicting diverse children and adults, Yoon’s whimsical illustrations further enliven the text.

Welcome insights from a celebrated author.

(introduction from Shugaar, artist’s note) (Informational picture book. 6-12)