There are a lot of children’s books that talk about love, but none do it quite as deeply as this one. Originally published in Flemish, and translated by David Colmer, The Big Question is, of course, about love.
The animals in this book have an annual meeting, which is usually chaired by Turtle. This time, Ant has been called in for the job as Turtle’s wife is sick. Ant is so ambitious that she has even bought a new pair of glasses, so she looks the part. At this meeting one animal is allowed to ask a question – that the group then answers. The answering is done in a powwow, and each opinion is weighed the same as the next. Even that of the Stone. Elephant is the asker on this occasion.
The question is of course about love, and each of the answers from everybody from Mouse to Snow White, to Apple Tree gives a unique answer. In fact, of course, love can be anything that two people, or things, or elements make it. Even the clouds have love, through moving in the same direction. The personalities of each entity are elucidated very lightly, especially that of Ant, the director of the scene of discussion.
The illustrations have an incredible abstract beauty. The illustrator, Kaatje Vermeire uses collaging, leaf rubbings, cut-outs, and beautiful illustrative elements to create something quite unique among picture books. The detail is astounding – the animals meet at the top of a big hill for their annual get-together, and the ants work to take, in order from the front to the back – a supermarket trolley of books and a lamp, a couch, a drum, a lounge chair, a dining room chair, a gramophone, a butterfly catcher, and a bath. The colouring is mostly in shades of grey, with splashes of orange, peach, green and pink, blue and red to enhance the details. The format of the book is foolscap, unusually, but I think it was a wise choice from the publishers, Kapiti Island publisher Book Island – it showcases the illustrations wonderfully.
This is a sophisticated picture book, though one that children are certainly capable of understanding. The themes are not adult, though perhaps the answers to the question cannot quite be understood by younger children. I would suggest an audience over 6 years old.
Most of all though – buy it for your love if you enjoy it yourself. If they agree with this book, you are with the right person.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
The Big Question
by Leen Van Den Berg & Kaatje Vermeire
Published by Book Island