Children ask a lot of questions, sometimes to their parents’ chagrin. When parents ask me how to deal with their child’s seemingly endless questions, I always suggest that they turn it back around on their child: “what do you think?” This buys a parent a few extra moments to gather their thoughts, while also encouraging their child to practice their critical thinking skills. If all else fails, I remind parents that the public library is always a great place to find the answers for which they are looking.
There are times, however, when a child asks a question that is devastatingly simple and direct, leaving an adult at a loss for words. Children can inspire us to think creatively (silliness, after all, is nothing to be afraid of), or lay bare the folly of adults unduly beholden to tradition, power, or the opinions of others. Conversations with children can be enlightening, uproarious, or even a bit scary. Children do not ask questions to be irksome, but rather to learn, and they deserve to have adults in their lives who engage them with patience.
If you are looking for some unconventional questions to pose to a child in your life, consider the new picture book adaptation of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. Published just this year by Enchanted Lion Books, this illustrated volume features selections from the esteemed Chilean poet’s posthumously published Libro de las preguntas, a series of 316 questions with no set answers, but with a universe of possible responses.
Translated by Sara Lissa Paulson, this oversize book is bilingual, presenting Neruda’s questions in both English and Spanish. All of Neruda’s questions are brief, and no more than three to four are presented on any page. This makes the book approachable, allowing the reader to ponder a few questions at a time (as I tell parents in my workshops, there is no law that says one has to finish a picture book in one sitting).
The full page illustrations by Chilean-born (how apropos!) Paloma Valdivia use a bold palette of reds, blues, and yellows with monochromatic accents. Valdivia’s illustrations borrow inspiration from plants, animals, even outer space. Some illustrations open out to even larger panels, adding to the book’s wonder and surprise.
The Book of Questions/Libro de las preguntas would be a beautiful gift volume for a bilingual family, or for a child who loves to ask questions. It would also be appreciated by any fan of Neruda’s poetry. Because picture books are for everyone, this book would easily fit in a secondary or university classroom, whether discussing poetry, creative writing, or even philosophy. Picture books are more than what they seem, as are children’s questions. Both can reveal truths to us, if we are only willing to see.
Written by Pablo Neruda
Illustrated by Paloma Valdivia
Translated from Spanish by Sara Lissa Paulson
Enchanted Lion, 2022
You can purchase this book here.*
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Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.