The Best Four Questions

Rachelle Burk; Mélanie Flo­ri­an, illus.

  • Review
By – April 8, 2019

This clever pic­ture book spot­lights the seder’s four ques­tions while reflect­ing hon­est fam­i­ly dynam­ics. We empathize with Jake, no longer the youngest child, who balks at pass­ing the torch and fore­go­ing the acco­lades from his read­ing of the ques­tions. His younger sis­ter Mar­cy, how­ev­er, is excit­ed; she’s proud she has learned to read, and con­fi­dent since she already asks more ques­tions than any­one else. Com­ing up with just four will be sim­ple. Why practice?

At the seder, Mar­cy hap­pi­ly dives in with four ques­tions that, while Passover-themed, are cer­tain­ly not from the hag­gadah. Ini­tial­ly stunned, her fam­i­ly mem­bers rise to the occa­sion and seri­ous­ly answer her queries about grandma’s matzah balls, whether worms are kosher, why Uncle Ben­jy falls asleep dur­ing the seder, and whether horse­rad­ish comes from hors­es. Then they gen­tly explain that she must read the four from the hag­gadah as well. Over­whelmed, Mar­cy asks Jake to help her. Jok­ing­ly point­ing out that this is a fifth ques­tion, he nev­er­the­less joins her.

The tra­di­tion­al four ques­tions are an inte­gral part of the seder and the hag­gadah, and the answers giv­en by the pre­sid­ing adults in The Best Four Ques­tions pro­vide a frame­work for learn­ing about one of the most piv­otal times in Jew­ish his­to­ry — the exo­dus from Egypt and the trans­for­ma­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple from slaves into mas­ters of their own des­tiny. The four ques­tions also serve anoth­er impor­tant pur­pose: that of includ­ing younger chil­dren in the evening’s pro­ceed­ings, help­ing them learn the his­to­ry of their peo­ple, and nur­tur­ing their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with both the Jews of ancient times and Jews sit­ting at seder tables around the world today. The ques­tions were for­mu­lat­ed by Jew­ish sages who under­stood the val­ue of piquing the inter­est of the chil­dren at the table — vital to the sto­ry being trans­mit­ted from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. Although The Best Four Ques­tions is light-heart­ed and humor­ous, it also guides young chil­dren toward an under­stand­ing of them­selves and their places in the Jew­ish world.

The book’s col­or­ful illus­tra­tions sup­port the text, depict­ing the seder table and the cer­e­mo­ni­al dish­es as well as the fam­i­ly mem­bers. There is no explic­it expla­na­tion of the holiday’s bib­li­cal back­ground or of the seder’s mean­ing and rit­u­als oth­er than that implied by the impor­tance of ask­ing the ques­tions each year. Chil­dren who have some famil­iar­i­ty with the hol­i­day will feel empow­ered by a book whose author assumes they are expe­ri­enced and knowl­edge­able, and they will get a good laugh out of the delight­ful fun.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions