Who Will Ask the Four Questions

Nao­mi Ben-Gur, Carmel Ben-Ami (illus.), Gilah Kahn-Hoff­mann (trans.)

  • Review
By – February 24, 2020

Sib­ling rival­ry cer­tain­ly pre­dates the hol­i­day of Passover but in this short, high­ly rec­om­mend­ed sto­ry, one of the cen­tral parts of the Passover seder becomes a tense exam­ple of this age-old prob­lem. Old­er broth­er Eitan feels unpre­pared to yield the spot­light to his sis­ter, Evie, who is eager to assume the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the youngest child to recite the ques­tions, which elic­it an adult’s expla­na­tion of the holiday’s mean­ing. Many read­ers of the book will have expe­ri­enced this dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion them­selves or will, at least, under­stand the dilem­ma it pos­es for cel­e­bra­tions where more than one child may con­sid­er them­selves the best actor for this role.

With real­is­tic dia­logue, Eitan’s first-per­son nar­ra­tion trans­lat­ed from orig­i­nal Hebrew, and expres­sive pic­tures cap­tur­ing the children’s con­flict and sup­port from their adult rel­a­tives, Who Will Ask the Four Ques­tions? should help answer ques­tions about empa­thy and emo­tion­al growth.

Nao­mi Ben-Gur avoids gener­ic qual­i­ties in her char­ac­ters. As read­ers meet Eitan, he is seat­ed with his Grand­ma Nao­mi in his room and play­ing his gui­tar. Eitan is an artist and a per­former. The floor is strewn with crayons and pic­tures, but Eitan’s pre­ferred medi­um is music. His grand­moth­er remarks appre­cia­tive­ly, You sound like a real pop star,” and with his unruly curls and cuffed jeans, Eitan cer­tain­ly looks the part. For Eitan, recit­ing the Ma Nish­tanais not only a reli­gious oblig­a­tion, but also the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shine in his cho­sen field. When Evie appears, she is doing a sim­ple puz­zle which empha­sizes her youth and, in her brother’s eyes, her unsuit­abil­i­ty for tak­ing over his job. Evie is per­sis­tent and, worse, Grand­ma Nao­mi becomes her ally, teach­ing her and offer­ing encour­age­ment when she hes­i­tates. The need to share his dot­ing grand­moth­er makes Eitan feel even worse and adds to the real­is­tic por­tray­al of fam­i­ly conflict.

Carmel Ben-Ami’s illus­tra­tions of the holiday’s hec­tic prepa­ra­tions and live­ly rit­u­al also root the sto­ry in a spe­cif­ic child­hood. Eitan’s casu­al­ly dressed Israeli father, wear­ing san­dals and with a dish­cloth hang­ing from his back pock­et, cooks for the fes­tive meal. His moth­er grabs a bowl of sal­ad, but is forced to look away from her task by Eitan’s full-blown tantrum. Both par­ents and chil­dren will rec­og­nize his clenched fists, stomp­ing feet, and nar­rowed eyes as the sign that some­one needs to get con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion. Mean­while, Evie stands on a step­stool in the adja­cent bath­room, prac­tic­ing like a diva in front of the mirror.

Chil­dren do not resolve com­pe­ti­tion with sib­lings eas­i­ly and Who Will Ask the Four Ques­tions? does not pre­tend that they do. Through­out the book, Eitan pro­gress­es from anger and manip­u­la­tion to sup­port for his sis­ter, whose vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty he comes to under­stand. As all eyes at the extend­ed table turn towards her, he has an ungen­er­ous thought: She looked nervous…Maybe she would final­ly give in and let me sing?” The Four Ques­tions float in bright blue block let­ters against a white page, and, at least for a time, Eitan finds har­mo­ny in his rela­tion­ship with Evie. Young read­ers will feel val­i­dat­ed in their strug­gle and adults will appre­ci­ate the multi­gen­er­a­tional approach to an issue. This is a good book to keep on hand along with the Haggadah.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions