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Asking “The Big Question” Is Always An Act Of Struggle and Resistance as seen in a Belgian Picturebook

Created by Leen Van Den Berg and Kaatje Vermeire.

Myra here.

I originally had a different book scheduled for posting for Valentine’s Day. Then I read this book, and I know that this book found me for a reason.

There are different ways of struggling and resisting – and it is usually evident in the mere act of asking questions, especially the biggest one of them all.

The Big Question

Written by Leen Van Den Berg Illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire
Published by Book Island (2014). Original Title: De Vraag Van Olifant (2011)
ISBN: 0994109849 (ISBN13: 9780994109842). Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Elephant had something on her mind. She wanted to consult everyone during the annual meeting about this big question at the back of her head, refusing to go away.

This annual meeting is going to be slightly different, though. The usual chair of the meeting, Turtle, is unable to make it because his wife is ill. Ant will be taking over in behalf of Turtle. Ant even has eyeglasses worn for the occasion, to make sure that everyone would listen to her. Ant’s first order of business was to immediately get Elephant to ask her question, because as Ant artfully put it, “I’m busy today.”

With much struggling, Elephant was able to spit out her question:

How do you know you love someone?

Many of the creatures who attended are pretty learned and shared their insights, with Snow White even providing her own input as to how she knew for certain that the Prince was the one for her.

Apple’s blush is a tell-tale signal, whereas Polar Bear’s feeling of being transported to a warm island was his indicator of love. My absolute favourite though is Grandma’s wise response:

Reading poems for someone who’s lost.

While everyone was sharing their reflections, Ant was busy scribbling notes to bring to Turtle after the meeting, all the while raising her eyebrows at some of what she feels to be ‘weird’ responses.

After the sick man and the stars in the skies shared how they know that they are in love, the acrobats finally exclaimed that:

Love is all those things.

The Elephant quickly thanked everyone and rushed off down the hill. The subtlety of the responses tugged at my insides – not to mention Ant’s no-nonsense note-taking, and sterile report of the responses given to Elephant’s question during the annual meeting was also sobering.

More than asking readers what their answer to the big question is, it is worthwhile exploring how in the midst of Ant’s busy-ness, preoccupation with getting ahead, and singular absorption with the task at hand – she has lost sight of that which is essential.

May this Valentine’s Day be a reminder of that which is important – and a day of answering our own big questions. One of the best picturebooks I read late last year.

#WomenReadWomen2019: 13 of 25 – Belgium (both author and illustrator are from Belgium)

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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