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.