#1161 – Questions Asked by Jostein Gaarder & Akin Düzakin

Questions Asked
Written by Jostein Gaarder
Translation from Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Illustrations by Akin Düzakin
Elsewhere Editions   5/09/2017
72 pages    Ages 3—7

“Questions Asked follows a little boy traveling alone in an open landscape. Soon we realize he is on a journey of thoughts and dreams, asking questions about loss, myth, language, magic, and what it means to be a human being. Jostein Gaarder’s philosophical questions merge with the beautiful illustrations of Akin Düzakin into a tale of friendship, love, and grief—and about life as you like it.” [INSIDE JACKET]

Questions Asked is not your usual picture book or children’s story. It is deeply philosophical asking questions often unanswerable. The publisher, Archipelago’s new imprint Elsewhere Editions, explains the story as one that, “Follows a little boy traveling alone in an open landscape, asking questions about loss, love, friendship, language, magic, and what it means to be a human being.” The author, Jostein Gaarder, is a Norwegian philosopher and existentialist.

The Story
[WC 255]
A young boy, morning his twin brother, walks into the woods. How the twin perished or when is unknown, but from the images, it is clear the young boy is mourning his brother and asking existentialist questions, a lad his age would not normally think about on a trip into the woods. He digs up a box of trinkets the twins collected, as seen through flashbacks. The boy runs to his treehouse, looking back when he feels another following him—no one is there.
Sitting on a log, the boy stares at the box’s contents. Memories send him into the past. Later, we find the boy walking into the lake he once swam with his twin. The box is set free and floats away. At some point, the boy changes his mind and dives out after the box, which is now deep under water. As he dives deeper and deeper, he looks back, once again feeling a presence following him. His thoughts return once more to yesterdays past.

On the lake bottom sits the box. Another young boy takes out a book; a journal or a sketchbook. Next, we see this same boy pulling the original young boy onto the shore, presumably having saved him from drowning. Sometime later, the boy’s dog wakes him with a lick. The book lies next to him. The young boy and his dog head home, stopping—to make a wish—to blow the fuzz off a weed. Opening the book he writes, “What shall I do with my life?”
[WC 307]
Questions Asked is a small “pocket-sized” picture book. The black-haired young boy’s only dialogue consists of philosophical questions asking, “Do angels and ghosts exist? Can anyone know what I think? Is it possible to exist and not think about anything at all? Can those who are not with us anymore know how we are? Why am I alive? Why does the world exist?” The beautiful, black and white pictures—sometimes sepia toned or powdery-blue—show us a young boy mourning the loss of his twin brother. He is trying to make sense of what happened, why it happened (but not to him), and what happens now.
The boy feels a presence following him, but cannot see anything. Sure enough, another young boy of the same height and general build follows from a distance, keeping track of his brother. From a far, he watches the boy walk to the treehouse holding their buried treasure. He watches his twin send the box of memories a float, and then hugs him as he sits by his brother’s side on the dock. When the boy goes after the box, the deceased twin follows.

Kids will have no trouble discerning the meaningful story told within the pages of Questions Asked. Though there is no dialogue, the boy’s questions, paired with the magical illustrations, tell a powerful, compelling story of love, loss, sorrow, and eventually new hope. The second spread shows the boy running off to a new adventure, a shooting star—his twin?—seemingly following him.
Children who have lost a loved one might find comfort in Questions Asked. I certainly would have used this book with grieving children. Questions Asked and a blank journal could help many kids facing difficult times, not just losing a loved one. I would arm every children’s social worker with Questions Asked. Kids can think deeper than many adults can give them credit. This sort of book allows, no demands the reader answer the Questions Asked.

QUESTIONS ASKED. Text copyright © 2012 by Jostein Gaarder. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Akin Düzakin. English translation copyright © 2017 by Don Bartlett. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Elsewhere Editions, Brooklyn, NY.

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Add QUESTIONS ASKED to Your Goodreads Shelf HERE.
Note: Originally published in Norway by Aschehoug © 2012 and titled Det spørs. On Goodreads HERE.

Illustrations from QUESTIONS ASKED by Jostein Gaarder copyright © 2012 by Akin Düzakin. Used with permission from Elsewhere Editions/Archipelago Books.

Copyright © 2017 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved

Questions Asked
Written by Jostein Gaarder
Translation from Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Illustrations by Akin Düzakin
Elsewhere Editions 5/09/2017

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