Just Because by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Just Because by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
It is bedtime. A father is putting his daughter to sleep. And, in the way that kids do, she is stalling. That said, there is no doubt that her curiosity is genuine. The father's poetically inventive answers (Arsenault dedicates this book to her "highly creative dad," which I love) to his child's questions are magical and deeply satisfying, are the the connection and interplay between the two. Sometimes one answer leads to a new question, as with "Why do the leaves change color?" The response, "In autumn, when the world gets colder, the trees keep warm by setting quiet little fires in their leaves. By winter, their branches have all burned up," leads to the question, "Why do birds fly south for the winter?" To "fetch new leaves for the trees," of course! A very imaginative response to the question of what happened to the dinosaurs also answers the question of what are black holes...
This final question, "Why do we have to sleep?" receives the most logical answer of all, which also leads to the loveliest illustration in the book, which I will leave you to discover on your own!
I have to be honest, at first, Just Because elicited a negative response from me that I needed to unpack. I realized that I was jealous - jealous of the father and child, jealous that the father was being asked these questions at all. I am a deeply curious person and wish I had five other lives to live, there are so many deep dives I would like to take (food anthropologist, beautician, policy maker for social justice in public school, barista...) My husband has been a teacher for 25 years, my mother was a teacher, and in our family, a question from a kid usually received a very long, scholarly reply. I am constantly searching up answers based on my daily interactions with kids (how many words in the English language, how old is The Odyssey, where was the Chupacabra first sighted) yet I am NEVER asked questions like the kind the child asks in Just Because. I'm not sure why the kids I work with are so overwhelmingly un-curious. Third through sixth graders have district issued iPads and can explore the world anytime, yet they don't. Maybe their digital experiences (which now begin as toddlers being handed phones as pacifiers) from watching people play video games, to watching people unbox toys, and watching people prank each other is to blame? Maybe it's normal? Whatever the reason, it saddens me and makes me concerned (along with so many other current social norms) for the future of our country. So I get now why reading Just Because initially made me mad and sad. But, on future readings, I was able to connect with my own sense of curiosity and the beauty of the illustrations and enjoy this superb picture book the way it was meant to be. And maybe, just maybe, I can read it to my students and spark something in them...