Friday, February 24, 2012

Question Boy Meets Little Miss Know-It-All

Written & illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
Atheneum, 2012
$16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

Everyday superheroes are no match for Question Boy, a masked crusader who asks a dizzying number of questions.

But will an opinionated girl in the park who won't stop chattering be able to satisfy his curiosity? Or will she just be really difficult to talk to?

In this funny, clever picture book, Question Boy (a boy who wants to know everything) and Little-Miss-Know-It-All (a girl who thinks she already does) face off in a verbal brawl that has each blurting out words at each other.

In the end, Question Boy and Little-Miss-Know-It-All both get the words knocked out of them, but in doing so, they discover they're more alike than they knew. Both are inquisitive, but in a needling sort of way that isn't getting them what they really want.

As the story begins, Question Boy (dressed in a cape and leotard with a "Q" on his chest), goes around town with an unquenchable need to know. He seeks out the town's action heroes, municipal workers and private employees in tights, and drills them with questions about what they do.

But before they can answer his first question, he's onto another and pestering them about "what if" scenarios that they either have no time to answer or have no idea how to answer.

First Question Boy comes upon Garbage Man in a body-hugging suit ridding the city of filth, and interrupts his busy morning with questions that seem to have no end.

"How much stuff can you fit in your truck?" he asks, as Garbage Man hurls bags of trash into the back of his truck. Of course, Garbage Man isn't exactly sure, so he vaguely answers, "A lot."

But this doesn't satisfy Question Boy, so he bombards him with followup questions:  Could you fit an elephant  into the truck, a whale, how about a brontosaurus or the moon?

A glazed and confused look comes over Garbage Man's face and, fearing another onslaught of overwhelming questions, he jumps into his truck and speeds off.

So Question Boy moves on down the street and runs into Oil Man in a Batman-like uniform filling a tank with fuel, then Police Woman, Mechanic Man, Wonder Waitress, Mailman and Paperboy.

Each time, Question Boy asks what they're doing, and oversteps the bounds of courtesy by boldly asking them to show him things or prove what they say is right. Then each worker, or hero, flees looking perplexed, panicked or woozy.

Poor Question Boy. He doesn't have a clue about how to use restraint or even what not to ask. The thing is, he's got such a hunger to understand things that he doesn't know how to reign it in.

Momentarily deterred, Question Boy plunks down on the grass in the park. But then, his eye catches a coin by his foot and a voice behind him tells him there are exactly 118 ridges on every dime.

It's Little Miss Know-It-All in a pink princess dress and tiara, and whether she's got her facts straight or not, she's got an answer for everything. But is that really what he was hoping for? Answers from a girl who says things are true just because she thinks they are?

Soon, the two are in a stand-off, slugging questions and exclamations at each other. As kids gather around to cheer them on, will Question Boy be able to get a word in edge-wise and if so, will he come up with a question that even she can't answer? Or will Little Miss Know-It-All hook him with a walloping comeback?

This was hilarious -- two kids who are accustomed to having the last word, who crave to have all the answers but have equally annoying ways of going about it, and who, in the end, need each other to realize just how exhausting and overwhelming they both have been.

Author-illustrator Peter Catalanotto has come up with a deliciously honest storyline that even the most talkative and opinionated child will giggle at. This is a book to help kids laugh at themselves and learn the social grace of knowing when to stop talking. (And the kind of book parents will whisper hurray for when they see they're child reading it. Finally, a gentle story to help moderate all that talking without squashing a child's spirit.)

Catalanotto came up with the premise after reading that most five-year-olds ask more than 400 questions daily. That was his daughter at that age, very inquisitive, but then a few years later, instead of questions, she had all the answers. And he wondered, "What if these two personalities met?"

Well now we know: one of the funniest premises to hit picture books so far this year.

1 comment: