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Rockville Centre resident’s new children’s book asks, ‘why?’

Seeger wrote and illustrated “Why?” because “it’s a question I’m always asking, I’m always wondering why things are the way they are,” she said. “Why?” is her 19th book and counting.
Seeger wrote and illustrated “Why?” because “it’s a question I’m always asking, I’m always wondering why things are the way they are,” she said. “Why?” is her 19th book and counting.
Courtesy Laura Vaccaro Seeger

“Why?” is the title and central question of Rockville Centre resident Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s new picture book.

In it, a rabbit follows a bear and asks “why?” about everything the bear does, such as watering flowers and eating honey. The bear answers almost every question. Seeger’s watercolor illustrations — on a cool, blue-and-green color palette — convey all the action in the book. The delivery is simple, but the message is deep.

“As adults, we feel like we always have to have all the answers with kids,” Seeger said. “Sometimes we don’t, and that’s OK.”

Each story Seeger writes is an exploration, she said. Her most recent release, “Blue,” for example, follows a boy and dog growing up together. The words only describe the “blues” on the page, such as “true blue,” “sky blue” and “stormy blue,” and the illustrations take care of the rest.

Seeger has won the Caldecott Award for two of her books, “First the Egg” and “Green.” Before becoming an author, she worked in animation at NBC for almost 10 years. She was a creator and producer at the network, designing animated show openings for “Saturday Night Live,” the “Today” show, “Nightly News” and “Late Night with David Letterman” — to name a few. During this time, she won an Emmy Award for an animated show opening to a NBC special news program.

The exciting career became difficult to manage once Seeger was married and had kids, she said. So she left the 70- to 80-hour workweeks in Manhattan, where she lived at the time, and moved to Rockville Centre with her husband, Chris Seeger, and newborn son, Drew, in late 1991.

A few years later, her second son, Dylan, was born. As she started her new family, she worked on various freelance projects. But, she soon realized her new calling was a passion she had all along.

“I’d been making picture books all my life, since I was younger,” she said. “And as an animator, it felt like a very natural progression to picture book making because it’s basically a storyboard animation with fewer frames.”

Seeger quickly found her editor, Neal Porter, vice president and publisher of Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing. She published her first picture book, “I Had A Rooster,” in 2001. The book’s text was taken from the lyrics to “I Had A Rooster,” a song in the public domain that was made famous by Seeger’s uncle-in-law, legendary folk singer and environmental activist Pete Seeger, who died in 2014.

Nearly two decades and 20 books later, Seeger said, “there’s no shortage of ideas or things to write about and explore. I never really think about, ‘is this the last one?’ or anything like that.”

Like her previous books, “Why?” is for both children and adults. When Seeger’s sons were young boys, they read their mother’s books, as well as many others, in the reading room of their Rockville Centre home.

Now, Drew, 28, and Dylan, 24, have a deeper sense of pride for their mother’s work, helping out by looking over the books as Seeger writes them. Seeger dedicated “Why?” to Dylan.

“I recall growing up around her making [books],” Dylan said, “which certainly helped me grow a sense of patience and appreciation for the hard work of the creative process.”

In “Why?” the rabbit can be seen as the child, and the bear can be seen as the adult. The bear answers all the rabbit’s questions — until the end, when they find a dead bird in the snow.

“She has a fascination with perspective that she loves to showcase in her books,” Drew said. “That always resonated with me. Anybody who’s innately inquisitive or familiar with kids could relate to the rabbit’s questing.”

Dylan added, “‘Why?’ is a question that children and adults alike ought to ask more often.”

“Why?” hits bookstands on Aug. 13.