What If...

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
What If... Book Poster Image
Joyous celebration of a kid’s boundless creativity.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The art suggests and models various materials that can be used to make art: paper for origami, sand and snow sculpture, use of leaves to create art, and use of found objects such as marbles, string, wood shavings, shells, flowers, sugar cubes, etc.

Positive Messages

Creativity can come from many sources, and be inspired by and utilize whatever materials are available. When one avenue of creativity's removed, another presents itself. The main character proclaims, "As long as I live, I will always create."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character/narrator's resourceful and endlessly creative, determined to create art wherever and however she can, using whatever materials are at hand. In her urban neighborhood, all her neighbors are pictured in their apartment windows, also in the process of creating. In the back matter, the author and artist talk about using found materials to make art.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that What If… by Samantha Berger (Crankenstein), illustrated by Mike Curato (Little Elliot, Big City; All the Way to Havana), has a simple rhyming text with a first-person narration by a girl wondering what she'd do if she didn't have her pencil to create art and stories. The question sends her on an exuberant creative adventure, in which she imagines creating art using whatever materials are available, and the mixed media illustration reflects this inventive spirit. The girl's African American, she lives in an urban apartment building with neighbors who also create, and the whole project feels gloriously life affirming.

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What's the story?

In WHAT IF…, a brown-skinned girl with purple hair draws with a pencil, and wonders what she'd do "if that pencil one day disappeared?" On each succeeding page, she uses a new medium to create art and stories. She folds the paper to make origami birds and stars. And "if the paper was no longer there? I'd chisel the table and then carve the chair." She then says she'd peel paint from the wall, chisel the floor boards, sketch in the dirt, shape the leaves, and sculpt the snow and sand. "As long as I live, I will always create."

Is it any good?

This book celebrating creativity is itself wildly inventive and creative. Author Samantha Berger's rhyming text in What If… carries the reader through as if on a wave, and Mike Curato's colorful art, brimming with materials used in wildly inventive ways, serves to underscore the message that creativity is imaginative and resourceful. When the girl declares, "I could still shape the leaves," Curato creates a gorgeous sculptural collage of a fire-breathing dragon using leaves of various hues. By the time all the materials have been removed, a fold-out page says, "If I had nothing, but still had my mind…" then opens up to show the girl riding a winged, pink unicorn, concluding, "There’d always be stories to seek and to find." On the last page, the girl proclaims, "As long as I live, I will always create," and the illustration pulls back to show a shiver-inducing long shot of the girl drawing in her window, while neighbors in other lit windows are also creating -- playing violin, decorating a cake, dancing, and painting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about all the ways of making stories and art pictured in What If… How many can you count? What others can you think of?

  • Since the illustrator himself used all kinds of materials, how many different ones can you find? Why do you think he decided to do that for this particular book?

  • Why do you think creating things is important to this girl, and to people in general? Do you like to create things? How do you feel when you do? On the last pages, what various things are all the people in the windows creating?

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