Anthony Browne was a late discovery for me. I never much cared for him in my youth. I found his illustrations rather disturbing.
Then as an adult I rediscovered him through an Open University course that led me to study A Walk in the Park. I found that when I really looked and really read what he had to say that it opened a door to a wonder that has never dimmed in the intervening years.
What If…? Is a book I hadn’t come across before, and when I discovered it in my local library I snatched it up and brought it home to share with my son.
What If…? Deals with the issue of anxiety, particularly the problem of a small child being invited round to a party, even though they are friends with the child who invited them, and even though they are happy at school with them. Seeing a friend in a home environment, and particularly at a highly emotional event like a party can trigger all sorts of fears for a child. Browne captures this beautifully in this book.
My son was very like the protagonist Joe, and as we read, I could see that although he was enjoying the book, he was also identifying with Joe. It is this that makes Browne so wonderful. He offers magic, and escape, but also a real connection with what triggers a child, particularly their fears.
In this book, Joe and his mum are walking down the road to the party and Joe is getting more and more withdrawn and troubled. His mum tries to draw him out, but he won’t be swayed, and his blue face against the bright illustrations really shows his stress and tension.
The joy of the book is not just in Joe discovering he enjoys the party, which he does. It is also about the wonderful scenes that Browne lays out in every house that Joe and his mum pass. You are confronted with aliens, and weird creatures and normal people in strange settings, and all kinds of things that make you wonder if they are what Joe is really seeing or just his imagination. There is an eerie magical quality to the book that Browne does so well.
This is a wonderful book to talk to small children about social anxiety about. It would be great to share at home or in a classroom setting.