Anthony Browne is a longtime favorite of mine. His illustrations are always well worth the cost of the book, and are often like owning a small work of art. But it's Browne's stories that have made his award-filled career last as long as it has. Browne has a rare and amazing sensitivity to the worries of children combined with a gift for capturing and honoring them subtly and gently with his words and pictures. He displays this once again in his newest book, What If . . . ? Browne's book Silly Billy is a magnificent look at childhood anxiety and how to address it while also being a really great story. If you are not familiar with Browne's body of work, please take a look at my review of How Do YOU Feel? which includes a list of most of his books and a brief talk about his character Willy the Chimp.
In What If . . . ? Browne tackles social anxieties. Joe has been invited to his first big party at Tom's house and he is nervous. On top of that, he has lost the invitation. Joe's mother assures him that they can find Tom's house as they walk down the street that he lives on, peering into the windows of the houses that line the street.
With each house, Joe expresses a new concern, one that is mirrored by the residents of the house he and his mother are peeking into. Joe worries about meeting new people, not liking the food, scary games and being left too long. A glimpse into one window reveals a table full of school boys in their uniforms looking very much like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, having a rowdy tea time. Another window reveals revelers (looking very much like people from a Bruegel painting) playing wild games. That's another thing that I love about Browne - in addition to everything else he masterfully blends into his picture books, he even manages to give the occasional art lesson.
Joe manages his fears and joins the party, greeted warmly by Tom and his friends, and Mom makes her retreat - thought bubbles conveying her own anxieties about leaving Joe behind. Of course, Joe is beaming when Mom arrives to take him home. As they leave, Mom asks, "I was wondering, Joe, if you'd like to have a party on your birthday." "YES, PLEASE!" Joe answers. A wonderful ending to a superb book.
Please take a moment to watch Anthony Browne reading the first few pages of What If . . . ?. When you do, you will begin to understand why his books are so meaningful.
Source: Review Copy