cover image What If...?

What If...?

Anthony Browne. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7419-9

A nervous boy named Joe is on his way to a birthday party, but he has lost his invitation and doesn’t know the house number. Panels in blue wash show Joe’s mother reassuring him as they walk down the street, considering each house. “What if there’s someone at the party I don’t know?” Joe asks. “You’ll be fine,” she says. The magic is in the dreamlike scenes that appear in each successive house’s window—are they real, or Joe’s anxieties made manifest? The first reveals an elderly couple sitting, somnolent, in their front room; a closer look suggests they might be aliens. An enormous elephant looms in the next window. Further along, schoolboys reminiscent of Tweedledee and Tweedledum shove a companion into a teapot. “What if they play scary games?” Joe asks. A roomful of Brueghel characters heaves and churns. Yet the love between Joe and his mother always keeps his fears from overtaking him, and when Joe finds the party at last, it’s his mother who has a moment of anxiety. Beautifully and subtly executed, with Brown’s extraordinary illustrative powers at work throughout. Ages 5–8. (Aug.)