________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 6 . . . . November 17, 2000

cover What If?

Jonathan Shipton. Illustrated by Barbara Nascimbeni.
London, UK: Macmillan Children's Books (Distributed in Canada by McClelland & Stewart Inc.), 1999.
32 pp., cloth, $19.99.
ISBN 0-333-73485-8.

Subject Headings:

Preschool - grade 2 / Ages 3 - 7.

Review by Julia Wolst.

** /4


What if it stopped raining
and you went outside,
and down behind the shed you found...
...a sunflower as tall as a skyscraper!

What if you were really good at climbing and
up you went, fast as a monkey,
hands and feet, leaf by leaf,
until you were as high as the highest chimneypot!

What if you carried on until you were higher than a bird can fly...
...until your head burst through the clouds!

image So begins a lively adventure through the imaginative world of a small child stuck in the house on a rainy day.
    This wonderfully fanciful story follows a young boy as he climbs a giant sunflower into the clouds where he meets a cloud dwelling girl. The two children bounce, spring and spin their way across the clouds, through the stormy world of thunder and rain, and to the hot arid desert ... until the clouds melt away ... and it is time to return home ... climbing down to the ground again. Once on the ground, a new and mysterious world awaits ... beyond a secret door.... Trailing sentences lead the reader from page to page and adventure to adventure. The final sentence has no end and leaves readers to imagine the next adventure on their own.
    German illustrator Barbara Nascimbeni's artwork plays the starring role in this book. The illustrations perfectly convey the vibrant exuberance of the tale. Bright, bold colours capture the wonder and surreal nature of an adventure high above the ground. In fact, were it not for the fun and fanciful illustrations, I would be hard pressed to recommend this book for consideration.
    While the subject is identified by his opinions as a boy, ("And you're not sure you like girls..."), the illustrations are more neutral in their depiction. The character could easily appeal to children of either sex, particularly if the line about dislike of girls was omitted in reading. Even after repeated readings, I cannot shake the irritation caused by author Jonathan Shipton's inconsistencies of tense. This dissimilitude begins on the fourth page spread and continues throughout the remainder of the story. The sixth page spread contains both past and present tense, the seventh reverts to past tense, and the remainder of the tale is told in present tense, before the final sentence ends the story in past tense. Likewise, Shipton is inconsistent in his application of punctuation throughout the book. While his use of dangling sentences serves to lure the reader through the book, the use of exclamation marks where question marks are obviously required only confounds the reader. I must also admit to being mildly irritated by the unnecessary sexism in regards to the cloud-dwelling girl-child, "And you're not sure you like girls... But this girl is BRILLIANT!"
    Although this book fell short of my expectations, I will recommend it with reservations and conditions. What If? is not a good example of "correct" writing. However, it could prove a useful read-aloud for groups of younger children. I am, personally, inclined to alter the story for consistency as I read. The idea of a "what if ...?" adventure that this story arouses could be well used in discussion and for follow-up writing or illustration activities. I feel this book is better suited for teacher or librarian directed use, rather than individual student reading.

Recommended with Reservations.

Julia Wolst, an elementary educator and mother of two pre-school age girls, lives and teaches in Orillia, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364