An unseen narrator suggests a wide range of what-ifs, each playing out in a single scene among a group of animals.
Liwska’s animal group includes bears, mice, elephants, and more, but because they’re all drawn in the same range of browns and grays, with similar curved pencil hatchings for fur/skin, and closer to the same size than realism would dictate, they feel like a tightknit community. When one is depicted calling out a window to oblivious figures who are all wearing earbuds, the text—“What if no one could hear you?”—is truly upsetting. Some of the what-ifs pair as unsettling opposites: Across from “What if no one could hear you?” sits “What if everyone could?” as the same character vainly trying to attract attention before is now seen snoring in public. Many hypotheticals are tenderly humorous. “What if there was only one kind?”—and all tea was banana-flavored? What if a seed doesn’t grow—or does, but a bespectacled burrowing animal snaps off the carrot underground and eats it? Soft pencil drawings in a muted palette bring comfort to moments of concern. However, there’s an unexpected prescriptive turn. Moving from musings on vulnerability to ponderings such as “What if we all work together?” and “What if everyone shared?” the text shifts into banal hypotheticals that even the youngest readers will recognize as instructions. Nothing wrong with activism, but this is a bait-and-switch.
It feels fresh at the start, but it fizzles out. (Picture book. 4-7)