Children make choices every day, but they may not always be conscious of what they are doing. They choose chocolate over vanilla. They choose blue socks over green socks. Those choices are easy. But what about the decision to include a neighbor in a game or to leave that child out? Sometimes it feels much harder to invite a child to play than it does to simply not make that phone call or avoid walking by his or her house—or leave him or her standing on the sidelines.
Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s What If? is brilliantly understated. She makes no judgments. She simply shows a scene in which two seals are playing in the water with a beach ball, and the arrival of a third seal on the beach introduces a situation where a choice must be made. Because these are seals, Seeger keeps them relatively neutral—their only differences are in the markings on their coats. It’s not about one seal luring another away with flash or style. The gray seal comes to the beach to retrieve the ball. The gray seal can run off with the ball and with the newly arrived brown seal and abandon the beige seal in the water. Or it can return with the ball to the beige seal and leave out the newly arrived brown seal; or all three can play together (the final scene).
This book is a great conversation-starter for when these situations arise, whether your youngster is the one being left out, or party to leaving out another child. It’s also a nice way to open up a discussion before a situation like this ever arises. We all know that summer with its long stretches of unstructured time is ideal for pulling together a neighborhood game of hide-and-seek or gathering everyone at the baseball diamond, and situations like the one featured in What If? are likely to occur. Another title that touches on a related theme, if one neighborhood child is dominating the playing field, is Kathryn Otashi’s One. The idea of one person reaching out to or standing up for another is simple yet powerful. And both of these books demonstrate to young people that any child can make that choice.