Oh, to have wings like a butterfly, a joyful child with black braids and brown skin wishes, “Then I could fly everywhere.” Looking up at the sky full of butterflies, the possibilities of flight and freedom seem endlessly magical.
But what does the butterfly wish for?
Here is the beginning of the vibrant circle story by Dutch author-illustrator Mies van Hout, who creates a vivid, jewel-toned natural world full of light and movement where each new creature yearns to be somebody else, even just for a little while.
The butterfly wishes to blend in like the stick insect:
The stick insect wants to walk on water like the whirligig beetle:
The whirligig beetle wants to be brave and light up the night sky like the firefly:
And the firefly wants to have friends who can lend a helping hands like the bee:
As the rest of the garden insects join in this gentle exploration of “longing and desires,” with the spider wishing to be “sweet and cute, like the ladybug” and the snail dreaming of leaping as high as the cricket, Van Hout asks children and adults to pause: “All the animals long for things someone else is good at, but they seem to forget why they’re special themselves.” Young readers will delight in the permission Van Hout gives them to share their wishes and voice their own feelings of wanting to be someone else sometimes.
In the end, as a dragonfly looks back down at a charming array of active, happy children playing, some white and some brown, some with cornrows and some with twists, it thinks “if only I were a child. Then I could run, jump, laugh, play hide-and-seek…”, bringing that first child’s wistful wish to fly full circle. In this gentle cycle, Van Hout reminds us all that it’s best to “remember and celebrate” our own admirable qualities, our own talents and strengths that make us unique and special just the way we are.
With a “Glossary of Creatures” for a quick exploration of all the insects in the garden and a “Make Collage Art Like Mies van Hout” feature to encourage young artists to express their ideas about “What creature would you like to be?”, If Only… is a picture book that gently supports children’s social emotional learning for ages 2 – 5, PreSchool to Kindergarden.
Van Hout has also created a parent teacher guide for If Only… Tips for Picture Books from Mies van Hout where she provides reading tips, strategies for talking to children about their wishes, and drawing workshops where children can experiment with making their own collage illustrations.
Written by Mies van Hout
Illustrated by Mies van Hout
Originally published as Was ik maar… by Hoogland & Van Klaveren, Uitgeverij, 2020
Published by Pajama Press, 2021
You can buy a copy of If Only… here.
“A visual delight, this picture book offers openings for conversation about wishes, predictions, and one’s own enviable strengths.” — School Library Journal Starred Review
“This gentle celebration of differences also promotes an appreciation of others’ strengths and quietly emphasizes relationships within the animal kingdom…A colorful introduction to the natural sciences featuring warm and inviting illustrations.” — Kirkus Reviews
“The imaginative narrative guides viewers through a series of richly colorful, dynamic collages, each showcasing a creature and its particularly enviable ability, characteristic, or situation….Originally published in the Netherlands, this radiant picture book has international appeal.” — Booklist Starred Review
“[A] colourful picture book for the youngest readers… In addition to the story there is information about each creature as well as instructions for making your own colourful art.” — Margriet Ruurs, “Global Book Reviews,” The International Educator
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