What if cats could fly? If frogs ate rainbows? If dreams were visible?
These are just a few of the imaginative scenarios dreamed up by Sarah Perry, author and illustrator of Getty’s first children’s book If… From Washington to New York and Canada to South Korea, If… has found its way into classrooms around the world since its original publication over 25 years ago. Today, it remains a favorite among teachers like Los Angeles-based artist and educator Michael Blasi.
Blasi has been teaching for over 20 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He said he first learned of the book from his fellow art teachers. “Most children’s books have some sort of narrative, but this one tackles universal thinking,” he said. For his elementary school students, the big “What If?” questions serve as launching points for exploring creativity by opening their minds to new ideas and encouraging them to think outside of the box.
To expand on the lessons of the book, Blasi asks his students to come up with their own “what if” scenarios. He wants his students to develop their individual points of view, learn to engage in authentic communication, and build human connection. “Skill-building should help give students a means to express themselves with nuance and intention,” he said.
Currently, Blasi is grappling with the challenges of remote learning, but he is still incorporating the book into his classes. In his Zoom sessions, he feels the difficulties of connecting with each student individually. At the same time, he said he has “seen some wonderful ideas come out of lessons so far, and I have hope to see much more. It takes time.”
He recommends the following process to integrate the “What If…” lesson at home:
Step One: Get Inspired by If…
You’ve probably never thought about what it would be like to hold music. What colors would it be? How would it feel? Would it be hot or cold to the touch? Light as a feather or weigh as much as your teacher? If… imagines what this and other marvelous scenarios might look like. Take a look at a few more below. You can even watch this video of kids reading If… to kids.
Step Two: Brainstorm
What if music could be smelled? What if dogs could see the future? Think of your own “What if” scenarios—as many as you can! You can use the prompts below as a starting place or come up with your own.
If _____ were ____.
If you’re finding yourself stuck or don’t know where to begin, look at what’s around you. Do you see people, animals, or colors? What about tools or toys? Things in nature or in the room around you?
Step three: Imagine the Possibilities
Now that you’ve got your ideas, it is time to bring them to life. Draw what you think the “What If” could look like. Don’t forget to write your idea on it too!
And if drawing isn’t your thing, you have plenty of options. Blasi also suggests acting out your “what ifs,” expanding them into a story, making a movie, or even dancing them out!
Share your “What Ifs” with us! Tag @GettyMuseum or tell us how it went in the comments.
Getty Publications recently released a 25th-anniversary edition of If…, which features new illustrations and a reader’s guide to the book’s best-kept secrets.