In What if?, a young boy has climbed a massive mulberry tree. Just as he’s getting ready to jump from a dangerously high branch, the tree intervenes, asking whether the boy has asked “What if?”. We soon learn that “What if ?” is short for “What if I do this, what could happen?”, and the tree helps the boy and his sister realize that pausing to ask “What if” before you act can keep you from hurting yourself. (Character trait lesson: Responsibility, self control- considering consequences of your actions)
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The tree and siblings explore some more situations in which “What if?” can keep you out of trouble. The boy is shown how he teased his friend and it cost him the friendship. Asking “What if?” would have helped the boy see that even though he was having fun, the friend he was teasing was not feeling good about it. (Character trait lesson: treating others with respect)
Next we see the sister tease the brother, who learns it is not fun being on the other end of the teasing. (Character trait issue: empathy)
The tree then shows the children that everyone makes mistakes. They see a situation when their mother, when she was a child, was caught up in her excitement and made a huge mess. The child and her mother then had to clean up the mess, which ended the girl’s joy in the situation. (Character trait lesson: respect for others, taking responsibility for your actions, using self control, empathy for others.)
The tree teaches that none of the situations was a problem in the beginning and had they changed their actions/words, they could have kept having fun. The children learn to consider whether they will get hurt or whether they will hurt others, and to adjust their actions.
Discussion Guide Answers
What would you do?
Your ball rolls into the street. You want to run
out and grab it before it rolls down the street.
What if you run in the street and there are cars coming? First, pause and check for cars then decide if it's safe to get the ball.
Your classmate makes a mistake writing on
the whiteboard, and you think of something really funny to say about it.
What if you blurt the funny comment? Will it disrupt the class? Will it hurt your classmate's feelings? Will the teacher get upset? Consider whether you should say it at all, and if you can, then maybe you should say it later or in private.
You are supposed to finish your homework
before you go out and play. You only have a few math problems left to
do, but your friend is ready to play now.
What if you don't finish your work before you play? Will you not be allowed to play next time? Will it be worth losing that privilege? Maybe you can ask to finish the problems later, or maybe you can ask your friend to wait a few minutes.
You are waiting in line at the grocery store with your parents and it’s
so boring. You look at you brother and think it would be fun to poke him in the
What if you poke your brother? Will he get upset? Will you end up fighting in line and then your parents will be upset? Maybe there is another way to keep from being bored when you're in line.