T.O.T.Week: the what ifs?

One of the most entertaining (and, if you’re not careful, slightly dangerous) aspects of being a teacher is that the kids start to parrot the things that you say. Some of them have got my mannerisms down pat, right down to “the face” I make when I’m trying to be stern or the way I play it fast and loose with language like “absofruitley, kiddos.” Yet it was during a recent conversation about standardized testing (eek!) that got my students creating worst case scenarios. What if they couldn’t answer a single question? What if they spelled their name wrong? What if they failed the fourth grade? Luckily, a sage leader in the group cried, “Okay, we’re going down the what if rabbit hole again!!” Everyone laughed. And so I can now explain one of my favorite truisms – the “What if” rabbit hole.

Kids love to be in the know, and as a teacher, it’s crucial to play long game. Plan a lesson? Have impromptu chit chat? No no no. You must consider every angle of potential conversational takeaway when you are talking to children. Yet, here’s the reality. You’ll ask “any questions” at the end, convinced you covered all your bases… and questions will still abound. When we’ve reached a point of no return, when the suggested “what ifs” become so outlandish that alien invasions start to get involved, I cease what is called the “what if” rabbit hole. Though I joke, I do know that at its core, this comes from a deeply rooted feeling of need for security and assurance. And frankly, is it really just kids that desire that? As adults, we get stuck in the sticky muddle of rampant insecurity as well. We all like to be in the know. So, here are some books that I know:

This post was largely inspired by Emily Kilgore’s picture book, The What Ifs, a story that follows Cora as she dreadfully awaits her piano recital at the end of the week. Veronica Agarwal and Lee Durfey-Lavoie’s graphic novel Just Roll With It is far and away one of the most accurate portrayals of social anxiety that I’ve seen in middle grade literature as Maggie determines her fate through the rolling of a dice. One Way or Another, by Kara McDowell, has Paige Collins writing up an entire list of what-if scenarios that eventually splits into two – literally. Lastly, I bookend the list with Alisha Fernandez Miranda’s My What If Year, which takes a different approach in that it speaks to the upside of questioning “what if,” as it leads her down a road of unexpected exploration and possibilities for true joy.

The What Ifs by Emily Kilgore and Zoe Persico (picture book)

Just Roll With It by Veronica Agarwal and Lee Durfey-Lavoie (middle grade graphic novel)

One Way or Another by Kara McDowell (YA book)

My What If Year by Alisha Fernandez Miranda (adult memoir)

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