If Only… Reviews

School Library Journal Starred Review

“Implied messages about imagination and finding satisfaction in your own special abilities are there for children to interpret as they choose. Van Hout employs painted papers in the style of Eric Carle to collage plants and critters and places them on backdrops washed in vibrant, translucent color. The result is spread after spread of exuberantly busy, beautiful life. A glossary with one to two sentences of information about each featured animal is included, as are instructions for making painted papers and collage. VERDICT A visual delight, this picture book offers openings for conversation about wishes, predictions, and one’s own enviable strengths.”
Jan Aldrich Solow

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Booklist Starred Review

Cover: If Only... Author: Mies van Hout Publisher: Pajama Press“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. In an appended section, Van Hout presents an illustrated glossary with a relevant fact or two about each animal, as well as an art project advising kids on creating their own collage creatures by sliding scraps of paper around ‘until you feel happy,’ a possible insight into her own creative process and one that may explain how a picture book based on longing manages to express such delight in the natural world. Originally published in the Netherlands, this radiant picture book has international appeal.”
— Carolyn Phelan

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Kirkus Reviews

“Every spread, crafted with striking paper-collage illustrations reminiscent of the work of Eric Carle and Denise Fleming, glows with red, blue, green, and yellow hues and provides an entrance to an intricate and appealing environment specific to the creature….The racially diverse children who appear in the initial and final pages are active, smiling, curious, a part of the natural world themselves, and they feature similar abilities of their own. 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. (glossary, art tips)”

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Canadian Review of Materials

“Nature comes alive in Mies Van Hout’s dazzling collage illustrations that are rich in colour and details. Flowers have textured, patterned designs and seem to be in motion. The park-like setting is a clever landscape to explore the “grass isn’t always greener on the other side” adage.

This circular tale comes to a satisfying and thoughtful ending when a dragonfly wants to be a child, explaining, “Then I could run, jump, laugh, play hide-and-seek, count, build houses … and so much more!” Instead of concentrating on what others have, the final spread shows a diverse group of children celebrating their own unique abilities. The grass just might be the greenest where you water it.”

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YA Books Central

“IF ONLY… is an intriguing picture book that ultimately encourages readers to be happy with who they are. The book begins with a child thinking that if they were only a butterfly, they could fly anywhere. The butterflies are thinking that if only they were a stick insect, they would blend in better. This continues on until a bug is thinking about being a child.

This was an intriguing concept, and I appreciated the ultimate message along the lines of the grass is always greener… This was unique with its walk through different bugs and insects, giving facts and features about them along the way.

The pages turn really fast with each page having one if only phrase. This makes it great for toddlers through elementary school readers. The circle that starts with a child and goes through the bugs before coming back to children is a fun journey that will resonate with young readers.

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Mrs. Book Dragon

“What a beautiful story that is equally beautifully illustrated. The message of this story is to show that you may look at others and wish you had what they had, but you should celebrate what makes you, you. This message is so important for our youth-to celebrate and value yourself and what makes you unique.”

Mr. Alex’s Bookshelf

“The grass isn’t actually greener on the other side of the gate.

Who among us hasn’t wanted to be someone, or something else, if only for a day? The child in If Only wishes to be a butterfly, so she can fly, not realizing that the butterfly wishes it were a stick insect, and the stick insect wishes it were a whirligig beetle….and so on, and so on, until the last insect wishes it were a child so it could do all the things children do.”

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The International Educator

“If Only… by Mies van Hout is a colourful picture book for the youngest readers, in which the voice of a child wishes he/she was a butterfly. But the butterfly wishes it was a different insect. From ladybugs to spiders, all critters voice their wishes until the story comes full circle. In addition to the story there is information about each creature as well as instructions for making your own colourful art.”

Sal’s Fiction Addicition

“The repeating text makes this stylish and entertaining book fodder for emerging early readers who are sure to find support here. It celebrates the differences that make each one special, and helps young readers appreciate strengths in others. It is a spirited look at nature in all its glory. Young readers will love that it is a ‘circle’ book that returns them to the child (and others) they met at the outset. Children can do many things that creatures cannot.

Back matter offers a glossary of the featured creatures, acccompanied by a thumbnail sketch and a sentence or two of description. Following that, there is a step-by-step guide for creating collage art resembling that created for this book by Ms. Van Hout.

If only, what?

After reading this book with young readers and others, it would be a telling exercise to ask that question of both children and adults.”

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Fab Book Reviews

“How often have have you ever wondered, ”if only things were this way, if only things were different, if only I were someone else…” things might be better? In Mies van Hout’s (From 1 to 10), thoughtful, prodding and vibrant If Only… readers are taken along for an adventure through various beautiful creatures as they each ponder how things might be better if they were or had the abilities of another creature. Showcasing and celebrating difference while kindly yet clearly emphasizing the importance of embracing our own selves, If Only… is presented as a beautifully circular story, opening with a child thinking ”if only I were a butterfly…”, and ending on an bursting outdoor scene with lovely dragonfly watching children play thinking ”if only I were a child…”. With starred book reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist and multiple positive reviews from other sites, If Only… is on the receiving end of terrific, well-earned praise. Mies van Hout’s artwork is, as ever, a pure delight: so gorgeously bright, full of eye-catching natural-world collages (that readers of Lois Ehlert and Eric Carle might especially fall in love with!), while the straightforward and limited yet melodic text will beckon readers to visit the story again and again.”

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The Children’s Book Review

“With gorgeously bold illustrations and creative text, Mies van Hout’s IF ONLY… is a wonderful thought experiment and journey for young readers. Everyone sometimes envies or wishes to be like someone or something else. But have you ever stopped to think that perhaps they are also insecure about something, and might also wish to be someone else? This gentle story kindly explores the idea of being happy with oneself, and celebrating the unique and wonderful things we have that others might wish they had too!

The soothing and colorful garden landscape, and wide-eyed garden creatures, make this book fun and accessible for younger readers. The story and lesson are well suited to younger children and even to older children, who might find that they compare themselves to others much too often. Young readers will giggle at how silly it all is – everyone wishing to be someone else! A great lesson taught with kindness, IF ONLY… is a fantastic addition to your child’s library, and would be well-suited to a classroom.”

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Green Teacher

“We often compare ourselves to others without recognizing our own special gifts and abilities. Mies van Hout has captured that sentiment in this charming book where a child, and then each creature that follows, wishes if only they had the characteristic of another then they would be able to do something special. The vivid colors and the use of collage as well as the personality given to each small creature invite the reader to turn the page to see what comes next.”

Read the full review in the Spring 2022 issue