Testing the limits of acceptable behaviour is a standard part of growing up. This playful picture book about pushing the boundaries of parental patience opens with Benny initiating a typical standoff with his mother when she asks him to bring his dirty plate to the sink. Benny’s response, “What would you do if I said no?” forms the basis of repeated cheeky challenges to his impressively tolerant mom.
Benny’s mother points out that to disobey is rude, and explains that in response she would tell him why he should help out. Benny counters by hypothesizing that he could continue to act out and wreak havoc in the kitchen. As Benny’s potential misbehaviour escalates, despite the threat of a more-than-deserved time-out, his mother comes up with an extreme solution: she will give him to the zoo – an old-fashioned one with cages. Of course, Benny keeps pushing to see what his mom’s reaction will be if first the zoo, then the circus, refuse to keep him because he is so badly behaved. So she finally proposes to send him to the moon. When Benny says he would make the spaceship crash, she tells him she would weep at his wickedness, be glad that he is safe – and be content to let the little pink aliens keep him.
And What If I Won’t? deals with increasing consequences for bad behaviour in a humorous way: when mom has had enough she is pictured pulling Benny in a little red wagon to each new destination; the crimson-faced ringmaster returns Benny to his mother by the scruff of the neck; and the aliens slingshot the little terror back to earth. His mother’s love is never in doubt; in all of Qin Leng’s lively illustrations the pink tones of Mom’s sweatshirt predominate, and even at the height of exasperation her tone remains gentle. But that doesn’t mean the young lad can get away with anything at home, even if he has, hypothetically, travelled to outer space. Not surprisingly, the story ends with Benny’s mom asking him to please put his plate in the sink.