Kaufman, Karen. illus. by Pete Whitehead. If Mom Had Three Arms. Union Square Kids, 2006. ISBN 978-1402723568. 32 pp. $
In this whimsical picture book, a little boy imagines that his mom has more than two arms after she refuses to carry his backpack for him. Nine rhyming couplets follow, beginning with “If mom had three arms, she could put on a show/If mom has four arms, she’d make cars stop and go.” The meter varies (11, 12, or once, 13 syllables) both from couplet to couplet and even within some pairings, making for a perceptible imbalance when reading aloud. The text is ambiguous enough for the pictures and words to tell the story together, and for the artist to have had plenty of creative license with the images. “With seventeen arms, Mom could color the sky” is a particularly poetic line, illustrated with seventeen kites spread over two pages. A warm and fuzzy happy ending wraps up the daydream.
The images are brightly colored, cartoony and full of motion – nearly 3-D, and no static straight-on views. Occasionally the illustrator uses additional lines to indicate motion, and these are for the most part unnecessary. Crowd scenes are multicultural and the boy’s dog is a fun and often humorous addition. Bubbles and wavy wriggling limbs make underwater motion clear when eight-armed Mom befriends an octopus; dripping paint, flying marble chips and squishy clay show her dexterity when six arms turn her into an artist.
Instead of color or line to move the reader from page to page, Whitehead incorporates numbers into each page, reinforcing the counting, propelling the book, and creating a find the figure game for readers, most cleverly when the number is disguised as a piece of coral or sculpture. Children will also turn pages to see what the dog is up to next; as the child observes the action, the dog is an eager participant.