A wonderful side benefit of judging the 2018 Margaret Wise Brown prize has been the opportunity to develop a sense of the state of picture books in 2018, based on the 200+ books that publishers entered.
One group that caught my eye are meta books – those that use the object of a book as part of the story. If you are familiar with Grover’s There’s a Monster at the End of This Book or, more recently, Herve Tullet’s Press Here, you know what I’m talking about.
The 2018 crop that I read had at least four that fit this interactive category. I think the most effective is Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book (Dial). The premise is that a brick wall divides the left and right hand pages.
Text tells us the wall protects the safe left side from the right. On each spread, there is one story on the left: initially about a little knight raising a ladder, and another on the right: a stack of fearsome animals and an ogre.
Then – oh no! – the water rises on the left side.
Luckily the scary ogre reaches over the wall and saves the little knight from drowning. “I’m actually a nice ogre,” he says. “And this side of the book is fantastic.” Meanwhile, on the now ocean-filled left side of the book, bigger fish eat big fish.
The great satisfaction is that expectations are flipped. Things are not as they seemed. And we get to watch the stories on each side of the wall as this change is accomplished. It says so much about walls.
Beware the Monster! by Michael Escoffier, art by Amandine Piu, (annick press), begins with a warning: “This book contains a monster with a great big appetite!”
The colorful monster proceeds to eat all the apples, then leaves, then trees, then cows.
Next spread: “Yikes. I think he’s spotted you. You’ve got to get away!” (Many of these books use the second person directive to draw in the child reader and escalate the drama. It’s kind of the picture book equivalent of theatre’s breaking the fourth wall.)
Next spread: “Here he comes! Close the book!” (This is a line used in many of these meta books. Of course the readers plunge onward, despite warnings.)
The monster moves in closer and closer as spreads whiz by. Luckily just when he’s about to eat the child reader he burps instead. Everything flies out of his mouth and he decides to take a nap, saying “I’ll take care of you later.”
Also written in second person is Nothing Happens in this Book by Judy Ann Sadler, art by Vigg, (Kids Can Press). This accumulative story is meta in its voice; the little guy on the cover has an ongoing one-sided discussion with the reader about what is going to happen in the book. Eventually he gathers up a bunch of stuff and distributes it to a wild assortment of beings.
As they march away in a fold-out page parade, he exclaims, “Everything happens in this book!” Another nice flip of expectations.
A red grosgrain ribbon bookmark is key to the story in Hungry Bunny by Claudia Reuda, (Chronicle Books). This one gives a nod to Press Here. For instance, it asks the reader to shake the book so some apples will fall off the tree, then blow away the leaves when the apples don’t fall.
The reader helps the bunny use his red “scarf” to climb up and get the apples. Bunny’s ride home in the wagon is helped by various physical movements of the book. Then the reader is asked to give Bunny a push through a die-cut hole so he can return to the burrow where his mom bakes apple pie. Of course the reader is offered a piece.
Makes sense that the dedication acknowledges the participatory nature of this book: “Bunny would like to dedicate this book to you, for all your help with the harvest. Also dedicated to children’s play.”
Every one of these examples uses the object of the book to boost interaction with the story. All of them engage the reader and listener in movement and response. I think it’s an interesting niche in our children’s book world, another tool we could add to our toolbelts.
Have you seen the meta mechanism used to good effect? Please chime in with other titles that use the object of the book to tell stories.