Like the good book nerd that I am, I adore the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Something about the idea of a character meeting his author is so delicious to the part of me that has always wanted to visit my favorite fictional worlds. The concepts of self-aware characters and stories within stories are not new, however; they are pillars of high-brow and popular literature alike. I love to find picture books that illustrate literary devices, both because we are a homeschool family and because I sometimes wish I was still in college talking about books all day. Here are 5 of our favorite picture books that play with story structure in a creative way:
The End by David LaRochelle and Richard Egielski opens at the end of the story with the clever princess marrying the brave knight and works its way back to the beginning. This book is a great way to get children predicting what happens next (or in this case, what happened first), but it’s also just a lot of fun. (If there are any elementary school teachers out there, David LaRochelle has published a teaching guide with ideas for using the book in the classroom.)
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems is just one example of self-aware picture book characters. In it, Elephant & Piggie react to the realization that they are starring in their very own story. (Literature majors of the world, rejoice! It’s metafiction for the preschool set.) Another great example is Help! We Need a Title! by Hervé Tullet (author of the gold standard of interactive books: Press Here), but I had to go with Elephant & Piggie because Mo Willems has a way of knowing just how to make my children (and I) laugh hysterically.
The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak admits on the very first pages that a book with no pictures would be boring if not for the fact that, “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” The book then proceeds to lead whichever unsuspecting adult is reading through silly songs, nonsense words, and all kinds of shenanigans. I wasn’t sure how the book would hold up to multiple readings, but somehow it just gets funnier each time through.
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein is all about a chicken who just can’t stop herself from interrupting during bedtime stories. Each story within the story (another characteristic of metafiction, by the way) starts as a well-known fable or fairy tale until the little red chicken jumps in and spoils the ending. “Don’t go in,” she warns Hansel and Gretel. “She’s a witch!” While my preschooler thinks the interrupting chicken is hilarious, it’s the (soon-to-be) third grader at our house that enjoys the book most. Because he knows all of the fables chicken’s father is reading, he feels like he’s in on the joke. (Plus, he’s a bit of an interrupting chicken himself.)
Echo, Echo by Marilyn Singer and Josée Masse is a bit different from the other books on the list. For starters, it’s a book of poetry. Each page features a poem from two points of view. The fabulous illustrations also depict the interaction of two sides of a single story. The poems use the very same lines, but in reverse order. The result is a very clever take on alternate points of view. Marilyn Singer’s first book of reversible poems was inspired by favorite fairy tales, while Echo, Echo features poems about Greek myths. All three of her reversible poetry books are fabulous, but Echo, Echo is our favorite thanks to our time spent studying Greek myths last year in school.
Any other creative favorites I should know about?