Monday, August 1, 2011


Week of July 31—Picture Book Trends—I. C. E. Q.
Monday, August 1—I—Interactive

I hadn’t thought about the term interactive to describe a category of picture books until I read a brief entry on Jennifer Laughran’s blog, “Jennifer Represents” ( Jennifer is an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and describes interactive picture books as ones “that invite the child listener to participate in the reading.” Now I have to point out that this is not a new trend. If you don’t believe me, think back to The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin where Grover (of Sesame Street fame) tries desperately to keep the reader from turning the pages of a book by warning them about a monster at the end of the book. This book was first published in 1971 by Golden Books and is still being sold today.

Interactive picture books have a talking-to-the-reader characteristic that is uncommon and often discouraged in other types of picture books. Some folks call this “breaking the fourth wall” which is a term that originated in theater and is also used in television and movies. Imagine the three walls that make up the sides and back of a stage. The fourth wall is the invisible one on the front of the stage that separates the audience from the actors. The fourth wall allows the audience to suspend their disbelief and watch what’s going on as if it’s really happening. Some play writes, comedians, and others break the fourth wall and look at, speak to, or otherwise interact with the audience. I usually think of this a comedy technique, and when you experience it you feel as if the actor is letting you in on the joke or bringing you into the action. And, of course, breaking the fourth wall stops the forward momentum of the story (at least to some degree). This “breaking of the fourth wall” can be seen in some interactive picture books. Let’s look at a few examples.

Cat Secrets
By Jef Czekaj
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers
© 2011

Forgive me for admitting this, but I am not a cat lover. I’m allergic, what can I say. But I love this book. The cat characters have found a book entitled Cat Secrets and are about to open it when they suspect that the person looking at them (the reader/listener), may no tbe a cat. They put the reader through a series of cat tests—meow, purr, scratch, and finally a cap nap. As they wait for you to take your nap, they fall asleep. In the end, a pesky little mouse who has been in every illustration (but not noticed by the cats), sneaks in and grabs the book. Kids will love the story and following the cats’ instructions. They will laugh at the sleeping cats, and cheer for the victorious mouse. The illustrations are wonderful as well.

Press Here
By Hervé Tullet
Handprint Books/Chronicle Books
© 2010

This is my new favorite book of the summer and one I plan to buy for my great niece. The book uses all kinds of teaching concepts—colors, numbers, counting, directionality, following instructions, and more. But it does not try to teach the child those things. Instead, using colored dots as illustrations, the author encourages the child to interact with the book. “Press the yellow dot . . . . Shake the book . . .  Wonderful! Now tip the book to the left.” Encouraging words are strewn throughout the book and made me feel like I was sitting with a favorite teacher who was praising me and encouraging me to keep going. You know how editors always say a picture book needs to be something that kids want to read over and over again? Well, on the last page of Press Here, the author asks you, “Would you like to do that again?” and encourages the reader to turn back to the beginning of the book and start again. Marvelous!

You’re Finally Here
By Melanie Watt
© 2011

I found this book while browsing at my local chain book store. The main character is a rabbit who has been waiting for YOU! Throughout much of the beginning he is scolding you and asking, “Where have you been?” (In other words—why haven’t you opened this book sooner?!) And he proceeds to tell you everything he had to do while waiting for YOU. Then, when he fears you might leave from his scolding, he begs you to stay and lists all the things you can do together. Unfortunately, the phone rings. The rabbit answers the phone and tells the person on the other end that yes, he can talk, because YOU can wait. The humor is laugh-aloud worthy and the guilt-inducing main character (who is worse than a Jewish-Italian-Catholic-Southern Baptist mother rolled into one), is still loveable.

Now stop for a minute. Do you see any similarities in the books above? All interactive. Yes. All break the fourth wall and talk to the reader. Yes. All author/illustrator books. YES! I’m curious as to whether an author could sell the text of one of these books without illustrations. Perhaps. Or perhaps the wonderful world of aps will allow authors with ideas like this another venue.

Quickly, let me point out another kind of interactive picture book. These books don’t break the fourth wall. They are books that use repeated lines or other literary techniques to encourage kids to shout out answers, repeat phrases, or participate with the text in another way without the story actually losing its momentum or without characters talking to readers/listeners. For example . . .

How I Became a Pirate © 2003
Pirates Don’t Change Diapers © 2007
By Melinda Long and David Shannon
Harcourt, Inc.

These books are wonderful to read aloud to one child or a classroom full. The illustrations are engaging—clarification, they’re hysterical. And the author and illustrator seemed to have collaborated on a interactive strategy. The reader will find a line such as “’Babysit?’ Braid Beard scratched his head. ‘Pirates don’t sit on babies!’” And then there will be a line in huge type that the pirates say in chorus (perfect time to turn the book around to the listeners so they can see the text and say the line together): “’No sittin’ on babies!’” I can tell you from experience that kids are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the next pirate line they can yell out. This, too, is an example of an interactive book.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Why not explore some other interactive books on your own? Here are some suggestions:
s Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld
s Any of the “pigeon” books by Mo Willems

1 comment:

Heathter said...

I LOVED Cat Secrets (even though I don't like cats either--there, I said it--the cat's outta the bag!). Also sort of liked You're Finally Here, but not as much (though the message is certainly current).

May need to think about interaction for a revision I'm working on. Thanks for the tip!