Thinking Outside the Book: Creative Meta Picture Books
We love books! And some of our favorite picture books are “meta” books; that is, those that play with the idea of what books are and help kids think outside the book. In some cases, readers watch as the book is being created, and in other books, something happens to the book itself as you read along, or you the reader are made part of the action. All of these methods are fun ways to get kids to think creatively about books!
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The classic example, of course, is The Monster at the End of This Book, which I loved reading as a child. Lovable Grover begs the reader not to turn the page because there is a monster at the end of the book. (I won’t ruin the surprise, but let’s just say the monster is nothing to be scared of!) Grover goes to great lengths to stop you from reading the book – from using ropes to tie up the next page, to building a brick wall – all of which kids will delight in being strong enough to break through! This wonderful book really draws the reader into the action, as they are the ones making sure we find out who the monster is!
We adore Mo Willem’s books about Elephant and Piggie, so I was thrilled to see that he had created a “meta” book with them! We Are in a Book! is just as fun as the other books in this series, as Piggie and Elephant discover that they are being read! This leads of course to Piggie’s playing tricks on the reader, but also to Elephant’s anxieties about the book ending. (It was at this time that my Monkey observed that all Elephant and Piggie books have exactly 57 pages. Don’t believe me? Go check your bookshelf!) Find out how Elephant and Piggie escape this existential dilemma on p. 57!
Another fun book is Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet, best known for Press Here. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you picked up a book that wasn’t ready for you yet? Kids will be surprised to find that the characters in this book are not expecting them – they don’t even have a story ready! Luckily they want to oblige and so do their best to improvise. Kids even get to visit the author’s studio, though he’s not ready for visitors!
One of our absolute favorite books is Again! by Emily Gravett. This is one of those books that we had out from the library for so long we almost forgot it wasn’t ours! Cedric the Dragon is not ready to go to sleep, so he asks his mother to read him his favorite bedtime story over and over again. As the mother becomes more and more weary – both emotionally and physically – the story she tells changes, until Cedric becomes so angry that – well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise! But let’s just say the book itself may sustain a little damage, which is really fun to see for any little reader. Needless to say, this is a book that will have your sleepy little dragons saying, “Again! Again! Again!”
Another instance of a book getting all messed up comes from Patrick McDonnell. In A Perfectly Messed-Up Story sweet little Louie is so excited to tell his story but someone keeps ruining it! First there is peanut butter dripped onto the page, followed soon after by jelly, and it just goes downhill from there. I love the message of this story, as Louie learns that even if something isn’t perfect, it can still be perfectly wonderful.
Finally, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the extremely popular book – and one of our favorites – The Book with No Pictures. This is one that Monkey always asks me to read when he has friends come over. It is so super silly and fun! It plays with the idea that the adult reading the book has to say whatever is on the page, no matter how absurd. Be prepared to bring all of your best silly voices and sounds to this book. You will need them! But most of all, be prepared to laugh out loud right along with your child.