Some of the most memorable picturebooks are those with characters that interact directly with their readers by 'breaking through the fourth wall'. A superb list of books from this genre has been collated on the Good Reads website. Below we review two of our favourites, published 43 years apart.
The Monster at the End of This Book written by Jon Stone and illustrated by Mike Smollin, published by Random House Children's Books (1971)
As a child, this was one of my favourites, and I've taken great delight in reading my tattered childhood copy with our elder daughter. First published in 1971, it is considered a modern classic in children's literature.
The book begins with loveable, scrawny and usually afeared Grover, who has noticed the title of this book, which he is within and we are reading. He urges us not to turn the page as this will only result in us all getting closer to the monster that awaits.
With the inevitable turn of each page that follows, Grover becomes more desperate in both his pleas for us to halt and in his attempts to prevent us from doing so - nailing wooden planks across the page, building a brick wall, using a metal door. As we reach the final page turn, Grover makes one last futile attempt to persuade us to avoid disaster, before the funny and heartwarming reveal.
Wonderfully illustrated, the book's genius is that it explores the concepts of fear and anxiety while placing total control of events with the reader, and ultimately demonstrating that these valid emotions were unfounded. It remains Sesame Street's best selling book and is frequently featured by American teaching professionals' in their top ten lists of modern children's classics.
This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne, published by Oxford University Press
When Bella takes her dog for a walk across the book's opening pages, "something very odd happened". We see her dog's front half vanish into the book's gutter, and then the rest of him, with Bella left tugging on his lead.
When her friend Ben arrives with a yellow balloon she tells him "this book just ate my dog!" Intrigued, he approaches and promptly disappears, his balloon left floating away. Vehicles of various kinds arrive to help, sirens blaring, before they too speed out of sight. "Things were getting ridiculous" we are told, and Bella decides to take matters into her own hands. Boldly, she strides into the book's ether.
After a loud "burp" from between the pages, a silence descends and "some time later" a hand written note appears, penned by Bella, politely asking the reader to help rescue her and the others, along with instructions on how to do so - turning the book on its side and shaking it up and down with vigour will do the trick (we find that tapping, blowing and jiggling the book also helps).
We rotate the book and from the pages fall Bella, the emergency service vehicles, Ben and her dog. Normality at first appears to have been restored, but on closer inspection we can see Bella's dog has a new logistical problem!
Our daughter loves the interactivity of this laugh out loud tale. She is intrigued by the idea of a book that can consume its protagonists, who actively acknowledge their existence inside a picturebook, and by the concept of another world within the book from where a letter can be sent to her. We love Richard Byrne's expressive characters, who are cute but not cutesy, and beanie-wearing Bella's can-do attitude to dealing with a crisis.
This Book Just Ate My Dog! was shortlisted for the UKLA 2016 Book Award in the 3 - 6 year old category.