April 19, 2016

This Is Not a Post

Today I want to explore the concept of a "book." The illustrators I'm going to talk about use their own books to challenge the notion of what a book is and what a story means. These books provide creative outlets for children to think about the world around them and their preconceived notions of what it means to open a book and read a story. I think in this case, it's best to just dive right in.

Jean Jullien's 2016 This Is Not a Book is a fun place to start because Jullien uses the design of the book itself to get readers thinking about everyday objects in their lives. This isn't a book, it's a monster.

Or this isn't a book, it's a laptop. A tennis court. We see worlds from every vantage point, and every page turn is cleverly designed to mimic whatever exists in the spread: as we turn the page and find a refrigerator, it feels like we are actually opening a refrigerator, or if we keep the book at a ninety degree angle, we can see a girl sitting upright in a chair. Jullien seamlessly turns his book into other things by using the inherent design of the book. It's brilliant! There's this one section where both the pages open outward, and the result is that the pages form a house, allowing readers to look at both the inside and outside simultaneously. It's amazing and really gets readers thinking about things from more than one angle.

The pages folded in

Inside of the fold-out pages

So what happens when you come upon a book that knows it's a book? Where the characters know they only exist in the span of 32 pages and don't exist outside of them? We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems is a great example of a set of characters who know they're in a book and question their very existence and purpose. Elephant and Piggie continually break the fourth wall, talking openly to the reader and subtly reviewing the concept of what actually makes a book a book: we learn about word bubbles,

we learn that the words on the page dictate the story,

and we learn that the story has to progress in order to move forward. But what happens when the story is over? There are only 57 pages. What happens to Elephant and Piggie after page 57? The two end up having a pretty deep discussion about what it means to exist in such a set amount of time, and ultimately end up asking the reader to re-read their book, giving them life again. The two must come to terms with their existence and place faith in the reader to pick up their book and enjoy their story again.

And what good is a book without a story? A Book by Mordicai Gerstein explores this final piece of the puzzle, as his main character runs through the book trying to understand what her story is within the context of her book.

The little girl and her family openly acknowledge that they live in a book--the finality of it doesn't seem to bother them--but the girl's main concern is not knowing what kind of story she is in. What is her path within the context of the book?

As she explores different themes and sets--everything from fairytales to mysteries to outer space--readers get to explore with her, simultaneously deciding what kind of story they, themselves, would like to be in. Eventually the girl realizes her role in the story is to write and progress the story forward. It's a clever ending to a clever book.

I know there are a ton of books out there that explore what it means to be a book, in a book, or have a story. What are some of your favorites?

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