Going beyond the book
There's been a growing interest in post-modern or meta picture books where the physical book itself either becomes aware of its existence or knowingly influences the, often non-linear, story held in its pages. Sometimes it even becomes more than just a book.
We’ve seen an increasing number of submissions which try to capture this idea of the book as a character in its own right but it's an incredibly difficult concept to convey successfully.
So what are some good examples?
And are there tips to help you succeed in crafting your own?
Four of our favourite meta picture books are:
1 - This Book Just Ate My Dog - by Richard Byrne
In this book, the physical book becomes like a living entity. Bella is taking her dog for a walk when all of a sudden he disappears into the gutter - the book just ate Bella’s dog! And then the naughty book starts to eat everyone who comes to help her! The narrative is deceptively simple and so is the idea to use the gutter as the bowels of the book into which the characters disappear - it’s this deceptive simplicity that makes the book work so well.
2 - Press Here - by Herve Tullet
Herve Tullet has created a modern classic that encourages the reader to physically interact with the pages and seemingly ‘alter’ the story in the following spreads. The narrator asks the reader to press the dots, turn the page and watch as their actions appear to influence the shape of the narrative.
3 - This is Not a Book - by Jean Julian
This is a beautifully-crafted object in which the content transcends any conventional narrative. Its pages offer endless opportunities for action and interaction with the physical book, which is many different things – a door, a keyboard, a butterfly, a pair of hands . . .
4 - The Book With No Pictures by B J Novak
Novak masterfully turns the tables on the person reading the book. They (invariably the adult) become the book’s stooge as the hilarious text commands them to say things like:
“My only friend in the whole world is a hippo named BOO BOO BUTT”
Again, it’s a wonderfully innovative and simple idea.
So are there any tips to help make your meta text a success?
1 - Keep the premise or narrative and writing simple.
The thing that links all of these fabulous examples is the simplicity of the narrative (where there is one) and the concept. Because books of this genre ask the reader to step away from the conventional reading of a book, it’s important not to let the narrative become too complex. A twisty and convoluted plot adds another layer of comprehension which could act as a barrier to understanding your book and dilute the impact.
2 - Keep the construction simple.
It’s often tempting to use flaps or other devices to help your idea work. Flaps and pop-ups are a wonderful addition, but ask yourself if they’re really necessary to your story and your concept. Could they be pared back or stripped out? In all these examples the basic book block doesn’t change, but the creator has come up with extremely clever ways of making a book do something more than you might initially expect. Not only is this approach innovative, but it also makes the prospect more appealing to the publisher you're pitching your idea to because novelty books are extremely expensive to produce.
3 - Remember who your audience is.
a) If you’re going to encourage anyone to look silly, make sure it’s the person who’s reading the text aloud. This will get you the best response from the person (the child usually) to whom the book is being read.
b) If your narrator is commanding the reader to do something, try and make the action link to the story or the book. Consider how something the reader might do might impact on the plot. As Tullet does so cleverly, this helps keep the child fully-engaged with your concept.
4 - Keep it fresh!
Try to keep it completely innovative. Familiarise yourself with as many of the concepts that already exist. What makes each of them so successful is their complete point of difference to other books on the market. That's what makes them so unique and special. If you want to write a meta text, find a fresh idea that's not been tried before and develop it.
Natascha Biebow is an experienced editor, mentor and coach, who loves working with authors and illustrators at all levels to help them to shape their stories. www.blueelephantstoryshaping.comCheck out the Cook Up a Picture Book Coaching Courses.