Archives for posts with tag: Michaela Muntean

Breaking Through the Fourth Wall

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

 In theater and film stories are typically performed inside four walls. The fourth wall is the front of the stage facing the audience. While it is not a real wall, audience and actors agree to treat it as a wall with a very large peephole. Audience and characters do not acknowledge that the other exists. It is a vital part of the suspension of disbelief. Well, most of the time. The same is true for picture books. Again, most of the time.

The movie FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF is one of the best-known examples of a character acknowledging and speaking directly to the audience. Many interactive or concept picture books do this by asking questions like “Can you find?” or “Whose feet are these?”  A few picture books break the fourth wall to an even greater extent by having the reader actually become part of the story. Think of it as THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO in reverse!

Michaela Muntean’s DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK views the reader as the second character in the story. The reader becomes the antagonist by simply opening the book and turning the page. We (the reader) don’t mean to cause trouble, we’re just curious to follow the story. Who can’t relate to innocent curiosity getting us into trouble?

 THE PURPLE KANGAROO by clever Michael Ian Black not only makes the reader a part of the story. It makes the reader the butt of the joke.

The book that first brought Don and Audrey Wood to everyone’s attention puts yet another spin on breaking the fourth wall. THE LITTLE MOUSE, THE RED RIPE STRAWBERRY, AND THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR gives the reader the role of a concerned observer speaking from the audience. We do what every audience member wishes he could do, warn the characters in the story.

Why not take a playful chance, and see if you can make your reader an active part of your next manuscript.

P.S. For an interesting look at other forms of metafiction in picture books visit Philip Nel’s:

“Metafiction for Children: A User’s Guide – YouTube”

 Books Discussed

 DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK by Michaela Muntean. Illus. by Pascal Lemaitre. Scholastic, 2006.

THE LITTLE MOUSE, THE RED RIPE STRAWBERRY, AND THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR by Don & Audrey Wood. Illus. by Don Wood. Child’s Play 1984.

THE PURPLE KANGAROO by Michael Ian Black. Illus. by Peter Brown. Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Beginnings–Part II

Like movies that establish setting, tone, and characters during the opening credits, many picture books today begin to establish their story before the first page of text. Authors who are also illustrators are able to introduce characters and even conflict on the title page, verso, and the page typically used for dedication.

Of course, writers who do not illustrate their own texts have no control over opening illustrations. But there are still some options involving text. A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker and Michaela Muntean’s DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK offer two interesting examples.

Becker’s narrative is unusual for a picture book in that it begins with a prologue. It serves as a springboard for the action to come, and stimulates an immediate sense of tension.

No one ever came to Bear’s house.

It had always been that way, and Bear

Was quite sure he didn’t like visitors.

He even had a sign.

Illus. by Kady Macdonald Denton A VISITOR FOR BEAR

The first page of narrative is the loud and clear dropping for the proverbial second shoe.

One morning, Bear heard a tap, tap, tapping on his front door.

When he opened his door, there was a mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed.

“No visitors allowed,” Bear said, pointing to the sign. “Go away.”

The young audience knows Bear is going to say, “Go away” before he says it. The prologue has already pulled us into Bear’s way of thinking. We want to know why Mouse didn’t respect the sign.

One could say Michaela Muntean’s prologue is the book’s cover and title page. DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! is presented as a dialog balloon on the cover. Naturally, we open the book.  It’s a book. Pages two and three depict the surprised expression of the character we saw on the cover. Then BOOM we enter the narrative hip-deep in tension.

Illus. by Pascal Lemaitre. DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!

Excuse me, but who do you think you are, opening this book when the cover clearly says DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!? If a sign on a door reads DO NOT ENTER, do you enter? Of course you don’t. The least you would do is KNOCK FIRST!

In this case we (as reader) are not only pulled into the story’s tension, we ARE the cause of tension.  Each reader is the antagonist. One can’t get more involved that that.

These approaches won’t work for all picture books, but there is no reason not to explore such options. Play is the name of the game. Free play is our source of fresh ideas.

Picture Books Discussed

DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK by Michaela Muntean. Illus. by Pascal Lemaitre. Scholastic, 2006.

A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick, 2008.