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.