Children’s books break the legendary fourth wall when the characters on the page speak directly to readers or involve them in the action. A number of books in the past few years have asked the reader to join the fun: Herve Tullet’s Press Here, David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs and Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, among others. Following in this vein is Open Very Carefully, an amusing British import by illustrator Nicola O’Byrne and author Nick Bromley in which the reader is part of the story.

The very first illustration appears to be a traditional piece of artwork from an old version of The Ugly Duckling. As we turn to the right-hand page, we see a giant crocodile tail with a red arrow and the words, “What’s that? I’m trying to read you the story ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ but there’s something in this book that shouldn’t be here!” The next page is torn, and assorted fairy tale animals cover most of the body of the offending crocodile.

The fun really begins when the red-capped duck narrator asks the reader to get involved.  When the crocodile starts eating letters and then words, something must be done—and the duck is just the one for the job! First, the duck asks the reader to rock the book back and forth, to put the crocodile to sleep. Then she draws a purple tutu on the reptile to make him seem less scary (a scene reminiscent of Harold and his purple crayon). The funniest page of the book is when the crocodile tries to escape but smacks into the edge of the page, curling up his snout in pain.

How DOES he get out? Well, shaking the book doesn’t work, that’s for sure! But he figures it out for himself. Those sharp teeth are good for something.

Picture books are a child’s first museum, filled with art that is critical to understanding the story. Visual literacy starts with board books and continues through every illustrated book a child reads. By breaking the barriers, cleverly crafted books such as Open Very Carefully challenge and engage the reader in a special way—and amuse parents at the same time.

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