How would you describe a picture book in its most basic form? If you’ve read enough of them, you’ve probably picked up on the standard 32-page format; usually full-page illustrations, sometimes a double page spread with the picture spread out across the middle fold. You start at the beginning, turn the pages from right to left, and then you reach the end. Right? Ha—fooled ya! I’ve been growing a collection of picture books that flip the standard script in unique ways. Every time I pull one out for storytime or to share one-on-one with a kid, it’s always such a delight to see their surprise at the way these books break the rules. You can hold them upside down! Start over at the beginning! Touch or trace the pages! Recently I shared Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor at a library storytime, which tells the story of a young kingfisher on her first flight….er, fall….out of the nest. It’s a long way down to the water and (spoiler!) back up again as Mel learns to fly, and the book emphasizes Mel’s up-and-down path by printing every single page sideways, even the copyright page and the text on the dust jacket. The reader has to hold the book with the spine running horizontally so that the pages can flip up, thereby using the full spread size of the book to show the distance of Mel’s fall and flight, instead of just the height of one page. It’s a visually fun and clever design that fits perfectly with the story—the text even rotates around when Mel starts flying upward again, so you have to rotate the book 180 degrees to keep reading. I heard several giggles and gasps when the time for the page turn came around. I love how it shows that books can be playful and funny in ways that go beyond the text and illustrations and incorporate the format and design as well. Here are some other books I love that are playful in this way:
Press Here by Hervé Tullet. You might already be familiar with this bestseller that has the reader tapping, clapping, blowing, and shaking as they turn the pages, with simple colored circles as illustrations. I love how the last page brings you right back to the start again! Tap the Magic Tree by Christine Matheson is another excellent similar one.
Follow the Line through the House by Laura Ljungkvist. This is just as the title says—one continuous black line starts on the cover and runs through each room of a house, forming furniture, tools, clothing, and toys. There’s also a bit of an “I spy” mystery on each page. This one might be a good pick for car trips—I think it would take a few tries to accurately trace the same thin line through all 32 pages!
This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne. Guaranteed to elicit giggles in preschoolers, this story treats the book’s gutter (the middle line where the pages attach to the spine) as a mysterious void into which all manner of illustrated things can disappear. The reader has to shake the book to get them to come tumbling out again. (See also: This Book Just Stole My Cat!)
Shake the Tree by Chiara Vignocchi, Paolo Chiarinotti and Silvia Borando. Like Mel Fell, this book is held vertically and uses the whole spread size to emphasize the height of a tree. There’s a nut up there that Mouse would dearly love to eat, but shaking the tree seems to only bring down bigger and bigger animals.
Do you have any favorite picture books that flip the script like this? I’d love to hear about them!