I remember when youngest daughter left some books out on the back porch one day. Sadly, I didn’t find them until after it had rained all night. Hey, it happens. No big deal. But when I gathered them up from the wet table, the ruinous state of one book in particular made my heart break a little. For me to feel that kind of pang over the destruction of a children’s book, you’re probably thinking it must have been an heirloom copy of some classic work of literary genius, but no. It was a simple and rather silly little book—a Little Golden Book, more precisely. Nevertheless, it’s one that holds a place of deep nostalgia for me.
The book was The Monster at the End of This Book, starring Sesame Street’s “lovable, furry old Grover” in all his awesome blueness. In it, Grover is in a fright, warning the reader not to turn the page because—gulp—there’s a monster at the end of this book! Page after page he pleads with us, setting up blockages and marveling at our rashness. In the end, it turns out that Grover was the monster all along. Whew, what a relief!
Silliness aside (though I would argue that laugh-out-loud silliness is reason enough to love it), I love this book because early in my own childhood it was the first book that showed me it was possible to interact with words on a page. They weren’t there merely to be comprehended; they were there to be engaged, to wrap my mind around and become a part of the world they described. Any good literature has the power to draw a reader in like this but, to my fledgling preschool mind, Grover’s breaking of the fourth wall put this concept on the low shelf and allowed me to reach it effortlessly. As I cast his advice aside and recklessly-slash-gleefully turned each page, he would panic over the lurking monster, and night after night I would fall deeper into the joy of enveloping myself in story—even a simple one like this.
But alas, generations change, attention spans shorten, senses are dulled by media onslaught. So I thought as I read this book to my kids for the first time, fully expecting them to be underwhelmed. But no! I was astonished by the way they were sucked into Grover’s predicament, showing equal parts concern for his well being and deviousness as they flipped each page en route to his potential demise. Even on subsequent readings (after they already knew the shtick at the end about Grover being the monster), they displayed a beautiful ability to suspend disbelief and participate in the story. It really is a joy to watch.
Other than lovable, furry old Grover, we have also found that some of Mo Willems’ work displays this type of playful breaking of the fourth wall that draws our kids into a story in amazing ways. Most notably for our family, Willems’ book in the ‘Elephant and Piggie’ series, We Are in a Book!, has us consistently rolling on the floor in laughter.
What about you? Does your family have any favorite books whose characters interact directly with the audience?