I’ve changed the order of the series slightly. This week is interactivity with a small portion on intertextuality and fairy tales but NEXT WEEK will be intertextuality and fairy tales IN DETAIL.
As discussed in my last post, Cherie Allan gives a good, coherent outline of some of the qualities of postmodern picture books:
“One of the major impulses of postmodern literature is its challenge to realist fiction: both the ideologies embedded within realist texts and how various narrative strategies and devices of realist fiction present these attitudes and values as ‘natural.’ This results in texts which exhibit… blurring of boundaries between high and low culture; the collapse of hierarchies of knowledge; taste and opinion; and an interest in the local rather than the universal… The postmodernist form tends to be ironic, indulges in playfulness and pleasure, and points to its status as a construct, its intertextual origins and its parodic recycling of other works.”
Today I’m covering interactive postmodern picture books and how they incorporate some of the traits outlined by Allan including: the disruption of the normal expectations of fiction, playfulness, metatext, and intertext.
Emily Gravett’s Wolves (2006) playfully tells the story of a rabbit who checks out a book called Wolves from the library. As the rabbit learns about wolves, head stuck in his book, walking through the pages of our picturebook, we see him being stalked by an actual wolf! Of course, Rabbit is too busy reading to notice. A book within a book and a reader being read by a reader invokes one of the many devices sometimes used in postmodern picture books: metatext. Metatext is a term that requires an entire blog post in itself but the most simplistic definition I can give is from wordnik: metatext or metafiction is… “Text that describes or discusses text.”Rabbit’s act of reading about wolves is parallel to our own reading of Rabbit’s story. Furthering this, while we are watching Rabbit read we are also reading with him.
When rabbit checks out the library book an entire page of Wolves is taken up with the cover of Rabbit’s book and the following pages are clearly pages from rabbit’s book, although we see Rabbit as well, reading on the sidelines.
The second page of Rabbit’s book has a stamped library slip with Rabbit’s name on it that we can physically pull out of the book – yet another indication we are actually reading the same book that Rabbit checked out. This encourages reader participation in Rabbit’s reading, immediately disrupting our normal expectations of a picture book and indicates that this book will not follow a standard format.
Sadly, the wolves in rabbit’s book are more than just “fictional” and eventually Rabbit is eaten. However, the narrative employs more postmodern techniques to add irony and humour to Rabbit’s untimely end. The text reads: “The author would like to point out that no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book. It is a work of fiction. And so, for more sensitive readers, here is an alternative ending.” The book then goes into a short story about how the wolf was actually a vegetarian. In this one simple quote the book directly address the reader (i.e. breaks the fourth wall), disrupts the narrative flow, calls attention to the book as a work of fiction, disrupts the social hierarchy of endings, and imbues irony on an already quite ironic work.
The final page of the book disrupts the plot yet again. We see Rabbit’s unopened mail scattered across the double page spread. One of these is a real envelope that the reader can open and read a letter from the library. Rabbit’s book is overdue! Obviously, the soft alternative ending was fake because Rabbit has not been able to open his mail or return his library book – he really was eaten after all! This extremely clever book is a wonderful example of many postmodern traits at their finest.
“Once upon a bicycle, so they say, a Jolly Postman came one day from over the hills and far away… with a letter for the three bears.”
Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s 1986 picture book The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters is a hugely interactive and intertextual text. It’s also one of my personal favourites. Happily for me, it’s a little more straightforward than Wolves although still just as ripe with postmodern techniques
The Jolly Postman rides his bicycle all over town, delivering letters to various fairy tale characters. Each letter is a real letter in some respect and can be taken out of the book and read by the reader.
This book is playful and interactive, literally inviting the reader into the story with the pull out letters. The text plays on the cultural knowledge of fairy tales and continues the stories of many fairy tale characters after the endings that the reader is familiar with. We see Cinderella and Prince Charming after the honey moon stage, an apologetic Goldilocks, the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel who just needs some new household appliances, and many more.
Like Wolves, The Jolly Postman uses interactivity to disrupt our normal expectations of how books work and subverts our hierarchies of knowledge by showing us characters whose stories we though were finished.
For some more great postmodern picture books by these authors check out Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett and It Was a Dark and Stormy Night by the Ahlbergs.
Stay tuned for some more iconic intertextuality and fairy tales coming up next Saturday!