Another concept that lurks when I'm thinking about breaking the fourth wall is metafiction. I find that I am not able to draw the hard and fast line between "breaking the fourth wall" and metafiction. My elementary level of understanding of metafiction is that the characters are aware that they are in a book. And in children's picture books, this awareness opens up the opportunity for a playfulness as characters leap about pages or in and out of scenes. There's a video here from In Media Res that walks carefully through metafiction specifically in children's literature. The quote that I hang onto from this video is that metafiction is a "book that reflects about what a book is". (I keep repeating to myself "a book that reflects about what a book is, a book that reflects about what a book is...")
I'm still learning. My next question is: Is all fiction that breaks the fourth wall also metafiction? If we are defining breaking the fourth wall as a book in which the character overtly recognizes the audience and speaks directly to them, then I don't think that all metafiction is breaking the fourth wall. There are metafictional picture books in which the characters are wreaking havoc all over the pages, but never actually acknowledge the reading audience. However, I think that by breaking the fourth wall, the book has now become a book that is reflecting on what a book is therefore making it metafiction. (Like a Venn Diagram in which the blue circle (breaking the fourth wall) is entirely contained within the red circle (metafiction).) Thoughts? Or maybe just a cup of coffee and a muffin since it's 7:30am on a Saturday morning?
Whatever the level of understanding of the concepts, these books are clever and delightful, especially for some of those older readers who think they're too big for picture books. So dive in with me to play with metafiction and breaking the fourth wall - here are a handful of my favorites which make terrific lap-reads.
Breaking the Fourth Wall Pictures Books
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett (ages 4-8)
From the title pages, we meet Mac, the author and Adam, the illustrator (who, by the way, I think would be great fun to have at a dinner party). The book unfolds as a stage play starring Chloe, but trouble ensues when Mac and Adam have creative disagreements.
An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler (ages 4-7)
What begins as a typical fairy tale story with a princess locked in a tower by her greedy father, the king, takes a hilarious twist as the artist for the story is unable to keep up with the artwork involved. The narrator begs the readers to slow down their reading so that the poor man can have a chance to finish the design work.
Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas (ages 3-5)
This story is entirely and interactive conversation between the lady bug and the reader. Your little ones will be up and down and moving all around, so make sure you've got some space.
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems (ages 3-7)
I hope that you already know Elephant and Piggie books - they are all fantastic. In this episode, they dsicover that they are in a book which is loads of fun, but a little panicking for Elephant when it's realized that the book must end. We Are in a Book! is also a Theodore Geisel Honor winner which is the ALA award for early reader books.
Metafiction Picture Books
The Pencil by Allen Ahlberg (ages 4-7)
The pencil at the start of this story creates lovely characters and a story. All is well until the complaints start rolling in. Watercolors need to be added. And eventually a crazed eraser arrives. But not to worry, pencil can step up to save the day.
Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson (ages 4-7)
Otto lives in a book, but when the family is away, he can climb outside the book to explore the house. By mistake, Otto's book is left behind when the family moves and Otto must step outside into the world to discover his new home.
A Book by Mordicai Gerstein (ages 4-7)
The main character of this book is a little girl whose family all know what genre they belong to. She dashes from page to page and scene to scene searching for her own, individual story.
No Bears by Meg McKinlay (ages 4-7)
The little girl narrating this story is adamant that no bears will be involved. She's a little unobservant, however, as there is a quiet bear who moves the storyline along the right path.