Literature 'R' Us: We Are in a Book by Mo Willems
"I THINK SOMEONE IS LOOKING AT US!"
Modern readers are used to interactive media. For a couple of decades, authors, illustrators, and publishers have experimented with ways to get readers to do something with their books besides turning their pages in order. Choose-you-own-ending books, pop-ups, dyecuts, flaps, gatefolds, moving parts, and text which moves or has to be viewed upside down or read backwards has appeared; illustrators and creative directors have devised clever designs that encourage youngsters to manipulate the book as they read it, building and unbuilding the book as the story (and pages) unfold. Computer storytelling software has embraced the concept and run with it, using links to open successive screens with sound effects to go along with the action. Readers have now become accustomed to doing something with words and images.
But Mo Willems has a fresh variation on the interactive reading experience. His brand-new We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (Hyperion, 2010) has its characters Elephant and Piggie interacting with the reader. As the book opens, Gerald the elephant has that eerie feeling that he's being watched. Always the proactive member of the duo, Piggie advances into the foreground and, with one eye squinted shut, peers off the page and into the reader's eyes, and quickly turns to tell Gerald what she has discovered.
"A READER. A READER IS READING US!
WE ARE IN A BOOK!"
Elephant and Piggie are totally cracked up to discover that they can make their reader say anything they choose just by putting it in their speech bubbles. The two buddies experiment with "Banana" and roll on the ground with glee when they hear the reader repeat it whenever they choose. Then Piggie asks Gerald an innocent but momentous question:
"DO YOU WANT A TURN BEFORE THE BOOK ENDS?"
Gerald the elephant is horrified, stricken with existential angst. Fearfully he asks Piggie when the book will end.
Piggie obligingly kneels down and turns up the bottom right corner of page 45 to peek at the last page and reports the bad news:
But in their inimitable style, Elephant and Piggie come up with a way to keep the book from really coming to an end--one in which readers will be all too glad to interact. In his latest in the wonderful prize-winning Elephant and Piggie beginning reader series, it seems Mo Willems is incapable of coming up with a book that is not strikingly fresh and inventive and imaginative and downright funny, and in this one he manages to top himself yet again.