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I am a character in a book.

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As I have mentioned, I read for a living. Sometimes my reading affects my thinking about my daughter’s books (for instance, one thing I work on is the representation of animals in modern literature, this partially explains the many animal posts). I am teaching a course this semester in which we discussed part of J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello and one of my students commented that it is “so meta!” I agree and the same could be said about many of my daughter’s books. Differing from children’s literature with a “frame” (like Judi and Ron Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts, I’ll get to them at some point) but, similarly, more layered than some children’s fiction, in metafiction characters talk about themselves as characters. I’ve commented on the joys and torture of Mo Willem’s We Are in a Book, in which Piggie and Elephant realize they are in a book (and the reader is looking at them!). David Plotz’s article in slate (“Elephant and Piggie Peer Into the Void”) interprets the book as a reflection on death, but I’ve never read it that way. I find We Are in a Book playfully “meta” and fun. My daughter really loves it, she especially enjoys when Piggie and Gerald look at the reader (us) and ask if we are a monster (she yells, “monster!”). In literary criticism “metafiction” is often linked with the term “postmodern.” Even the wiki entry for The Monster at the end of this Book, another example of a character — Grover — knowing he is a character, mentions the book as postmodern. The Monster at the end of this Book also contemplates the problem (struggle?) of self-recognition and, less seriously, relates to one of my daughter’s favorite songs to dance to “Monster in the Mirror.” Then there’s Chloe and the Lion (written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex) in which the layers of characters who know that they are in a book (and how they all interact) is too complicated to explain fully (and briefly). Let’s just say that one of the artists of the book gets eaten by a lion in the book and the writer of the book is forced to draw his character Chloe, something that Chloe comments on (in the book). These levels of abstraction do not make my daughter less concerned when the artist is eaten (although she should be used to people being eaten by now). While Grover’s book is from the 1970s, this “meta” practice in children’s books seems to be more common now than when I was kid. Was I missing something (were my parents shielding me from the potential terrors of metafiction?) or is my daughter living in a more meta, what could be called “postmodern” (although I do not really like the term) world? Have you noticed this trend or am I overly influenced by what I do?

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Grover, put Elmo down and walk away « Children's books

  2. Pingback: Metafiction can save your life (if you are a pig in a story) « Children's books

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