I have had a fascination for postmodern picture books since I was in college, and I have a growing collection of them. It totally revolutionizes picture books as we know them, and it’s great genius on the part of the writers and especially the illustrators.
Postmodern picture books are often characterized by:
- Nontraditional ways of using plot, character, and setting, which challenge reader expectations and require different ways of reading and viewing;
- Unusual uses of the narrator’s voice to position the reader to read the book in particular ways and through a particular characters’ eyes (this can be achieved by the written or visual text);
- Indeterminacy in written or illustrative text, plot, character, or setting, which requires the reader to construct some of the text and meanings;
- A pastiche of illustrative styles, which require the reader to employ a range of knowledge and grammars to read;
- New and unusual design and layout, which challenge the reader’s perception of how to read a book;
- Contesting discourses (between illustrative and written text), which require the reader to consider alternate readings and meaning; intertextuality, which requires the reader to use background knowledge in order to access the available meanings; and
- The availability of multiple readings and meanings for a variety of audiences.
Now, I’ve long been a fan of Lane Smith, especially when he’s teamed up with John Scieszka, because they just make me laugh out loud! I have a growing collection of their picture books, starting with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Stories, Squids will be Squids, Cowboy and Octopus, Pinocchio, and Math Curse. I think I’m just missing a few – Science Curse, the Abe Lincoln book, and Seen Art?.
I’ve had a paperback copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs for around 4 years now, but when I saw the hardcover, 10 year anniversary edition of the book at Book Sale for only P120, I just had to have it (never mind that I bought the paperback full price, for more than twice the amount.
He pleads not guilty, stating, “Hey, it’s not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep and pigs. That’s just the way we are. If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad too.”
Apparently, he was making a birthday cake for his granny when he ran out of sugar, so he went over to the pigs’ house to borrow a cup of sugar. The problem is, he had a bad cold, and when he sneezed, the first two houses – the one made of straw and the one made of sticks – collapsed on top of the their owners, and the wolf thought it would be a shame to let some perfectly good ham go to waste.
The third house was brick, though, and the wolf had a nasty exchange of words with the third pig, who wouldn’t lend him a cup of sugar for his dear granny’s birthday cake. So he huffed, and he puffed… and that’s how the cops found him.
He says that the cup of sugar story wasn’t exactly breaking news, so the police jazzed up the story and he became famous as the Big Bad Wolf.
By the way, I’m really loving how hardcover picture books from the US have “reinforced binding” that make them good for lots and lots of readings. Hopefully my (future + hypothetical) kids get to appreciate my growing collection of picture books, which ran out of shelves, like, several dozen books ago. I wish they’d devise the same type of binding for other types of books.
My second book for today is The Three Pigs by David Wiesner, who has fast become another one of my favorites, ever since I found a battered copy of Tuesday in a bargain bin (I think the one I mooched got lost in the mail).
Before reading this book, I’d have thought The True Story of the Three Little Pigs would be a tough act to beat, but Wiesner does a great job with this book. Aside from deconstructing the story, The Three Pigs deconstructs the actual structure of the book, with a touch of metafiction, as the characters become aware that they are characters in a book.
It starts out as the regular Three Little Pigs story, but the wolf huffs and puffs so hard that he blows the first pig right out of the story. Confused, the wolf moves on to the next house, but as he huffs and puffs, the first pig coaxes the second one out of the story and the wolf is even more confused when he finds the second house empty.
When the two pigs reach the third house, the third pig is surprised because they haven’t been eaten up. They knock away some pages of the book, fold it up, make a paper plane and have the time of their lives, until the plane crashes into a crumpled heap.
The pigs finally go home to their story, and piece it back together so that the wolf gets to the brick house, and when he huffs and puffs and is unable to blow down the house, the dragon pokes his head out and the letters from the text get scattered. The pigs decide they’ve had quite enough and leave the wolf outside while they (pigs + cat + dragon) all head inside to have some soup.
I also love how Wiesner uses different styles to establish the jump from story to story, and the pigs adapt to the illustration style wherever they are situated— from the vintage style of The Three Little Pigs, the realistic style of the “space” outside the books, the simplistic style of the nursery rhyme book, and the coloring book style of the dragon story. When the pigs are halfway out the story, they’re also illustrated in half-and-half styles. Wiesner is such a genius!
My copy: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, hardcover 10 year anniversary edition (upgraded from Scholastic paperback); The Three Pigs, hardcover — both P120 at Book Sale
My rating: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, 5/5 stars; The Three Pigs 5/5 stars