I have talked about Children’s books that serve as great introductions to ignoring the fourth wall before.
However, this Mo Willems entry leaves Grover and company leaning on that wall in an uninteresting fashion while it comes barreling in and smashes through the fourth wall at Mach Seven before slapping the reader in the face.
Not content with merely expressing the fact that they are in a book with a story that unfolds as pages are turned, Gerald and Piggie display Grant Morrisonian levels of medium awareness. It starts with them excited about their discovery, leading directly to them delighting in their total mental control of the reader…with a banana joke.
Finally, it rushes into unadulterated terror. Not about what will be met at the end of the book, ala the Sesame Street venture, but that the book itself is going to end. Yes, Gerald goes into a full blown panic about the end of his existence when the reader ceases to experience him.
An existential elephant in a kid’s book.
This one goes beyond mind opening into mind exploding.
The rest of the series also has valuable, brain expanding revelations for both kids and adults.
The importance of fun over competition in Watch me Throw the Ball.
Making the best of what life hands you in Are You Ready to Play Outside.
The power of dreams despite reality’s oppositions in Today I Will Fly.
Accepting and adapting to one’s limitations in Can I Play Too.
The risks of indecisiveness in Should I Share My Ice Cream?
A comparison of the merits of planning with spontaneity in I am Invited to a Party.
The concept that things could always be worse in There is a Bird on Your Head.
The dangers of panic and overreaction in I Broke My Trunk.
The dangers of panic and overreaction in Pigs Make Me Sneeze.
The dangers of panic and overreaction in I am Going.
(Actually the dangers of panic and overreaction are also in We Are in a Book!
and most of the rest of the series as well, come to think of it.)
The power of the individual to rise above class expectations in Elephants Can’t Dance.
OK that last one is kind of a stretch but the fact that it’s also wicked hysterical means it merits a mention.
This leads to the second most important point about Willems’ books.
THEY ARE FUNNY!
Funny is a good thing, especially when done this well.
However the primary most important thing about the Elephant and Piggie series is how they must be experienced to be truly appreciated.
One night I was putting my daughter to bed Up the Lake, and as I started quietly reading a story to her, I heard something unusual.
From next door the voice of Gerald sounding remarkably like a highly educated version of Bullwinkle with a major sinus infection asked, “Do you know what this means?”
This was immediately followed by Piggie’s screeching reply, reminiscent of Gonzo the Great on Helium doing a Yakky Doodle impression:
“Yes…I THREW THE BALL ALL THE WAY AROUND THE WORLD!”
Once I picked myself up off the floor and was able to breathe again, I could focus on the rest of the story my sister was reading.
Although for most occasions, I am in charge of silly voices in my family, the ONLY way the Elephant and Piggie books should ever be experienced is by my sister reading them.
If any other of us has to read one, we imitate her voices as best as we can, but it doesn’t match the original.
Anything less, triggers the family’s latest reaction to any unpleasantness…