“When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own.”
― John Berger, Keeping a Rendezvous
When I bought Mo Willems’s We Are in a Book! I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. What initially started as a simple “collector’s buy” turned out to be bigger than that – a feature for our bimonthly theme, Books About Books and the River of Words. I’ve probably said this a million times here but I absolutely adore Mo Willems and his picture books, especially the cutesy duo, Gerald and Piggie, from his Elephant & Piggie series.
Recipient of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor award for controlled vocabulary, We Are in a Book! shines a new light on the joy of reading (and of being read!). In this book, Mo Willems takes readers to a different level of interactive storytelling.
Characters Speak: We Love Being Read!
“We read to know that we are not alone.”
― William Nicholson
Gerald and Piggie are spending their usual day together when Gerald realizes that someone is looking at him and Piggie. Piggie confirms this by moving closer to the book’s page, as you can see from the illustration above. When Piggie tells Gerald that a reader is not actually looking at them but reading them, Gerald gets excited. The thought of being read is simply too cool for him. (Yes, he used the actual word in the book.)
In a way, Mo Willems portrays how characters in a book feel when people read them. Most of the time, people read out of sheer pleasure. Reading gives them joy. Reading is their escape from reality. Reading is love. But these are all “reader-focused.” Through Gerald and Piggie, we see the other side of reading. This idea probably sounds absurd. Some are probably thinking, these are just characters in a book. Why entertain the idea that they enjoy being read? Well, why not? As a reader, I think it’s nice to know that the characters in the books I read over and over like being read. How about you? Have you ever given it a thought?
Inside Looking Out: Role Reversal in We Are in a Book!
“Reading isn’t passive–I enter the story with the characters, breathe their air, feel their frustrations, scream at them to stop when they’re about to do something stupid, cry with them, laugh with them. Reading for me, is spending time with a friend. A book is a friend. You can never have too many.”
― Gary Paulsen, Shelf Life: Stories by the Book
This particular book in the Elephant & Piggie series is more interactive. Gerald and Piggie are literally connecting with the readers in the Now, that actual moment that the reader is reading them. In most cases, when people read, they simply read through the plot. Avid readers such as you and me know that it goes beyond that because we feel with the characters.
In We Are in a Book! readers will become “lost” in the world of Gerald and Piggie as they steal the spotlight and make the readers do the silliest thing you can imagine. Believe me, you will all fall for it when you read the book – in a good way! And when the reader does what he/she will end up doing, the reader becomes the one being “observed” or, while we’re at it, being “read” by the characters in the book.
Pick Me: The Joy of Reading
“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”
― Roald Dahl
What I like most about the Elephant & Piggie series is its minimal text and illustrations. It holds the attention span of children, and readers will take delight with dialogue exchanges. If you already enjoy reading, then you will appreciate it even more when you read this book. If you’re not much of a bookworm, then I hope that Mo Willems would make a convert out of you, for this book is a celebration of reading.
*Own copy of the book. All book photos taken by me.