In literary terminology “metafiction” is the word used to describe works that show the audience that they are aware of themselves as a created work. Often this is done by characters interacting with the reader or the author or by characters changing the path of the work. Sounds pretty complicated for kid’s books, you say? Why no, I say! Playing with metafictional conceits in children’s books can lead to some very fun and funny concept books that can cause kids to think about the relationship between reality and fiction and between authors and characters. Picture books in particular can quite literally illustrate these ideas by letting characters change the work seemingly in opposition to the author or giving them agency outside the intended storyline. Below are listed some of the library’s picture books and intermediate and young adult fiction that use metafictional devices to create their stories. To find more metafictional children’s books, try the database Novelist from the library’s Online Journals and Databases page and search under the subjects tab for the term “Metafiction.”
The Pencil. 2008.
A lonely pencil timidly draws a boy, a dog, and other items but soon faces a problem as his creations begin demanding changes, and when he draws an eraser to make them happy, the real trouble begins.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books SE. Ah47pe]
Z is for Moose. 2012.
Moose, terribly eager to play his part in the alphabet book his friend Zebra is putting together, then awfully disappointed when his letter passes, behaves rather badly until Zebra finds a spot for him.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books Q. SE. B531z]
Bear Hunt. 1980.
Hunters after a bear are constantly outwitted as Bear takes his pencil and draws his way out of each situation.
[SSHEL S-Collection SE. B8162b]
Musk Ox Counts. 2013.
Musk Ox and Zebra are trying to make it through a counting book. As usual, Musk Ox has his own ideas and Zebra does not fail to show his frustration trying to get Musk Ox back on track. Will they make it from 1-10, or will their efforts end in annoyance?
[SSHEL S-Collection Q. SE. C1116m]
Blue Chicken. 2011.
An enterprising chicken attempts to help an artist paint the barnyard and accidentally turns the whole picture blue.
[SSHEL S-Collection SE. F875b]
Harold and the Purple Crayon. 1955.
Harold goes for an adventurous walk in the moonlight with his purple crayon. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of wonder and excitement.
[SSHEL S-Collection SE. J62h]
The Red Book. 2004.
A book about a book, a magical red book, without any words, and the friendship that develops around it.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books SE. L528r]
No Bears. 2011.
Ella is in charge of this book, and she will tell you something right now. There are NO BEARS in it. Not even one.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books SE. M2145n]
There Are No Cats in This Book. 2010.
Filled with the spirit of adventure, three cats pack their suitcases and try to escape from their book.
[RBML Oak Street and Center for Children’s Books SE. Sch966th]
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. 1992.
Madcap revisions of familiar fairy tales.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books SE. SCI27s]
The Monster at the End of This Book. 2004.
Grover worries page by page about meeting the monster at the end of this book. Generations of kids have interacted with lovable, furry old Grover as he begs the reader not to turn the page-for fear of a monster at the end of the book. “Oh, I am so embarrassed,” he says on the last page … for, of course, the monster is Grover himself!
[Center for Children’s Books SE. St717m]
Van Allsburg, Chris.
Bad Day at Riverbend. 1995.
When Sheriff Hardy investigates the source of a brilliant light and shiny slime afflicting Riverbend, he finds that the village is part of a child’s coloring book streaked with greasy crayons.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books Q. SE. V263ba]
Chester is more than a picture book. It is a story told, and retold, by dueling author-illustrators. M’lanie Watt starts out with the story of a mouse in a house. Then M’lanie’s cat, Chester, sends the mouse packing and proceeds to cover the pages with rewrites from his red marker, and the gloves are off.
[SSHEL S-Collection Q. SE. W341c and Center for Children’s Books S. W34c]
You’re Finally Here! 2011.
A rabbit has many questions involving where a friend has been and why it took so much time for the friend to appear.
[SSHEL S-Collection Q. SE. W341y]
The Three Pigs. 2001.
The three pigs escape the wolf by going into another world where they meet the cat and the fiddle, the cow that jumped over the moon, and a dragon.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books Q. SE. W6373th]
We Are in a Book! 2010.
Gerald and Piggie discover the joy of being read. But what will happen when the book ends?
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books SE. W667w]
Intermediate and Young Adult Fiction
The Name of This Books Is Secret. 2007.
Two eleven-year-old misfits try to solve the mystery of a dead magician and stop the evil Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais, who are searching for the secret of immortality.
[SSHEL S-Collection S. B6507n]
The Neverending Story. 1983.
Shy, awkward Bastian is amazed to discover that he has become a character in the mysterious book he is reading and that he has an important mission to fulfill.
[Undergrad PT2665.N27 U513 1983 and Center for Children’s Books 835 EN21OU:E]
The 13-Story Treehouse. 2013.
Who wouldn’t want to live in a treehouse? Especially a 13-story treehouse that has a bowling alley, a tank full of sharks, a library full of comics, and a secret underground laboratory. Life would be perfect for Andy and Terry if it wasn’t for the fact that they have to write their next book, which is almost impossible because there are just so many distractions, including thirteen flying cats, giant bananas, mermaids, a sea monsters pretending to be mermaids, and dangerous burp gas-bubblegum bubbles!
[SSHEL S-Collection S. G8757t]
A Pack of Lies: Twelve Stories in One. 1988.
MCC Berkshire tells an extraordinary story about every item he sells from Ailsa’s mother’s shop. When he walks off into the sunset, Ailsa wonders whether his stories were real or were they a pack of lies?
[SSHEL Oak Street and Center for Children’s Books S. M128pa]
Park, Linda Sue.
Project Mulberry. 2005.
While working on a project for an after-school club, Julia, a Korean American girl, and her friend Patrick learn not just about silkworms, but also about tolerance, prejudice, friendship, patience, and more. Between the chapters are short dialogues between the author and main character about the writing of the book.
[SSHEL S-Collection and Center for Children’s Books S. P2191p]
The Great Good Thing. 2001.
Nothing ever changes inside the storybook kingdom inhabited by twelve-year-old Princess Sylvie, her parents, and many other characters until Sylvie discovers that by allying herself with the Reader she can experience new adventures beyond the confines of the book.
[SSHEL S-Collection S. T662g]
Down the Mysterly River. 2011.
Top notch Boy Scout Max “the Wolf” cannot remember how he came to be in a strange forest, but soon he and three talking animals are on the run from the Blue Cutters, hunters who will alter the foursome’s very essence if they can catch them.
[Center for Children’s Books S. W6782d]
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign