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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Do Not Open This Book
Do Not Open This Book
by Michaela Muntean, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
Excuse me, but who do you think you are, opening this book when the cover clearly says Do Not Open This Book!? If a sign on a door reads Do Not Enter, do you enter?
Of course you don't. The least you would do is knock first!
The reason you were not supposed to open this book is because it is not written yet.
LOOK at this blank page.
Look at this jumble of words.
--Do Not Open This Book by Michaela Muntean, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, p. 1-2.
A grouchy writer pig tells readers right from the book cover not to open the book--and when they do, he tells them why they shouldn't (because he hasn't written the story yet). He goes on trying to get the reader to be quiet so he can write, and then to stop turning the pages, and gets quite upset until, near the end, he realizes that he's written the book with the help of the reader. This is a funny, engaging book that will have some readers turning pages with great glee, doing something they're being told not to do in a fun way.
Muntean's story text consists mainly of the pig's dialogue directed at the reader, though there are also some sections "written" by the pig. The bulk of the text appears in speech balloons, as well as on some signs, and through pasted words on the page, which brings some fun and may remind some readers of comic books. Other text that is not part of the main story but adds to the flavor appears on book titles, labels, and cut-out words.
Most of the text moves quickly because it is humorous, grouchy dialogue directed at the reader; it entertains the reader and directly engages them ("Even if you are snoring, it will be better than having you...STARE at me.") For me, the sections where the pig "wrote" some of the story slowed the story down almost to a halt; they were not as interesting, and I could have done without them. One section the pig "wrote" insults and puts down the reader. I can see it was meant to be funny, but it temporarily took away my enjoyment of the book, and did not feel in keeping with the lighter, funny tone of the book. Later, the pig takes the insults back, in a way, by thanking the reader for helping him write the book. I would have enjoyed the book far more had it not been for the insult-the-reader section.
There is great humor in the text, in the pig trying to keep the reader from turning the pages (which will make most readers want to keep turning them); in the grumpy, over-the-top attitude of the pig; and in the absurd ways the pig tries to "dissuade" the reader to stop turning the pages (when really the author wants you to keep turning them), such as encouraging the reader to go to sleep, bulldozing very heavy "rock" onto the page so the reader can't turn it, and insulting the reader to make them go away. Adults and writers may find another source of humor--that the pig keeps procrastinating on writing the book, insisting that it's hard work which is why he hasn't yet written the book when of course the author has. The pig's dialogue may give some readers a sense of participation and satisfaction, since the pig finally admits that the reader helped make the book, and the pig is "reacting" to the reader. Another layer of humor is found through the labels that some of the bins of words have, such as "spicy words," "sweet words," "salty words," and "dangerous words."
The text, with words visually scattered about the page and a pot of glue and brush to paste them up, will get readers thinking about how words go together to make sentences and stories, and may encourage readers to write their own stories. The pig's text, especially once it gets jumbled up, reminds readers of the effect words strung together have, as the jumbled words create a new scene "pitch black darkness." The text also reminds readers of a few different types of stories that are possible (scary stories, bed time stories), again encouraging readers to think about words and the way they can influence us.
There are very strong similarities between this book and Jon Stones' Please Do Not Open This Book (featuring Sesame Street's Grover), from continually asking the reader not to turn the page, to using heavy stone or brick to try to prevent the reader from opening the book, to being happy in the end that the reader did turn the page, though Muntean takes it in a slightly different direction with the pig insulting the reader and having such a strong grumpy attitude, and with suggesting that the reader helped write the book.
This book is a lot of fun, most especially because it encourages readers (using reverse psychology) to keep turning the pages, and on each page the grumpy pig has something to say about the reader having turned the page. It feels like a real conversation between the writer and the reader, and so is engaging. It also may give readers the sense that they have control over something (turning the pages, even when the pig doesn't want them to) and that their actions have a cause and effect.
Lemaitre's (Baby Goose, Supercat) pen-and-ink illustrations that were worked on in Photoshop are cartoon-like with free, uneven lines. Characters and setting details are outlined in black ink, and the colors are bright and evenly toned though somewhat flat and lacking in depth. All of the illustrations cover a full spread, though there is greater weight on some of the pages which helps bring some variation.
Lemaitre adds color to the speech balloons, varying it each time (with some repetition throughout the pages), and this adds visual interest. The cut-out words also appear in different colors and colored backgrounds. There is little or no background detail or setting, and a large amount of white space on most pages, which brings a visual feeling of lightness. It also brings more importance to the foreground details and the characters, as the pop against the white of the background.
Various tools for building things are found in the pages, as if creating a story is done physically--and indeed, the pig does paste words onto the page. Carpentry tools, screwdrivers, ladders, pots of glue and brushes, scissors, hammers, and pins, all appear on the pages, sometimes adding clutter, but always adding interest. Interest in individual words is also increased by the words clearly being glued (with glue dripping down beneath them), pinned, thumbtacked, chiseled out of rock, woven into a spider's web, printed on signs and labels.
The pig is dressed in yellow pants, a lime-green striped shirt, an orange vest, and a pointy purple hat, which makes him stand out, and also gives him the appearance of being a creative or artsy type. A small spider and fly appear on each page with the pig, sometimes underscoring what the pig is saying, sometimes emulating the pig and his emotions, and sometimes adding words or staring at the words. Readers may enjoy finding them on the page to see what they're doing.
The book has several bonus illustrations found on the inside flap, where an illustration of the irritated pig and his two insect friends is paired with dialogue that completely fits the funny, grouchy tone of the book; on the front inside matter, where the pig is seen in a wood workshop, creating commas and apostrophes out of red wood, and where boxes of words are packed up; on the back page, where the two insects write in the wed "Caution, Sleep in Progress" and "The End"; and on both the front and back cover, where on the front the pig shouts the title of the book "Do Not Open This Book!" and on the back he says while holding up a stop sign, "Don't even think about opening it this way, either." The bonus illustrations add to the story and humor, and are fun to find.
This is a funny, engaging book about writing, stories, not doing what you're told, and a grouchy writer pig. Guaranteed to bring some fun (especially for the first half of the book). Recommended.
-Added May 2007
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