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Summer Unplugged: Books Off the Page

I have a soft spot in my heart for books where a character or object breaks that fourth wall and starts interacting directly with either the story or the audience.
Sometimes, you just want to imagine your book could talk back to you or react to the story, or everything you knew about a familiar story could be tossed on its head.
Here are some of my favorite interactive picture books that do just that.
interactive picture books

interactive picture books and more

Picture Books

  • Chester by Melanie Watt. When I was a library intern, we did a mock Caldecott, and this was the winner by a LANDSLIDE. Chester won’t let Melanie Watt tell her story because he’s sure his story is the best of them all, and he and his red marker are going to make sure it’s shared.
  • The Three Pigs by David Wiesner. I know, I know. Another David Wiesner. It’s not my fault the man is a genius. In this book, it starts out as the Three Little Pigs story as you know it, but then the wolf accidentally blows them right off the page and into the backside of fairy tale stories.
  • Doodleday by Ross Collins. His mother warns him not to draw on Doodleday, but he does anyway and everything he draws comes to life.
  • The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. The pencil starts off drawing a nice little town, but pretty soon everyone has complaints (“my nose is too big!” and “this hat is ugly!”) and so the pencil draws an eraser to fix some details. And then the eraser takes matters into his own hands.
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. Crayons have feelings too, you know. And they are here to announce that they are NOT happy about how they’ve been treated.
  • Press Here by Herve Tullet. Is there anyone who doesn’t know this brilliant little book? Press the dots, shake the pages, and watch the book change before your eyes (with just the flip of a page).
  • Jumangi by Chris Val Allsburg. So much better than the movie, here’s the classic Caldecott book about a board game come to life.

Single Bonus Chapter Book Because I Could Only Think of One

  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Maggie’s father has a special power; he can read characters right out of a book. Which sounds fantastic until he reads out some very bad characters who come to get Maggie and her father.
A Few Crafts, Activities, and Recipes:
  • Make Pigs in a Blanket to eat while you read The Three Little Pigs
  • Buy some picture books at the thrift store for cheap, and let your kids rewrite the stories to their liking, a la Chester (or like Battle Bunny, which I think is a super clever concept but I didn’t include on this list because I find actually reading it to be kind of burdensome).
  • Dip pretzels in melted colored candies to make your own edible crayons
  • Start out with a classic fairy tale and then take turns coming up with twists in the story.

And if you’d like a printable copy of this list that you can take to your library or screenshot on your phone for easy access, just pop in your email address below and it’ll come right to your inbox!


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  1. I enjoyed The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. It's YA fantasy. I don't think the 4th wall is ever broken, but there are chalk drawings that come to life.

  2. I agree with you about Battle Bunny–my husband read it by himself and loved it, but I found it really difficult to read out loud.

  3. Love "press here"…just got it from the library last Tuesday. Will have to try these other books too.

  4. My kids got a kick out of "We Are In A Book" by Mo Willems, where elephant and piggy discover they can make the reader say whatever they want. "Banana."

  5. I really appreciate you putting together these book lists. It's so easy to get stuck in a rut, taking out the same books over and over. I love having some fun "new" options at my fingertips

  6. The Lemony Snicket books, Series of Unfortunate Events, also break the fourth wall all the time warning the reader to turn back now, things aren't going to get any better. That cracked my daughter up so much that I credit that series with making a self-directed reader out of her. I think she started reading them when she was 8.

  7. Press here is one of our favorites and the day the crayons quit is waiting for us at the library,

  8. Thanks for this ~ there are some new ones here that I didn't know and we'll definitely be checking those out! And I didn't know about the Cornelia Funke book but Pirate Girl is definitely one of my favorite picture books like ever. (Smile!)

  9. We will definitely be checking these out! My boys also like the Elephant & Piggie "We are in a Book". They think the banana part is hilarious!

  10. Well, now I would like to buy 1 million chatbooks! Never heard of them before. And Janssen, thank you for all your kid book recs. Our library haul has been AMAZING lately!

  11. Well I thought I left comment, huh. Anyways, thank you so much for putting up these reading lists! Ever since finding your blog I've found a new appreciation for our library and everything it offers. I love your suggestions and I know my daughter does too. Keep them coming!

  12. My daughter looooves Press Here. And I've been wanting to get her The Day the Crayons Quit – great list!

  13. Oh I have heard of some companies that do this, but not this inexpensive! I love the concept, I think I need to do this!

  14. Oh, Inkheart is a favorite. I love children's books…I am particularly excited about these picture books, I'll need to look into them.

  15. I love when you recommend childrens books. You have high standards so I know they'll always be good!!

  16. Here's another: The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear. I was reading this the other night to my son and realized it fits perfectly in this category. In this case, you, the reader, are another character warning the little mouse about the big hungry bear

  17. Glad to learn about Chatbooks, looks cool. I've been using My Social Book to print out Facebook stuff, so now I should do the same thing for Instagram!

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