Metafiction in Picture Books

Recently I  caught a webinar featuring author Carrie Tillotson discussing her funny and fabulous picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, illustrated by Estrela Lourenço.

(*Amazon Affiliate link- As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

During the talk, Carrie mentioned that she had heard that there isn’t as much of a market for metafictional picture books. Even though the banana in her book talks to the audience, she ignored that advice and submitted anyway. Obviously, someone thought metafiction would sell perfectly well because now she’s been asked to do a sequel.

I have to admit, however, a talking banana didn’t quite fit my mental picture of metafiction. I always considered it to be a writing about a book within a book, or a talking about or making a movie within a movie. A banana talking to the audience would be “breaking the fourth wall.” Is that metafiction, too? Time to do some research!

What is metafiction?

Turns out that metafiction is any art that refers to itself as an artificial construct (as fiction). Characters talking to the reader or changing the path of the work is one way to do that. A book within a book is another way.

Darcy Pattison has a whole list of the ways picture books may be metafiction.

In There Are Cats In This Book by Viviane Schwarz, both the cat characters and the narrator break the fourth wall and talk to the reader. It is classic metafiction.


What about nonfiction? Can you use metafiction techniques and still call a book nonfiction?

Because by definition using this technique calls attention to the fact the work is fiction, this can raise some difficulties. Let’s see how some authors have handled it.

1. In No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart, Allen Young and illustrated by Nicole Wong (previous review) has a straight nonfiction main text, but two cartoon “bookworms” give a running side commentary throughout the book.

Consensus? Most people would probably still call this nonfiction, or possibly creative nonfiction.

2. In both Redwoods and Coral Reefs (review at Growing with Science) by Jason Chin, a child reads a nonfiction book, but gets pulled into a fictional, imaginative setting. This is the “book within a book” sort of metafiction, although Darcy Pattison also calls it a “disruption of time and space.”

Consensus? Most people would probably call this informational fiction.

3.  Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate by Sara Levine and illustrated by Masha D’yans (previous review at Growing With Science) features a cranky purple cactus narrator talking directly to the reader.

Consensus? The fictional talking cactus narrator is so integral to the story that this one is also informational fiction.

Some people like their nonfiction pure and unadulterated, but more and more books are tugging at those boundaries.


What do you think? Have you read any good examples of metafiction picture books lately?

Nelson Mandela


The cover image says it all about Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson. Yes, that is the complete cover, an image with no text at all. Checking inside, you find that all the illustrations meet the promise of this one. They are rich, vibrant and often emotionally charged.

The illustrations are powerful, but in contrast the text tells the Nelson Mandela’s story with quiet dignity. Nelson’s father died when he was nine, so Nelson was sent to school far from his family. The man he stayed with was a chief and Nelson learned about his history as well as how to be a leader. The book follows his struggles against apartheid and his lengthy imprisonment, until he was finally released and elected president.

Interesting fact:  did you know that Nelson is not Mandela’s real name? It was given to him by a teacher who would not use his birth name, Rolihlahla, which somewhat ironically means “troublemaker” according to the author’s note in the back.

Kadir Nelson is an award-winning author and illustrator and he is surely on track for more recognitions with this visually stunning and moving biography.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (January 2, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061783749
ISBN-13: 978-0061783746


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by Booktalking to see who is hosting each week.

Today’s round-up is at Peorgies & Gyoza.

Shep: Our Most Loyal Dog




Shep: Our Most Loyal Dog (True Story) by Sneed B. Collard III and illustrated by Joanna Yardley, is a poignant story that might be just right to read for Valentine’s Day.

Based on a true story, people began to notice that Shep the dog showed up whenever a train came into the town of Fort Benton, Montana. No one knew why he did this or where he came from. Slowly, however, the mystery was unraveled. Shep had belonged to a sheepherder who had passed away. The man’s body had been put on the train to be shipped for a funeral in another place. Shep evidently met the incoming trains in the hope that his master/owner/human would return. He would continue to do so for more than five years!

Shep’s story has touched a lot of people, both in the 1930’s when it occurred and today. The town of Fort Benton has even erected a statue in his honor.

As for the book, the author has done a wonderful job of remaining true to the story, yet keeping it appropriate for children. The lovely illustrations are dynamic and capture a sense of place.

Shep: Our Most Loyal Dog is a cuddle-up and read with your favorite person kind of book. It is an absolute must for dog lovers, and might be a useful way to approach the topic of loss, as well.

Are you going to be in Tucson this month? Author Sneed B. Collard III will be at the Tucson Festival of the Book on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

And now, a video showing actual footage of the real Shep, as well as illustrations from the book:


Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press (October 31, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 158536259X
ISBN-13: 978-1585362592


The book was provided by the author for review purposes.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by Booktalking to see who is hosting each week.

Today’s round-up is at Abby the Librarian.

Nine Great Books for Black History Month

Black History Month or (National African American History Month) begins this Friday, February 1, 2013, so it is a perfect time to pull out some of our favorite books over the past few years to celebrate.

(Links to titles go to reviews here at Wrapped in Foil.)


The picture book biography Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang and illustrated by Floyd Cooper leaves the reader breathless. It is an amazing story of a woman who ran, ran, and ran some more to overcome poverty, racism, and gender barriers, ultimately making her mark on history as the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

It Jes’ Happened
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie is a fascinating picture book biography about a former slave who became a prolific folk artist after he started drawing when he was eighty-five years old.
Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage by Alan Schroeder and illustrated by the husband/wife team of Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu is a picture book biography that will light up a child’s face when he or she reads it.
Africans Thought of It: Amazing Innovations by Bathseba Opini and Richard B. Lee is an overview of the interesting, useful, lively and even fun innovations developed by Africans, ranging from aloe vera to the xylophone.
Seeds of Change:  Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton and illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler is about the life of Wangari Maathai, a woman whose story is both uplifting and complex.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip
Hoose was a Sibert honor winner in 2010. This is a middle-grade level title
Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Travares (Candlewick Press) is an uplifting history of a man who broke barriers with quiet hard work and unquestionable talent.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Little Brown Kids), illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgeraldby Roxane Orgill (Candlewick Press) has a lot of educational potential, but it comes with a warning. Ella Fitzgerald’s early life was a difficult one. Her father wasn’t around, her mother passed away and Ella fell into the wrong sort of crowd. Some of the rough spots may make children uncomfortable.But you could do many fun tie-in activities with reading Skit-Skat:  Play some of Ella Fitzgerald’s music, learn some of the dances, explore the clothes of the time, delve into the history of the Depression, read about Ella Fitzgerald’s later life. Skit-Skat has a vibrant energy that could be a jumping off point to many discoveries. Ready, set, go.


Do you have any favorite titles in honor of Black History Month?


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by Booktalking to see who is hosting each week.

Today’s round-up is at LauraSalas.