Let’s look at excellent picture books that break the fourth wall, also called metafiction. When authors break the fourth wall in children’s books, it’s highly engaging to kids. It invites readers directly into the story. Who doesn’t want to read a book that does that?
On a theater stage, the invisible fourth wall is the invisible boundary at the front of the stage between the actors and the audience. When storytellers break the fourth wall, whether in film, plays, or books, they break the imaginary “wall” between the storyteller and the audience. And kids love it!
In this list of metafiction children’s picture books that break the 4th wall, you’ll find characters speaking directly to readers or narrators asking readers to do an action or believe something. Also, you’ll find situations when narrators or illustrators argue with their characters.
Are you still wondering what metafiction is in fictional work? Or are you questioning the definition of breaking the fourth wall? Let me explain in another way…
Imagine an actor on stage talking to you in the audience. He’s breaking the invisible boundary between their world and the world of the audience.
When books break the fourth wall, the creators ignore the imaginary wall of pages between the fictional world and the reader’s life and push their way out of the book. Then, they either speak to you directly or involve you in taking some action, or show you the narrator speaking (arguing) with a character.
Are you ready to find your next favorite read aloud book? Metafiction books are always kids’ favorite books! You’re going to love these…
Picture Books that Break the Fourth Wall
Are You a Monster? by Guilherme Karsten
This will be a new read aloud favorite — it’s the funniest, interactive story! The monster hopes you are also a monster and that together, you can do scary things. He’s horrified to learn you don’t have a long pointy tail, or big yellow eyes — but you show him your big teeth and loud growls and he gets interested again. In fact, you’re so good at being scary, you might just scare away this monster!
How to Talk Like a Bear by Charlie Grandy, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths
You might think you’re roaring like a bear, but instead of saying, “Give me your ice cream sundaes,” you accidentally say, “Go get a haircut!” Whoops! Clearly, there’s a lot involved with bear talk! But Bear will help you get into the bear head space with yoga visualization and leaf and termite tea. Aren’t you lucky to have this helpful guide to doing whatever you want 100% of the time? Just like Bear. Or maybe, not!
The Cutest Thing Ever by Amy Ignatow, illustrated by Hsinping Pan
An enthusiastic narrator speaks to readers directly in hopes that we will agree that everything in this book (two kittens wearing hats, inside another hat that a cute monster is wearing, all riding a unicorn up a rainbow road…) is the cutest thing ever! (Also, there are bunnies and koalas.) I think you’ll agree, especially when you see the grand finale cutest thing ever!!
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin
This is SUCH a funny metafiction book that you’ll read multiple times through and laugh every time. Grover tries EVERYTHING to stop you from turning the page — because of the monster at the end of the book!!!!!! Are you getting nervous? You’ll be surprised when you meet the actual monster. (Don’t worry, parents, there is nothing scary at the end — it is Grover all along.)
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
This is a Taylor fourth wall FAVORITE!! Meet Chloe. Every week, she collects loose change so she can buy tickets to ride the merry-go-round. But one fateful day, she gets lost in the woods on her way home, and a large dragon leaps out from—”Wait! It’s supposed to be a lion,” interrupts the author of this book. But Adam Rex, the illustrator, thinks a dragon would be so much cooler. As the author and illustrator bicker, kids are invited into the behind-the-scenes of the storytelling process.
This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne
Bella was taking her dog for a stroll across the page when her dog disappears into the book. Help comes, but everyone gets sucked into the book, too! Will the reader be able to rescue everyone? Your kids will laugh through this entire story — it’s quite funny!
Don’t Wake the Dragon by Bianca Schulze, illustrated by Samara Hardy
Engage the readers on your lap with a playful, interactive romp around the castle. But be very careful…you don’t want to wake the dragon. Read about the castle’s noisy people, like the knights and the cook, then check to see if the dragon is still sleeping. A charming adventure with captivating illustrations, this is sure to capture young readers’ attention from beginning to end.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Both the bus driver and Pigeon speak directly to readers. When the bus driver goes on break, he asks you to remember — don’t let the pigeon drive the bus. But the pigeon begs you with many compelling arguments and even a tantrum and sulking. What will your child say to the pigeon? Engaging and hilarious, the Pigeon books always break the fourth wall.
The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Hanah Marks
Do you love books that break the fourth wall when the narrator talks to the main character? If so, you’ll want to read this humorous story. Because the narrator needs the panda main character to have a problem. But, the panda doesn’t have any problems — no matter what the narrator wants. In fact, it seems like the narrator might have a problem. That’s when Panda gets really silly and suggests crazy, funny ideas. Kids will be cracking up through this entire meta-story about story elements.
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
This is a metafiction book you must-read-aloud because “Here’s how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” for example, “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.” Side-splitting humor for listeners, this is a fantastically fun breaking the fourth wall book.
A Unicorn, a Dinosaur, and a Shark Walk into a Book by Jonathan Fenske
This is the story of the hilarious discussion between the narrator and his characters–who are NOT impressed with the story or the narrator’s ideas–plus the super silly illustrations of the three main characters, the unicorn, the shark, and the dinosaur and their dialogue bubbles. Talk about breaking the fourth wall! This is why the narrator adds a kitten in a t-shirt because no reader can resist a cute kitten…and neither can the other characters!
Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley, illustrated by Nicola O’Byne
What could be a very sweet story about the Ugly Duckling quickly turns very silly, er, scary when a CROCODILE sneaks onto the pages. Gasp. Watch out! First, he eats the letters, then whole words, then sentences. It’s up to you, the reader, to get rid of him. (You might even need to draw a tutu on him!)
Press Here by Herve Tullet
You, the reader, make magic with the dots. If you follow the directions and press, rub, shake, tilt, blow, clap, watch what happens to the dots! Rub the yellow dot and it turns blue! Shake the book and the dots spread out over the page. Tilt the book and the dots slide down the page. Clap and the dots grow. You’re in charge of this book’s story.
Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
Who doesn’t love an interactive metafiction picture book that asks you to get involved? The tree is bare, tap it four times, and turn the page to see what happens — now it has leaves! Tap it again for more leaves. Rub, jiggle, shake, knock, clap, and pat your way through the four seasons of an apple tree’s growth cycle. Impossible to resist.
Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller
Snappsy isn’t interested in Bert’s big ideas for all the friend things they should do together. In fact, Snappsy prefers to be alone. You’ll crack up at Bert’s enthusiasm (and persistence) and Snappsy’s wry responses as Bert tries to get Snappsy to have some fun. When he realizes he does have more fun with Bert around, it’s the perfect ending.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
The knight tells readers he’s glad there is a wall in the middle of the book because of the (scary) Ogre on the other side. Children will notice in the illustrations that the soldier is not as safe as he thinks– and that the danger isn’t from Ogre. When a crocodile tries to eat the soldier, the Ogre from the other side saves the soldier’s life. The lesson? Maybe what we think is scary (the unknown or different) ends up not being scary at all.
Something Stinks by Jonathan Fenske
Speaking directly to the reader, skunk asks YOU if you can smell that bad smell. Because it’s really stinky! But if it’s not the clean underpants or you (you smell wonderful), what could it be? Why are you shouting? Skunk can’t quite hear you. Silly fun is sure to entertain the readers on your lap.
Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet
Yikes! The characters are surprised to see you, the reader. So what should they do? They need a story. For a story, they need an author. The group finds an author and convinces him to write a story. But the characters don’t think it’s very good. So they want me to tell you NOT to read this book. The End.
This Is Not My Story by Ryan Uytdewilligen, illustrated by David Huyck
In this cute fourth wall book, the story’s narrator and the main character discuss (read: argue) why the narrator is getting the boy’s story wrong. The boy insists that it is NOT the boy’s story! Even though the author disagrees. So together, they look for the boy’s story. It’s not the cowboy story, or the dragon slayer story, or the detective story… Eventually, the narrator asks the boy questions to understand who he is, and it turns out that the boy’s story is his SEARCH for the story. How meta!
A Delicious Story by Barney Salzberg
Where did the story go? Well, the big mouse reluctantly admits that he was hungry, and he ATE the story!! (Also, it was delicious!) So the little mouse asks the big mouse to make up another story. But, the big mouse struggles to think of a story. Will he think of one? A surprising ending and an exciting new character make this a clever and fun metafiction new favorite read-aloud.
*Grownups and teens, if you’re looking for books that break the fourth wall for older readers, I recommend The Princess Bride by William Goldman.
Picture books that break the fourth wall connect readers to the stories uniquely and entertain growing readers because the narrator or a character addresses the audience and invites readers to participate in the story in some way. It draws attention to the story in an unexpected, quirky way.
When you’re picking your next read aloud book, try one off of this list first.