When we talk about interactive picture books we’re usually talking about pop-up books or tactile books with fuzzy/bumpy details. When we talk about picture books that break down the fourth wall, we’re usually talking about titles that approach the reader directly with a narrative like The Monster at the End of This Book or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or Can You Make a Scary Face? So where do we slot the little French import Press Here by Hervé Tullet? Interactive but also reliant on the paper format, this here’s an entirely new breed of book. One that has its finger firmly on the pulse of what kids are used to, while at the same time finding a way to both upset and exceed their expectations.
You know what kids love? Being told what to do. Seriously, it’s a thrill for them. Take Press Here. From the title onward children are given specific directions like “press the yellow dot again” and “try shaking the book”. For every action the child takes, the book seems to respond with the turn of a page. Dots flit and fly in all directions. Sometimes child readers turn out the lights. Other times the dots grow huge on the page with every clap of the reader. By the time you’ve reached the end all the book has to say is, “want to do it all over again?” and you can bet that every reader in the room, tall or small, will scream out an appreciative “YES!!!” in response.
I wonder . . . is this the first picture book of the picture book app age? Could you have published a book quite this specific ten or twenty years ago? Does Press Here (called just Un Livre in its native France) in fact mark the start of a whole new genre of children’s fiction? Which is to say, fiction for children that are familiar with interaction and, indeed, demand it. I say that in full knowledge of the fact that only a certain privileged segment of the current youthful population has the opportunity to play with interactive electronic toys. Still, I’ve enough faith in both the small techies and their non-electronic kin to believe that if you tell them to rub a circle in this book, they’ll still have the wherewithal to know to turn the page afterwards. I think.
I’ve heard people say that while an eBook or an app of a book may be amusing, it doesn’t have the smell of a book. Smell is important, I’ll grant, but I’ve sniffed enough picture books with nasty rotting cheapo glue in their spines to know that not being able to get an olfactory whiff of a title is sometimes a blessing in disguise. No, the real advantage any given book has over its electronic counterpart is the tactile experience. With screens all you’ll ever feel will be a slick, smooth surface. Books (ironically once deplored by the gatekeepers of children’s literature if they ever included interactive parts) have the distinct advantage of getting to be furry, fuzzy, softy, plushy, or downright chewable from the start. Normally such tactile books are relegated to babies. Yet every book is, in its way, a physical experience. Take Press Here. First off you’ve got these thick cardboard covers, clearly built to withstand some serious blows and shakes. Then you’ve the pages inside, which are shiny and thick enough to give you the impression that you’re really accomplishing something when you turn the page. And that, right there, is yet another advantage over the electronic form. While on a screen you can turn a “page” with a mere flick of your index finger, here kids get to revel the pleasure of lifting the thick luscious pages themselves. It’s a magic trick that never stops giving. The page has now become the lifting of a curtain on the world’s most basic stage.
As a children’s librarian I had to consider the readaloud potential of this book. Sure, it’s beautiful for one-on-one experiences. It would even work well with kids who’ve enough experience reading that they know what it’s saying at any given moment. But what about for storytimes with big groups of kids? Since the book is constantly telling “you” what “you” should do next, the reader would have to read the text and then do the instructions themselves. That could be fun, but if I know anything about toddlers and preschoolers, you know that you had better have some pretty long arms if you’re going read this aloud to them. Otherwise you might find them approaching you like small determined zombies, arms outstretched so that they might press and touch and rub and tap the book for themselves. At least you can get a big group to blow and clap their hands for the later portions of the story. That’s pretty good.
I imagine a picture book app for this book with something approaching mild horror. This is odd, particularly when you consider the debt this book owes to the mindset that accompanies that technology. Yet to make this into an app would render this book . . . ordinary. No different from any of the other downloadable games out there and, indeed, much less impressive. What sets Press Here apart from the pack is the fact that it is printed on paper. There’s a magic to the book that is akin to the magic of pop-up books. In paper there is power and Press Here taps into that. It is, I hope, the start of great new things to come with one of the oldest formats on earth.
On shelves March 30th.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Other Blog Reviews:
- Get a glimpse of some of the pages, if you’re curious.
- You can also download activities in conjunction with the book.
- Read about how Chronicle has chosen to market this book in the PW article Where the Kids Are: Marketing Online.
Still don’t trust me on this one? Watch the trailer for it. It’s beautifully done.