Do you know we’ve looked at almost a hundredish books here together, blog? Something like that, anyway. And some of them we’ve looked at for the text, others for the illustrations, many for both. Some of them we’ve looked at for the contents, a few for the book as a whole. But there’s one thing we’ve never talked about: end-papers. It’s just pretty rare that end-papers end up being particularly, well, important. Some are decidedly attractive, true, and some are restrained and unassuming, but they don’t tend to play any more of an integral role in understanding and appreciating a book than the flyleaves. Incidentally, we haven’t discussed flyleaves, either.
Why do I bring these up? Because I’ve just been taught that both end-papers and flyleaves are decidedly important after all. Who taught me? A certain duckling and bookbug in This Is Not a Picture Book! by Sergio Ruzzier.
People, every once in a while an entirely perfect book shows up, and you sit there in perplexity, wondering where the “buts” and “well, ifs” went. You wonder why this book wasn’t always here. You wonder how the world was before it arrived because you can’t quite remember. Now imagine that this book was entirely complete and perfect from the endpapers and flyleaves to the cover and the contents. Everything was thought and designed and planned out– perfectly.
That perfect book is This Is Not a Picture Book! and I find it impossible to believe that anyone, adult or child, wouldn’t be better off for reading this book. Let me put it this way: I read it through before reading it to my daughter, and was distinctly sniffly by the end.
But let’s talk first about what the book entails, and then we can talk more about how it throws me into a rather emotional state. A duckling is out walking when he sees a red book lying on the ground. He’s very excited until he realizes that it doesn’t have any pictures– ugh! He throws it aside, angry, but then feels bad and apologizes to the book. He starts looking through it, and a little bookbug comes over to him. Together they explore the book and realize that it has a lot to offer: some words are funny, others are sad, wild, peaceful… but all can carry you away, and stay with you forever. In the end, the bookbug is very excited: “Read it again!”
This story is told in three different ways in the book. Yes, three. Possibly four, if you count differently, but I count three. First, there’s the front and back end-papers, each different, and then there’s the pages in between, beginning with the fly-leaves. Does this sound too complicated? But it’s actually very simple. You see, the contents of the book are a lovely little picture book aimed at toddlers and up. The fly-leaves show the beginning of the story:
And so it carries on in this simple way until you come to the title page:
By which point you’re already heavily involved in the story: you know the problem the little duckling is facing, and you have an idea of what’s coming next to resolve that problem.
But what about the end-papers? Here I’ve been rhapsodizing about end-papers but I still haven’t told you what’s going on with them except for a hint that they also tell the story, each in a different way. Well, they do. See, the thing is that the book is a picture book, despite proclaiming that it’s not, rather in the vein of…
But, in fact, the story is also told without pictures– on the end-papers. At the front of the book, it’s told in a semi-garbled way, the way someone who’s not really comfortable reading without pictures might see it, as a collection of scrambled letters with the occasional familiar word poking out: “Lafnyil, he saw a ewf sowrd ttha he dah esne ofbere: bee, flowers, mountains, clouds!” The back end-papers have the same text, unscrambled. (The sentence I transcribed was: “Finally, he saw a few words that he had seen before: bee, flowers, mountains, clouds!”) The story, as told in the back, is undoubtedly the most completely described: it tells you about the bookbug, for example, who scrambles out from the gutter of the book and becomes the duckling’s companion on his journey. We know him from the picture book, but he isn’t fully introduced until you read the end-papers.
Does any of this make the end-papers the “better version” of the story? Of course not. The end-papers are a bit more complete, but they lack the fourth element of the story-telling: the pictures. You create your own pictures, and you remember the pictures from the picture book version, but it’s told unillustrated, and, well, there’s a poignancy to that. You do miss pictures. But you can create your own. The words are working on their own– some are funny, some are sad, just as the text says. And then there’s the other poignancy: you know that the end-papers are there for you, the adult, probably not for the child you’re reading to. One day, though, one day… one day she’ll be reading those end-papers, maybe even when she revisits the book with her own children… and you choke up, if you’re me, thinking of the joy of books in store for her.
How does the Changeling respond to this book right now, though? There are so many clever elements I just described, but a lot of them do seem aimed at adults, what with how the whole book is involved in this love-letter to bookishness, right? Let me put it this way: when the bookbug cheers at the end, “Read it again!” the Changeling grabs the book from my hands and “reads it again.” She’s memorized the whole thing and “reads” it aloud to me. She reads it beautifully, of course, and I should really try to record it because I can say, void of parental partiality, that no one has ever read a book aloud so beautifully in the entire history of the whole world.
It’s one of the nicest gifts a book has given me, that first moment when the Changeling heard the words: “Read it again!” and submitted to the impulse to obey that call.
And that’s what I mean when I say this book is a perfect object. It uses every element of the book to show off what a book can do, and it does so appealing to every book-lover, or potential book-lover, out there: adult or child, it doesn’t matter. Everyone can find something speaking to them in this book. It’s perfect.