Too often, publishers impose the bells and whistles of paper engineering on stories because they can, rather than with any discernable purpose. Lauren Child’s Beware of the Storybook Wolves worked very well as a picture book when first published in 2006 so what is the justification for its transformation, via flaps, gatefolds, levers and pop-ups, into a novelty format?
For those unfamiliar with the original, it is a surreal intertextual tale that veers from nightmare to comedy and demands of the young reader a familiarity with the better known fairy tales. Herb’s mother reads him Little Red Riding Hood as his bedtime story and, by forgetting to take the book with her, unleashes a surreal series of events in which two sinister wolves appear by Herb’s bed ready to eat him. Quick thinking Herb nearly manages to save himself by purloining a jelly from a Sleeping Beauty book but it is Cinderella’s fairy godmother who finally sees off the hungry predators. The younger wolf, clothed in Cinderella’s ball gown after an inadvertent wave of the wand, likes it so much he goes to the ball and dances with the Prince Charming – thus becoming one of the few males to crossdress in a children’s book (cf. Mr Toad and Anne Fine’s Bill).
But what of the paper engineering? The first spread sets the scene with a commanding pop-up of Herb in bed reading the fateful book. A right hand half page gatefold takes his distracted mother out of the room. There is tension in the air. The second spread opens to nightmarish darkness. Herb was dozing off but mysterious eyes are visible through holes in the double gatefold. Open the gatefolds and the wolves (licking their lips) pop up and appear to move menacingly forward to Herb’s bedside. Dramatic tension and crescendo points continue to be thus both created and reflected throughout the remaining spreads by the interplay of Fletcher’s superb engineering with Child’s scary narrative and edgy line. Superb!