Every time I read a new book to my daughter at bedtime, there’s always this unspoken hope that the book will really connect with my small, trapped-under-her-covers audience and maybe become a recurring favorite. At the most, I’m hoping for a big smile, a “that was good!” affirmation, or perhaps even the highest compliment she can pay – a pre-emptive request to read the book again tomorrow night. But, very, very rarely do I get a really BIG, really explosive reaction to a bedtime book, and, when that actually happens, it is a rare and wondrous thing to behold. And I got that precious over-the-top reaction just the other night when we sat down to read Press Here by Hervé Tullet.
It was a monster hit, a sensation. We literally had to read it three times before she’d even let me take it out of her hands.
And it’s a fairly amazing book because it doesn’t wow its audience with a story or with particularly flashy illustrations, but rather it draws readers in with interactivity, with humor, and with that drive that comes with all printed books – the drive to see what happens next, to see what’s happening on the next page.
While discussing Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret a few years ago (which is another astonishing read that you should definitely include in your home library), Roger Sutton, the editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine, wrote this eloquent description of the power of page-turns that has stuck with me ever since.
A page-turn can be a surprise sprung by the reader, a powerful narrative element that physically involves us in the story. It tells us what power is particular to books. As far as I can figure, the printed book is the only medium that requires such a manipulation of gravity and that asks us, repeatedly, to go on.
Hervé Tullet definitely understands the power of the page-turn surprise, and Press Here utilizes page-turns exceedingly well, using every post-turn reveal to transform his picture book into a living, breathing interactive experience.
The set-up for the book is very simple. We start with a small yellow dot on a white background and the book asks us to “Press Here and turn the page.” After we press the dot and turn the page, now we see two dots and the message “Great! Now press the yellow dot again.” As we go on, the book asks us to try a variety of tasks and inputs, rubbing the dots gently, shaking the book, pressing down hard, blowing on the dots, etc. And, every time we turn the page, the book REACTS to whatever your young reader just did.
If they rub the yellow dot gently, it turns red on the next page. If they turn the book to the left, all of the dots on the page will slide to the left side of the spread on the next page. Granted, it’s not real honest-to-god interactivity. If your child refuses to press the dots, the book still goes forward, but Press Here trusts its readers. It asks for their participation and, if they’re game for the experience, it rewards them. After three pages, my daughter grabbed the book out of my hands because SHE wanted to control the experience. She wanted to read the instructions, press the dots, or shake the book at her leisure. And, most of all, she wanted to control the page turns because that’s where the magic happens.
Yes, it’s a genius bit of book design and one can debate whether the book offers true interactivity or the illusion of interactivity, but that’s all academic. What I know for a fact is that Press Here gave us one of the most fun-filled bedtimes we’ve had in WEEKS and, for that alone, I’ll always love it.
And, beyond that, my other favorite thing about Press Here is that, with just a few painted dots and a plain white background, it put most of the children’s book iPad apps I’ve ever seen completely to shame. My daughter has only recently been exposed to an iPad and most of the book apps she’s played around with so far have left her relatively cold. (I will admit that she LOVES Nosy Crow’s very cool Cinderella app and, personally, I think the Nosy Crow apps that I’ve seen so far have been pretty great.) Sure, my daughter enjoys the novelty of playing around with an iPad and knowing that she’s always two button pushes away from playing Angry Birds, but most of the book apps that she’s seen haven’t really improved on the print book experience all that much.
Yes, they can read aloud to you (my daughter hates this option) and, yes, the page turns are all animated and smooth, but, again, reading aloud and turning pages is just adapting the printed book experience. There’s nothing new there. And, fine, she can shrink and flip characters while she reads an iPad app, but you’d be surprised at how quickly that loses its appeal. I’m not anti-app. I like idea of “new” reading experiences for my daughter. But I haven’t seen anything really revolutionary in terms of storytelling structure from iPad apps yet and I do think it’s funny that a book like Press Here can come along and show that a printed book with a few colored dots can mimic (and improve on) the experience of many iPad children’s apps and it can do it at a price point of about five hundred bucks less than an iPad.
Press Here is a fantastically fun reading experience that revels in the joys of being a book – a true-blue, printed-on-paper BOOK – and does an astonishing job of showing off how the simple act of turning a page can be one of the best special effects your kid has ever seen.
THE DETAILS ON PRESS HERE:
AGE RANGE: Two and up. I was worried that the simple design and instructions would skew too young for my five-year-old, but she thought it was one of the funniest books she ever read. This would be a WONDERFUL read-aloud for two and under kids who are just starting to recognize and react to instructions.
PAGE COUNT: 32 pages
AUTHOR WEB SITE: Tullet does have an official website, but it’s mostly in French. (There is a translate option at the top of the page, but I found it hard to determine what had been translated and what had not.) So you might want to start at the official Chronicle Books site for Press Here, which has a book trailer and downloadable activities.
BUY IT, BORROW IT, OR FORGET IT?: I borrowed Press Here from our awesome friend Megan McKnight, who forever shames me with her fantastic taste in kid’s books. However, that being said, I am definitely going to get my daughter her own copy of Press Here. I just have to reward a bedtime that fun with some of my hard-earned cash.
IF YOU LIKED PRESS HERE, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
- The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin – This is, easily, the greatest Sesame Street book ever published and it might also be the best TV show-spin-off book ever created. The Monster at the End of This Book is just as funny as Press Here and it also revels in the power of the page-turn, making your child a willing participant in forcing Grover to eventually confront the looming monster at the book’s conclusion (which, of course, is just him). I should note that, while The Phantom Tollbooth was the FIRST book that I ever bought my daughter, Monster at the End of this Book was the SECOND. It’s an epically great read.
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus by Mo Willems – Another kid’s library classic that has a ton of fun with making your child physically interact with the printed page, either by having them scream “NO!” at the Pigeon’s constantly requests to ride the bus or by having them excitedly turn to page to see what excuse the Pigeon is going to come up with next.