The magic and enjoyment of suspending disbelief

posted in: Herve Tullet | 14

Do you enjoy suspending disbelief when you read? For me it can be like entering into a secret pact with the book, forming a special bond of trust, being cocooned in little bubble of escapism and magic.

It seems to me that children’s books can be especially brilliant at enabling, encouraging their readers to suspend disbelief, to enter into another world where the events described or drawn on paper really do happen, really do exist. Perhaps calling it a suspension of disbelief isn’t accurate; could it be that kids still believe in the magic in some sense?

Press Here by HervĂ© Tullet is the book that’s got me thinking about how and why we as readers suspend disbelief. It’s a brilliantly simple, brilliantly magical interactive, imaginative book that deserves to be inside many children’s Christmas presents this year.

At first glance this book might not startle you. There’s not much more to its physical presence than a yellow dot and a few simple instructions directed at the reader. There are no lavish illustrations and no poetic text. But put the book into your hands, or even better the hands of some slightly curious children, and Puff! you’ll be surrounded by enchantment.

You’ll be asked to push buttons, tap buttons, blow onto the page or even clap at the book and suddenly you’ll be possessed with supernatural powers to create, to make disappear, to turn all the lights off, and more. Who doesn’t enjoy (the idea of) having magic in their fingertips?

Tullet is a creator par excellence of books that get their readers doing things, forming physical (as well as emotional) bonds with the books. This summer’s big hit with M was Tullet’s The Scribble Book – an activity book that appealed enormously to her love of being active and wild and slightly out of control! (You can read my review of it here.)

I also have stashed away for a rainy day The Book with a Hole; it’s one of those children’s books I want to keep for myself I think it’s so much fun (and it would go marvellously well with this activity described by The Artful Parent).

You can download the official Press Here activity sheets here (a pdf file). If you’ve got a colour printer at home these are great fun. If not, perhaps you can try what we got up to.

Press Here Activity Sheets

First we made a button machine; literally a machine covered in buttons to press, and when you pressed them magical, wonderful things happened.

We selected some especially tactile buttons…

…we covered a box in silver foil and then attached our buttons using blobs of playdough (so that when we pressed on the buttons there was a big of “give”).

You had to be careful which buttons you pressed – some turned you into princesses, others into dinosaurs. Some made chocolate cake appear from thin air, others drenched you in bogey soup. Some filled the air with the sound of bells, whilst others gave you electric shocks! We had lots of fun discovering what they all did 🙂

Whilst I was upstairs putting laundry away the girls then took it upon themselves to create a switch machine using old buckles in our button box. Again, you had to be careful about turning these switches on and off; before you knew it you could be transported to the jungle or made invisible.

I know a book has been an especially big hit with my girls when they can’t stop thinking of ideas they want to make real, inspired by what they’ve read. So when M and J told me they wanted to make their own version of Press Here I needed no further convincing that we had a very special book in our hands.

The girls decorated their book cover with circle stamps (corks and paint).

They filled an accordion book with circles of fabric and then wrote down what would happen if you touched, pressed, stroked or even licked each circle.

Many of the magical results were inspired by how the various fabrics felt or looked.

Whilst we played with buttons and made buttons to press we listened to:

  • I Want to Push Buttons by Lunch Money
  • What’s that button do? by the Hums (listen to the entire track for free here)
  • Buttons in the Wind played by Mark Hiscock (my new accordion isn’t a button accordion but I couldn’t resist including this as the kids love dancing to it)

  • Photo: Kevan
    Other activities which might be fun along side reading Press Here include:

  • Kandinsky inspired oil pastel circles, using this tutorial from Art Projects for Kids. You can also see the same idea in action here at Mighty Nest.
  • A circle collage like this one from Teach Preschool or this one on
  • Visiting a science museum – these nearly always have lots of great buttons to press!

  • What books have you and your kids enjoyed recently where you’ve been encouraged to do more than “just” read them?

    Thanks to @AliB68, @FuseEight and @ReadingJay for stimulating my imagination and educating me with resources and thoughts about suspension of disbelief in children’s literature.

    14 Responses

    1. Darshana Khiani

      Thanks didn’t know there were activity sheets for the book. We have the book and my kids ‘play’ with it every once in a while. They usually just skip to their favorite pages which are the “shaking” ones.

    2. sandhya

      Sounds great! We love to suspend disbelief too- the wackier the better!

      Have mailed you, Zoe! It is CROCUS time at Saffrontree soon, and I’ve sent you our logo. It will be great if you could spread the word.:) Thanks.

    3. Library Mice

      Wonderful, wonerful post Zoe. As always I am in awe of how you so easily bring creativity into the reading experience.
      The blowing on the book bit amazes me every time. You know you are not making it happen, and yet you can’t help yourself. Such a gem of a book.

    4. Zoe

      Hi Darshana, hope you enjoy the activity sheets!

      Sandhya – safely received and will of course spread the word!

      Dear Library Mice PFFFFFffff…that’s me blowing some colourful dots your way! Hope you can catch them before they float into the sky 🙂

    5. sophie

      Dear Zoe,
      HervĂ© Tullet looks like a mandatory illustrator in the french preschools (is the ecole maternelle a preschool equivalent ? I do not know…). Last year, my son’s class had the project to draw a book for HervĂ© Tullet, one page per child. The teacher sent it to him and HervĂ© Tullet sent back a very nice and long mural/book (an “accordeon” book) with lots of Turlututus, his famous character. There was a sheet with all the children’s name…They were very proud. As it was drawn with china ink, the class coloured it with a kind of aquarelle. It was a gorgious project, and Armel really enjoyed it. Your girl’s art really makes me think about it ! Maybe you should have a try with HervĂ© Tullet….:-)

    6. Zoe

      Dear Sophie, comments from you are always little bits of treasure! Your son’s collaborative book sounds amazing, and how great that Tullet responded so generously. I love that he made an accordion book just like we did! On another note, I’m feeling annoyed as a book I wanted to send you isn’t available in French I’m sure you could manage the English but I was hoping there might be a nice French version…

    7. Read Aloud Dad

      Wow, what a fabulous post!

      And your two little girls are so imaginative.

      Thanks Zoe for sharing your experience of Press Here – it is indeed much more than a book.

      Now we have to press too!

      Read Aloud Dad

    8. Janelle

      Yes, this book is certainly different than most. Suspending disbelief is a good way to put it. It inspired us as well. We reviewed the book a while back and my kids enjoyed making their own “interactive” sunflower grow books.

    9. Debbie S.

      How fun! I wish I had seen this post before I hosted our Press Here play date. The kids were mostly between 3-4 so we just did a simple craft but I might have to try some of yours with my daughter. I’m going to go check out his other book now. thanks!

    10. OH NO! | PatrickGeorge

      […] can’t help but interact physically (as well as emotionally) with. It reminded me of the brilliant Press Here by HervĂ© Tullet – both take a very simple premise but truly engage their readers, drawing them […]

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