In this three part series, I am exploring design elements in children’s picture books. I wrote about endpapers last week. This week I want to get my mind in the gutter—of a book.
The gutter is the center of a book. Most books have it. The space between the binding and the text or illustration is where you will find the gutter. Readers tend to ignore the gutter unless there is something unusual about it.
One book where the gutter is central to the plot is, “This Book Just Ate My Dog!” Richard Byrne is a genius, because he incorporates the gutter of the book in such a clever way.
In his story, a girl named Bella takes her dog for a walk. The dog disappears into the book gutter. Other things and people start to disappear into the gutter also. Then a mysterious letter shows up instructing YOU the reader to turn the book and shake. The shaking releases everyone and everything from the book.
His use of endpapers supports the story. Byrne has objects and words right side up on the endpapers in the front of the book, and then upside down endpapers at the back of the book.
To enjoy a book’s layout, play gutter games with children when you read. My daughter and I like to play the following game with the gutter:
I select a letter or picture from the left and/or right page(s) we have open, but I do not tell her what it is. I will give her a clue. I say something like, “I’m thinking of a letter that makes the /k/ sound. It has fallen out of the book. Do you know what letter? Where did it go?” Then she guesses the letter and determines where it went.
Breathe life into your story time routines by playing with the layout of a book. The book gutter can be used to play a game, or it can be part of the story the author or you make up. Exercise your mind and young readers will experience an adventure during your story time together.
Byrne, R. (2014). This book just ate my dog! New York: Henry Holt and Company.