“Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)” By Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller, Viking, $16.99, ages 4-8
Snappsy the Alligator has a big problem, one with feathers. A peevish chicken is narrating his story in a huff. But that’s a major spoiler. On page one of “Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!),” there is no chicken to be found. Instead the story starts with a fairly ordinary setup that gives no hint of the meta pleasures to come: “Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself. His feet felt draggy. His skin felt baggy. His tail wouldn’t swish this way and that. And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn’t SNAP.”
Sounds standard, right? Readers might think that the book is the story of how an alligator gets his snap back, a kind of Alligator and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, maybe. The first illustration shows Snappsy, listing and stricken, his long face made longer by distress. Careful readers will notice a disgruntled ladybug wearing a fedora on a leaf in the corner and a pair of bibliophile ants at the base of the page. They give depth and edge to the Looney Tunes look of an agitated alligator in a dickey and a tie.
The first big sign that this book is not ordinary comes on page two, when Snappsy takes the opportunity to address readers directly: “ ‘This is terrible! I’m just hungry! Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?’ ” Suddenly it’s clear that the book at hand is part of the mini-trend of meta picture books (“The Book With No Pictures”; “A Perfectly Messed-Up Story”).
This book, however, is a meta diversion with a literary bent: The whole story is a silly, clever introduction to the idea of the unreliable narrator. Most readers — young and old — are not used to a story’s protagonist and narrator duking it out on the page. And Snappsy gives as good as he gets. He calls out the narrator for being uncharitable and boring. The narrator retaliates by labeling him as bloodthirsty and by making fun of his house. By the end, once the chicken is unmasked, kids will have a peek at how stories are made and an idea about how to start making up stories of their own.