Subscribe to The Horn Book

Metacognitive books: How early should they be introduced?

During the last few months I’ve encountered a number of children’s picture books with a self-reflective or metacognitive approach. The texts encourage readers not just to reflect or think (cognitive) but to think about their thinking (metacognitive). Since the books’ illustrations were eye-catching and the topics were relatable, I read them to some three-year old children. Some really enjoyed them while others got lost and disengaged easily.

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't FitAll of these books are creative. In Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit by Catherine Rayner, the reader follows a moose who doesn’t fit onto the page as he tries to squeeze different body parts into view, leaving others out. Finally, his nameless squirrel friend has an idea. Take masking tape and extra sheets of paper and build out a page so the reader can fold out the final sheet, quadrupling its size to show all of Ernest. The children, silent, seemed mesmerized by Ernest on every page.

Open Very CarefullyAnother favorite is Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley and illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne. The story begins as that of the Ugly Duckling and is narrated by one of the ducklings. The expected story is quickly interrupted by a crocodile who climbs into the book and eats letters and words. Later, the narrator asks the reader to shake the book and rock it from side to side so the crocodile will leave the pages. The rocking just puts the crocodile to sleep, but this allows the duckling to draw on him. Waking suddenly, the crocodile tries to run out of the page and hits his head. Finally, he chews a hole — literally — in the back cover and climbs out.

monster end of bookOther examples include David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs, the Sesame Street book The Monster at the End of this Book, and the new social media sensation by B. J. Novak, The Book with No Pictures.

These texts demand more active thinking from readers while they listen to the stories. I was a bit hesitant to read these books to small children, but after doing so have come to the conclusion that they in fact help to “wire” their reading habits and other skills such as problem solving and perspective thinking.

What do you think?


Armida Lizarraga About Armida Lizarraga

Armida Lizarraga has worked as an elementary teacher in Spain, Brazil, Peru, and the U.S. She is currently the lead researcher for the Proyecto 3 Regiones in Peru, which seeks to understand teachers' literacy practices and knowledge in K-3 classrooms. She lives in Lima, Peru.



  1. Teddy Kokoros says:

    I have used Meta Books in my Pre-K class with 4-5 year olds and usually they have gone over well. “Open Very Carefully” was a favorite if my class’s last year. Some have had more mixed results; in the case of BJ Novak’s The Book With No Pictures about half my class loved it, but it was a little to abstract for some children. Like all books, I think it often depends on a each child’s developmental level and personality as to how successful using a book is.

    P.S. Armida,

    I submitted a similiar post to Lolly’s Classroom a few weeks back. If it still ends up being published please don’t think I ripped off your post.

  2. ReNae Bowling says:

    I read The Monster at the End of This Book to my grandchildren almost as soon as they could hold still for it. They love it. At first it’s just the chaos and loudness that they love. When they realize that Grover is afraid of himself it takes on a whole new meaning and they love it all over again for different reasons. I think the younger the better for this one. My 1st grader grandson is sort of over it, but his little brother at 4 is still begging me to read it over and over again.

  3. Pamela Mason says:

    My granddaughter loved The Monster at the End of This Book! She would laugh and laugh. She hasn’t read it in a while, so she may have outgrown it at 3 1/2 years old.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind