‘This story starts like all good stories do’: Setting the scene through postmodern and metafictive techniques in the prologues of children’s books

Ella Wydrzynska

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputConference publication


One particularly interesting pattern in contemporary children’s literature is the frequent use of prologues in which an authorial narrator seems to talk directly to the child-reader about the very novel they are about to read. This is likely a by-product of a growing trend that has seen postmodern and metafictive techniques becoming the norm in children’s literature (McCallum, 1996). However, the consideration of terms like ‘postmodernism’ and ‘metafiction’ remains noticeably absent in much of the corresponding scholarship.

This paper therefore considers a selection of example prologues in a variety of popular children’s books to further examine the prevalent use of postmodern strategies in such texts, with a focus on the dialogic relationship established between author/narrator and child-reader/narratee at the start of the story. Although the use of postmodern and metafictive strategies (as identified by Waugh, 1984) could lead to these books being considered experimental, they are actually all from mainstream authors who frequently appear on best-seller lists: current Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell; the quirky Pseudonymous Bosch; and ‘celebrity’ author Tom Fletcher. All three authors vary massively
in the content they create, yet still deploy similar postmodern and metafictive strategies throughout their texts – with a definite focus on establishing a dialogue between the author/narrator and child-reader/narratee in their opening prologue.

By stylistically examining techniques like direct address, the prevalent use of second person pronouns, consistent metafictive reference, and the notably oral quality of such narration, I shall demonstrate firstly that terms such as ‘postmodernism’ and ‘metafiction’ ought to be more readily applied to children’s literature in academic discourse. Furthermore, this paper illustrates that mainstream children’s literature is capable of unprecedented levels of
linguistic and narratological complexity, something which has previously been neglected in wider scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPALA 2021 Proceedings Online
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
EventPoetics and Linguistics Association Conference 2021 - University of Nottingham
Duration: 7 Jul 20219 Jul 2021


ConferencePoetics and Linguistics Association Conference 2021
Abbreviated titlePALA 2021


  • postmodernism
  • metafiction
  • children's literature
  • junior fiction
  • Pseudonymous Bosch
  • Cressida Cowell
  • Tom Fletcher
  • child reader
  • narration
  • oral narration


Dive into the research topics of '‘This story starts like all good stories do’: Setting the scene through postmodern and metafictive techniques in the prologues of children’s books'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this