Title: What’s Up Top?
Author and Illustrator: Marc Martin
Publisher: Penguin Random House
RRP: $24.99

The audience is immediately involved with this story when they are asked “What’s up top?” on the first page. This page is sparsely illustrated with a ladder reaching up and off the page. The text then asks various possibilities, starting with a hat and becoming more involved and inventive. The narrator is unknown for much of the story, adding to the mystery for the intended audience of young viewers.

The picturebook qualities of What’s Up Top? are exceptional. Direction is used consistently throughout to direct the viewer’s gaze upwards. Direction is also used to influence the reader to progress from left to right, and to turn the page when such things as the train line runs off the edge of the right hand page. Line and colour are also influential picturebook codes in this book.

As the narrative progresses the illustrations become more complex, as does the verbal text. There is more to see in the illustrations than mentioned in the verbal text, enabling multiple readings possible for a variety of audiences. The illustrative text extends the narrative beyond the verbal, for example, the “Or a door to Japan?” double page has the door handle as a red circle set against a white background, making those familiar with the flag of Japan instantly think of it. Younger viewers who have not been exposed to this flag would not make this link with the visual and verbal texts.

The role of the narrator is varied. For most part of the book the narrator is unknown, creating a mystery. The narrator involves the reader in the story entirely. Readers are able to construct the narrative as they progress through the book, in response to the same question and many possibilities. The absence of frames furthers this feeling of being involved in the narrative. Metafictional aspects such as these make reading fun and engaging.

With rhyming text that works wonderfully with the visual, this will be a hit for young ones. Recommended for young lap reading and reading to groups of children, this would make a unique and welcome addition to any pre-school or school library, and public library collection.

Activity Suggestions

  1. Have children draw or paint a ladder with something up the top, of their choosing. Place a flap over the top, securing on one edge, so it is a surprise when the flap is lifted.
  2. Make a mural on the wall of a ladder. Have children draw their favourite thing from the book for display.
  3. Discuss narrators of stories. What is a narrator? Who is narrating this story? Were you surprised when you found out who it was?
  4. Look at the rhyming words in the story. Make lists of blends that rhyme. Display each list on a ladder. As each child can read the words independently they have their name displayed at the top.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for supplying this book for review.