POPular Mechanics

The wonder and wizardry of pop-up books today is part art and part engineering

Focus On Books

January 11, 2004|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,Sun Staff

In these dreary days of winter, trapped inside with nothing to do, is there a better time to lose yourself in another world? Say the intricately captivating world of a pop-up book?

Today's pop-up market is filled with a dizzying array of titles, from the sublime best-seller Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, adapted by master paper engineer Robert Sabuda, to the curiously readable The Country Music Pop-Up Book published by Universe Books and compiled by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. And best of all for modern audiences: There are scores of older pop-ups books, from 1984's The Royal Family Pop-Up Book to 1939's The Jolly Jump-Ups and Their New House, available for viewing and purchasing online.

Books with movable parts have been around since the earliest days of printing, when used in the 1400s and 1500s to show how the human body works, said collector Ann Montanaro, a Rutgers University librarian and founder of The Movable Book Society. Her group, 450 fans of any kind of book that moves, continues to grow as readers become enchanted by increasingly complex paper artistry.

"What I love is the surprise: opening the book and being surprised at what happens," Montanaro said.

As a researcher who mounted the online exhibit The Pop-up World of Ann Montanaro, which continues to draw visitors seven years after its launch, Montanaro says there are three major periods in the art form's development, and all are rich in details. First, there were the early days when bells and whistles were few and anyone who purchased a pop-up had to put it together. Then there was a Golden Age in the mid-1800s that developed after the first were made commercially viable. Most were produced in Germany then, and that period ended around World War I. Another Golden Age arrived in the 1970s and has continued through the present day, although Montanaro believes the era is waning since fewer quality titles are being produced now than in recent years.

What separates one Golden Age from another is not so much advances in production technology -- each pop-up book is still hand-made from paper -- but the great strides made by paper engineers who are limited only by imagination.

"This is a flat piece of paper any one of us could fold and paste and do something with, but it's the artistic talents of the paper engineers who can envision something from a flat sheet of paper," she said.

Most books are designed in studios and then produced elsewhere, most often in Thailand, China and Malaysia today, Montanaro said. Some take a year to produce, from start to finish.

"I'm just amazed and awed by the process in creating them," said Ruth Anne Champion, who selects children's books for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Champion doesn't purchase many pop-ups for the library because they don't survive multiple use, but she is a fan of Sabuda and has given his adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a gift.

Although most pop-ups books are aimed at children, many are directed at adults, with titles like The Ultimate Pop-Up Cocktail Book and Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-Up. Book arts professor Tom Trusky, of Boise State University, said today's pop-ups can tackle such hefty topics as politics, gender issues and race relations. "I think that's the new and exciting area in pop-ups," he said. "They're not just children's stories made three-dimensional."

Adults have long been a target audience, said Montanaro, who has one pop-up from the 1940s, published by the New York Mutual Broadcasting System, which depicts the sports it broadcasts on the radio.

The great number of older pop-ups still available these days (and in good condition) tells Montanaro that adults have always loved them -- and loved them enough to save them from the destructive hands of children.

"The wonder of pop-up books is something people don't outgrow with age," said publicist Tracy van Straaten at Simon & Schuster, which publishes two of the best-selling pop-up artists on the marketplace today: Sabuda, and David A. Carter, creator of such titles as Bed Bugs, How Many Bugs in a Box?, Bugs That Go Bump in the Night.

And no wonder they continue to be popular. Open a high-quality pop-up and you soon find yourself drawing a crowd that oohs and aahs and occasionally says, "Wow." Doors open, houses arise, animals spring to life, balloons take flight, cyclones spin.

An intricate pop-up book is like the rabbit hole that Alice climbs into early in the story: It gets "curiouser and curiouser" the farther you go. When the rabbit hole leaps from the page, three-dimensional like an accordion, who wouldn't follow?


The Country Music Pop-Up Book (Universe Books, $45) By the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Reading level: Adults

An exhaustive, historical look enlivened with interesting pop-ups and affectionate essays by celebrities like Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks.

Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-Up (Little Simon, $19.95), by Robert Sabuda

Reading level: Young children

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.