Pop Up Books

Moveable Feasts

One of the biggest factors effecting the value of a book is condition. Is its dust-jacket still intact? How clean is the book internally? Is there foxing? Cockling? Yellowing or browning? Water-damage? Has it been price-clipped or dog-eared? What all this esoteric jargon boils down to (in most cases) is how closely the book resembles its original state?

Often it is the most beautiful books that are the most prone to damage. Children’s books, in particular, often bear wounds that testify to the perils they encounter as they pass through the hands of that most ruthless (physically and critically) demographic of reader.

Puss in Boots

Common infirmities suffered include torn dust-jackets and broken spines, as well as all sorts of unpleasant internal ailments, such as crayon, marker, or biro doodles. While this toddler marginalia might have incredible sentimental value and is often hilarious to read, unless it was scribbled by a young Virginia Woolf or F. Scott Fitzgerald it is more than likely to have a detrimental effect on the monetary value of the book. Only those who survive relatively unscathed generally make it to the rare-book market.

Perhaps the most astonishing of those that maintain this preserved state are the moveable or pop-up books. After all, these books invite their readers to engage in precisely the sort of tactile behaviour that most rare-book collectors would rather discourage. For moveable and pop-up books, the seeing is in the touching and movement of the book. The craftsmanship and artistry involved in the creation of these objects seems to belie their young target audiences. Indeed, the earliest moveable books were not created for children at all. One of these early moveables, the 13th century Chronica Majora by Benedictine Monk Matthew Paris, incorporates volvelles (moveable paper discs) and gate-flap folds to further illuminate its content.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that such works were crafted with a young audience in mind. While early creations, like the harlequinades used simple gateflap folds to enhance their narratives, others such as the peep-show books created more sophisticated effects. Designed to be viewed frontally, these books present readers with three-dimensional tableaus through accordion-like tunnels or a window-like displays. A version of this latter peep-show effect (albeit from the later period of the 1950s) can be seen in Kathleen Hale’s Puss in Boots – A Peepshow Book, which presents three-dimensional tableaus of various scenes from the eponymous cat’s adventure in a carousel-like arrangement.

Pop up Book

The rapid development and growing sophistication of the pop-up and moveable book genre during the 19th century is usually attributed to two of the most prominent paper engineers working during this era, Lothar Meggendorfer (1847 – 1925) and Ernest Nister (1841 – 1906). Both of these illustrators used innovative techniques and complex mechanisms to create scenes in which several characters move and pictures appear to dissolve with just a single pull of one tab, or three-dimensional tableaus lift off the page as the reader opens the book. Meggendorfer’s preface to one of his works Comic Actors acknowledges this anxiety of relinquishing his intricate devices to such young audiences, imploring his readers to be gentle with his creations:

The men and creatures here you find
Are lively and amusing,
Your fingers must be slow and kind
And treat them well while using.
But more of them we must not tell
The pictures would be jealous,
So turn the leaves and use them well
And don’t be over zealous.

(Meggendorfer, Comic Actors)

As Meggendorfer points out in an earlier verse, part of the problem is that "tis really hard . . . to think (that these creations are) only paper". Indeed, the so-called paper engineers who design these books seem to defy logic by endowing their apparently simple materials with so much life. Turning each page of these books appears to conjure a three-dimensional world out of nothing, characters springing out from the book almost as inexplicably as a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. This apparent geometric alchemy is emphasized in one of the bookshop’s earliest pop-up books from S. Louis Giraud’s Bookano Series, which begins with the Bookano wizard proclaiming his ability to conjure life from the page:

Unbounded quite by place and clime
Unlimited by flight of time,
Bookano Wizard once again
Brings joyous greetings in his train,
Employing all his art and skill;
They spring to life here at your will.

(Bookano No. 2)

As the concluding line of the address points out, it is the reader’s movement of the book that performs the Wizard’s trick. Published by Strand Publications between 1929 and 1949, the books in the series are often considered to be the first true "pop-up" books because of their ability to be viewed by the reader from 360°. In spite of this claim to fame, the series initially adopted the description of "living models", as the now-ubiquitous term "pop-up" (although previously coined) was not in common usage. Each issue of the book begins with the Wizard’s address to the reader which describes how he has attempted to better the paper wizardry of his previous issue and provides brief descriptions of the stories. In spite of these fantastical introductions, the Wizard’s address does not altogether ignore the realities against which some of the books in this series were being published and read. The Wizard of Bookano No. 11 published in 1944, for example, laments that he has been "compelled" to economy "while this war lasts, with its restrictions", expressing his desire (and no doubt that of his readers) that "this – the fifth year – be the end".

Childrens Annual

Giraud also produced the series of Daily Express Children’s Annuals which began in 1930 and also featured Giraud’s brightly-coloured pop-up models. As you can see from the bookstore’s edition of the 1932 annual in this series, Giraud adopts the somewhat unwieldy term "self-erecting models" to describe his illustrations, a choice often attributed to Blue Ribbon publishers in the United States of America having trademarked the more market-friendly term "pop-up" in the 1930s for their series of three-dimensional books for Disney.
The 1960s witnessed another leap forward in the development of the pop-up book. Among the shop’s collection are two works by one of the most prolific figures working during this period, the Czechoslovakian artist Vojtech Kubašta.

Snow White and Puss in Boots

These two works combine the 360° pop-ups of the Bookano models with tabs that can be pulled to animate the characters in each three-dimensional scene. In Snow White, for example, the movement of a tab can transform the image in the magic mirror from the Queen to Snow White. The movement of a small paper lever prompts Puss to doff his cap in Kubašta’s Puss in Boots. In both works, these animating tools are not immediately visible to the reader. There is a sense that part of the book’s appeal lies in the reader’s attempts to find the tools to initiate the activities hidden within each paper tableau.

Kubašta studied architecture and engineering at Czech Technical University before going on to work as a graphic artist and children’s book illustrator, no doubt drawing on the skills he developed during his University education to his create his intricate paper structures. During the 1960s and 1970s, Kubašta worked in Prague for the state-publishers Artia where he was extraordinarily prolific. A New York Times review of a recent exhibition of his work, Kubašta’s output was described as encompassing "advertising art, government propaganda, posters, souvenirs of Prague and Brno, a pop-up Mecca for the for the Iranian market, a series of children’s counting books, classic fairy tales, a cover illustration for the Czech translation of "The Egg and I", Christmas nativity scenes, New Year’s cards and an unsigned series of pop-up books tied to "Bambi", "101 Dalmations", and other Walt Disney films".

In the 1979, Jan Pienkowski’s classic pop-up book The Haunted House demonstrated the potential of using pop-up and moveable books to surprise and shock their readers. Pienkowski’s creative marriage of content (horror story) and form (jump-scares and the uncanny movement of the book’s characters) earned him the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal (the first pop-up book to win this award) and initiated a trend that can be seen in later works. Three years after Pienkowski’s work, Raymond Brigg’s illustrations for the 1982 edition of Fungus The Bogeyman Plop-up Book were crafted into a pop-up format by the Dutch paper engineer Ron Van Der Meer to create (as its title suggests) a similarly grotesque and gross-out effect. Combining both pop-up and moveable elements, Van Der Meer transforms Brigg’s original 1977 story and illustrations into a veritable Pandora’s Box, each turn of the page releasing all sorts of unpleasant surprises for the reader. Rats jump out from beneath skirts, toilet bowls hide nasty secrets, rancid odours transform the happy rosy-cheeked faces of humans (or ‘Drycleaners’ to use Bogey’s terminology) into ashen expressions of disgust.

Fungus The Bogeyman Plop-up Book

Four years later in 1986 Van Der Meer again applied his paper-engineering skills to Briggs’ The Snowman to dazzling effect with illustrations rising beyond the edges of the pages’ borders and then neatly refolding within these confines once the book is closed.

The Snowman

More recently, the pop-up and moveable book has come full circle and reclaimed its place among the grown-up shelves of bookstores. While paper-engineering had always been enlisted to entertain and educate adult readers (moveable erotic ephemera and medical anatomy books serving both purposes no doubt), pop-up books are now being sought out for the splendor of their design and the intricacy of their mechanism in and of itself. Today’s paper-engineers, such as Robert Sabuda, have more than risen to the occasion to supply this demand. His book Winter’s Tale showcases his skill and craft, containing hidden elements and superbly constructed three-dimensional animals. In one display, two wolves nestled inside a cave bow their heads towards one another simply as the book opens (rather than by the reader pulling a tab).

Pop up book opened

The wonderland-like snowscapes of winter also provide paper engineer Yevgeniya Yeretskaya with inspiration for her creations in Jennifer Preston Chushcoff’s Snowflakes. An homage to Wilson A. Bently (one of the first people to have photographed individual snowflakes), the book contains miniature booklets tucked into folds within the pages’ corners. This book is also notable for its use of self-moving mechanisms, such as the snowflakes that rotate as the reader opens the books, and its use of clear plastic to create the illusion of snowflakes suspended in mid-air.

Jennifer Preston Chushcoff’s Snowflakes

While acknowledging the book’s attraction for a young demographic of reader, the blurb also points out that it "engages readers of all ages". The same could be said of all of the pop-up and moveable books currently occupying the shelves of the bookshop. Perhaps it’s not so much that these books are created for children but that they inspire a child-like wonder in all who read them regardless of age.