Walk into any bookstore and you’ll find the books divided into two main sections. One for kids, one for adults. There’s some crossover, but in the main they’re firmly divided. And there’s one kind of book That’s especially pigeonholed: pop-up books for toddlers. But moveable books didn’t start out being kid-friendly?and they’ve got a racy 800-year history to prove it.
The official term for creating pop-ups is paper engineering. And the art form is about more than just making paper stand up. As this talk at the Smithsonian Institute explains, the words ?fold, pull, pop, and turn? are a better description of the possibilities.
These three-dimensional creations date back to the 13th century, and some of the first pop-up books were academic works on the subjects of astronomy and anatomy. Even when mass production made books more affordable in Victorian times, authors and publishers didn’t automatically turn to children’s stories.
Movable books are by nature rather fragile creations and even after the Industrial Revolution would have been more expensive to make than regular books. Only the very rich could have afforded to let their children tear into a handmade pop-up.
Instead, pop-up books were very much intended for adult audiences. In fact, moveable paper items didn’t only come in book form. There were moveable postcards and watchpapers as well. As this example of a dancing Salome on a watchpaper shows, paper engineers often combined racy subject matter with practical items.
Pop-ups have evolved since then into the bright books we see in the toddler section today, but that doesn’t mean kids are the only fans of this art form. One person who follows their interesting history (and current forms) is the Pop-Up Lady, and She’s not the only one. There’s a Moveable Book Society in the US, and you can even buy pop-up postage stamps in the Netherlands.
A couple of other pop-up titles reflect the celebrity-crazed culture of today. In 2006, Melcher Media released The Pop-Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns and The Pop-Up Book of Sex.
If the world of pop-ups has you fascinated, you can also make your own. There are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube, and the Pop-Up Lady has collected a few to get you started. For a peek at how a real master does it, Matthew Reinhart lets you look inside several of his own creations, like this one: Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters.
The only question now is, can programmers bring the magic of pop-ups to e-books? Oh, wait. I think there’s already an app for that.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).