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The History Of Pop-Up Books And How They Can Encourage Reluctant Readers

There is something magical about a pop-up book. They help bring stories to life in a way that encourages young minds and hands to interact with the printed page. Pop-up books – also known as movable books – are particularly helpful in encouraging reluctant readers to find pleasure in opening the pages of a book.

The Origins Of Pop-Up Or Movable Books

When we think of pop-up books we might think of them in regard to children, even though you would be hard pressed to find an adult who doesn’t get excited when opening the pages of a book and seeing the story brought to life in glorious 3-d. Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, their origins lie in helping adults, not children, to learn and understand concepts such as anatomy, astronomy and geometry.

The use of pop-up or movable books as a teaching device was discovered very early, long before the first book was printed. The first movable book was created nearly 800 years ago by Benedictine monk Matthew Paris. His seminal work the Chronica Majora was an attempt to present a universal history of the world. In it, Paris included rotating wheel charts, called volvelles, on some of the pages, which were used by the monks to help calculate holy days.

Other forms of movable books that we might be familiar with have also been around for several hundred years. In 1613, Johann Remmelin’s book Catoptrum Microcosmicum was first published. It features a diagram of a woman, with small, printed flaps of paper in superimposed layers that unfold to reveal the parts of the body. Similarly, 18th-century English landscape designer Capability Brown used flaps to illustrate before and after views of his designs.

The earliest known commercially produced pop-book was the very scholarly sounding ‘A Compleat Treatise on Perspective, In Theory and Practice; On the True Principles of Dr. Brook Taylor’ by Thomas Malton, the elder, who was an English architectural draughtsman and writer on geometry. The book, first published in 1775, featured pop-ups, activated by string, to form geometric shapes to help the reader understand the concept of perspective.

It wasn’t until the late eighteenth century that pop-up books in the form of “metamorphoses” that could be enjoyed by both adults and children appeared, and the early 20th century when the first pop-up especially for children was published: the Daily Express Children’s Annual Number One, featuring “pictures that spring up in model form”, was published in 1929.

Types Of ‘Pop-Up’

The term ‘pop-up’ is an umbrella term used to describe the many different types of paper engineering used in books. We’ve already mentioned volvelles and flaps, other forms of pop-ups are:

Animated books – these tell a story using coloured illustrations and a movement mechanism between a two-layered page that moves the picture up and down and across in a single motion.

Transformations – made of two sets of illustrated vertical slats that slide under and over each other to ‘transform’ from one scene to another.

Tunnel books (aka “peepshow” books) – tunnel books were popular souvenirs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The comprised a set of pages bound by two concertina-folded strips. When the sides were extended, an image, often of a popular tourist attraction, would be revealed when viewed through a hole at the end.

Metamorphoses books (aka harlequinade or “turn-up’ books) – comprise a single folded sheet, printed on both sides and folded perpendicularly into four. The top and bottom of each fold are hinged, and the picture is cut through horizontally across the centre to make two flaps that could be opened up or down.

Creating pop-up books is a complex process that, even today, requires high levels of human labour in the assembly. The design and creation process is called “paper engineering” and is closely related to origami in that it is based on paper folding techniques; but, unlike origami, it requires the use of stiff paper or card, and employs intricate cutting as well as the use of glue.

It is often the elaborate detailing of a three-dimensional pop-up, in addition to the story being illustrated, that fascinates children and can encourage curiosity and interaction.

How Pop-Up Books Support Learning

Across cultures and languages, pop-up books help children to learn. “Pop-up books can motivate children to increase their knowledge. They naturally arouse their interest, because they stimulate participation by providing an engaging visual experience, and they stimulate discovery, which helps them learn language skills.”[1] .

Children’s book publisher Scholastic states that pop-up books encourage interaction, help build vocabulary and “teach the value of visualisation”:

Pop-up books encourage interaction – even the most reluctant of children can’t help but be tempted by a pop-up book. According to children’s psychologist and author of numerous children’s books Dr Frank J Sileo, pop-up books are a “great way to add some extra incentive and rewards to reading, especially for kids who get bored quickly.”

Pop-up books help build vocabulary – the magic to be found in a pop-up book can tempt children to read it over and over again, which, in turn “is an important part of strengthening a child’s vocabulary skills”.

Pop-up books teach the value of visualisation – by “training kids’ imaginations to picture what’s happening in the story”, pop-up books help prepare children for the transition to books without pictures.

Movable or pop-up books are a wonderful example of how paper, with all its versatility and tactility, can help to encourage and engage children – even the most reluctant – in the learning process.

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