Wednesday, July 31, 2019

New Pop-Up Books in the Clarke

by Frank Boles 

The Lucile Clarke Children’s Library, a part of the Clarke Historical Library, has a distinguished collection of children’s books. That collection was recently enriched by the addition of over 600 pop-up books from the library of Dr. Francis Molson. The books were collected by Dr. Molson and his late wife, Mary Lois. The volumes offer a dazzling insight into what is one of the most colorful and entertaining corners of the printing industry. A few illustrations from the books we acquired accompany this post.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

The Molson collection of movable books leans towards toward post-world War II publications. It captures in exquisite limited editions the work of some of the era’s leading paper engineers, such as Robert Sabuda. It also represents comprehensive collections of volumes on subjects of special interest to Dr. Molson, such as the Wizard of Oz and Sleeping Beauty. Francis sought Wizard of Oz pop-up books to complement the Clarke’s existing Wizard of Oz printed volumes collection. As for Sleeping Beauty, when as a young person he saw the 1959 Disney movie, it “scared the bejeebers” out of him. As portrayed by the Disney animators, the evil fairy Maleficent was, well pretty darn scary! Some images just stay with you and lead you to want to learn more about them.

Asterix on the Warpath, Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

Although most pop-up books today are usually associated with children’s books, that perception is not completely true. There are many pop-up books which target an adult market. For example, the television series Game of Thrones has a pop-up book found in the Molson collection. This adult-oriented subset of the market has a much longer history than the one associated with children’s themes. The first movable books, the more formal name for pop-ups since the earliest versions did not “pop-up,” appeared in the 13th century.

The first movable books were created to determine the date of Easter. Easter, the great feast of Christendom, does not occur on the same Sunday each year. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere (with some fiddling around the edges we needn’t get into here). Church leaders printed tables for the clergy to use that told them what Sunday to celebrate Easter, but local clergy found the tables hard to read. In the 13th century, publishers discovered a simpler way to present the same information: use a revolving wheel in the center of a page of text. When a clergy member placed the wheel in the proper location, the rest was easy!


Bridscapes: A Pop-Up Celebration of Bird Songs in Stereo Sound
Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

Soon enough, “volvelles,” as the innovation was named, showed up in several other applications, such as astronomical tables, and eventually - as a trope of untold spy novels and occasionally as a tool of real spies - a way to decipher encoded messages. Flaps, which could be lifted to reveal what lay underneath, came next. They first appeared in anatomy textbooks. Using them, a student could lift a flap of paper representing the skin to see what lay underneath.

In the nineteenth century, publishers began to print movable books for children. The books first appeared in London, whereby 1860 several publishers marketed movable children’s books. In the late nineteenth century, German published came to dominate the field. German publishers were the undisputed masters of emerging forms of color reproduction. With the onset of World War I, pop-up books, now largely printed in Germany, all but disappeared in England and the United States.


Brava Sterega Nona! A Heartwarming Pop-Up Book
Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

The first movable books printed in the United States appeared in the 1880s. But they were always a publisher’s sideline. In the early years of the twentieth century, some manufacturers printed pop-up books as advertising.  For example, in 1909, Kellogg’s published Kellogg’s Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures, to help sell cereal. But movable books for children did not become serious business in the United States until the 1930s.

Desperate to try anything to increase book sales during the Great Depression, publishers turned to movable books. Classic fairy tales and books from the Walt Disney Studios led the way. Unlike their European predecessors, which often displayed the craftsmanship associated with a finely printed volume, these movable books were made with less expense, and were designed to sell to a mass market. By the 1950s, movable books were a recognized part of the American children’s book market.


Hokusai Pop-Ups, Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

If movable books were big sellers, they spent much of the 1960s and 1970s trying to gain literary respect. The term “paper engineer” was coined in the 1960s to describe the skills needed to make a pop-up book literally pop-up. “Serious” persons, however, continued to label movable books a novelty – dismissing them as “toy books” not worthy of their attention. That perception changed in 1980 when the British Library Association gave its most prestigious award for a children’s publication, the Kate Greenaway Medal, to Jan PieĊ„kowski’s Haunted House, which was engineered by Tor Lokvig.

The Jungle Book: A Pop-Up Adventure,
Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

“Let yourself in,” says the notice on the front door of Haunted House. Once inside, a reader opens other doors to find disgusting things, things that cause shivers as eyes blink or spiders creep, or things that make a reader jump as monsters burst from the page. Described as “the house of petrifying pop-ups” by the Greenaway Awards Committee, the book has sold over one million copies. Haunted House’s flourishing sales and award-winning status ensured the future of the pop-up book both as a way to make a dollar and as a serious literary genre.

The Chronicles of Narnia, Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

Books like Haunted House, however, have a distinct downside from a library’s administrator’s viewpoint. Student employees asked to check in the Molson books were quickly noticed to be working at less than their usual pace – way less. We had a problem – the books were so interesting the students kept opening them up to see what would happen. I suppose a proper library manager would have initiated a time-management study and using this empirical data imposed strict hourly processing quotas. But the problem was the full-time staff, and I, kept stopping to see the latest treasure the students had unearthed, encouraging their bad behavior.  

Snowflakes: A Pop-Up Book, Cover (Left) and Page Pop-Up (Right).

The only solution to everyone’s fascination with the Molson books was to embrace it and make lemonade from lemons. The students’ favorite books from the Molson collection illustrate this blog. I hope you enjoy them as much as they do. I also hope you will join us during the spring semester 2020 when we will share our collective enthusiasm for movable books through an exhibit in the Clarke Historical Library.

You’re going to love it. Trust our student employees on this one.