With the high production costs associated with hand-assembly, pop-ups need a large initial print run. And yet, this area of children’s publishing receives relatively little critical attention. Geoff Fox discusses a new Guide to the field as well as some recent titles.
A typical hardback print run for a children’s novel might well be only 3,000 copies; a movable book, on the other hand, might be produced in a run of 50,000 or more, for sale in several languages around the world. Yet reviewing attention focuses on the novel while the movable slips onto the ‘Novelty’ shelves of the bookseller almost unremarked.
Reviewers have rarely been comfortable with the discussion of movable books. They can adapt the machinery of literary criticism to children’s novels readily enough; even construct a child’s response to a text by drawing upon memories of their own childhood. There are few models to work from – little has been written about movables and some of the best of what there was has gone out of print or appeared in articles in ephemeral and elusive magazines. There is no easily usable vocabulary for the discussion of movable books. How can a literary critic assess the quality of the work of a paper engineer, for example? Such an appraisal would require some knowledge of the history and the mechanics of the production of movable books.
New Booktrust Guide
The Children’s Literature Team at Booktrust have gone a long way to putting things to rights for the general reader as well as the reviewer in their latest publication, Pop-ups! A Guide to Novelty Books. Although noting that many of the queries they received about movables came from students on GCSE Graphics courses, they have defined their audience as ‘children, parents, teachers, librarians and collectors who are interested in this form of children’s literature’.
Quite rightly, given the lack of accessible information about movables, they assume no knowledge on the reader’s part. So in the attractively designed and colourful 24 pages of this paperback guide, you can find: a brief and surprising history of the form; some definitions of terms from ‘Carousel’ to ‘Volvelle’ by way of ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘Peep-Shows’; and a couple of breezy articles by expert makers of pop-up books. There are annotated lists of specialist booksellers, online resources and useful organisations; and a further list of 27 ‘favourite’ titles including such famous landmark texts as the 1979 Kate Greenaway Medal winner Haunted House by Jan Pieńkowski.
There are also two pages of references which could open up this neglected field to those who wish to dig more deeply. Six of the recommendations provide practical instruction in the making of pop-up books, whilst the remaining twenty references will take the reader into the extraordinary means by which movables are engineered and published as well as the equally remarkable recent history of the form. Half a dozen of these pieces are by Michael Dawson, the leading British authority on the field. He is at once enthusiast, historian, pop-up repairer and specialist bookseller (Ampersand Books, Ludford Mill, Ludlow SY8 1PP).
All in all, this is an admirable compilation; Sarah Harrington and Edgardo Zaghini of Booktrust have rendered a considerable service to those interested in children’s books. They note, in their introduction, that ‘novelty books play an important role in literacy development from an early age. Always visually stimulating, and usually designed to be physically explored, they instantly invite reader participation.’ They point out the opportunities for physical and verbal interaction between young readers and the text, and between young readers and the sharing adult. Moreover, novelty books are invariably sheer good fun – part way between conventional picture book and toy.
The batch of recent movables under consideration here is indeed written with those learning to read very much in mind. Christopher Gunson’s Animal Surprise! plays with rhyme, sound and image. A frog watches a fly buzz by, and FLICK goes his tongue. On the facing page, his (?) tongue fastens onto the fly – STICK. Open this page out and behind the flap you reveal the same picture as for STICK but without the word. Then, as the flap is fully extended, we find a smilingly replete frog with the fly’s wings just disappearing into his mouth – YUM! That’s the pattern for similarly energetic adventures for a monkey, a duckling (WADDLE, HOP…, PLOP!) and so on. Bright, large, slightly blurry-friendly pictures and lively words which readers will very quickly be sounding out for themselves.
Moo Moo goes to the city is a lift-the-flap, pull-the-tab trip for an amiable cow around the city – New York, it seems, given the benignly bovine Statue of Liberty. Simple paper engineering, strongly constructed, leads to a popping-up conclusion of serried skyscrapers as Moo Moo catches the bus home.
Let’s Go Driving! takes us on a trip to the seaside. The text is straightforward and is reinforced by what we find, for example, when we lift the flap to check what’s in the car boot (bucket and spade). No passengers except for us, and we are provided with a key to start the engine, indicators to check, a zebra crossing to stop at, and even a wheel to change when we get a puncture. For many children, the familiarity of such a journey already provides a known structure to help them into the narrative, though some of the paper engineering here might not withstand the vigorous treatment drivers will certainly give it. The slightly tacky texture of the paper in my new copy was already giving the car a rather jerkier ride than was intended; and I can’t shift the tab out to sea on the last page to discover whether Jaws or Whatever is lurking out there among the bathers.
Cheer up, Little Duck! and Don’t be Cheeky, Little Monkey! illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church (in the ‘Little Friends’ series) will give much delight. There are textures to touch – soft furry stuff, a flower centre as brittle as a pan scrub, a durable silver paper cake wrapper and so on; and jokes to be enjoyed only when you pull the tab or lift the flap, with a soaring pop-up to finish off with. One of the touchstones of a quality movable is, perhaps, whether or not the moving elements are needed to complete the verbal text. In these two books, this is precisely the case and, as a consequence, there is the probability of numerous returns to the text since young readers love this kind of engagement – being on the inside of good jokes. They also make use of the movable book’s essential capacity to surprise and to provoke a smile of pleasure at the wit and ingenuity of the book’s creators.
Perhaps the most interactive of these books in the terms used by the Booktrust Guide is Five Little Monkeys. This collection of ‘Best-loved Action Rhymes’ addresses a dual audience. Parents are given precise instructions about how best to suit the action to the word whilst their children join in the rhymes and actions, no doubt also ‘working’ the pictures. The rhymes are mostly oldies (or variations on them) such as ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush’, ‘Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake’ or ‘Row, row, row your boat’. You might need a few extra hands to manage all of the manoeuvres simultaneously, but no doubt someone at Templar Publishing has road-tested all of them. Certainly, someone at Templar (who also publish the ‘Little Friends’ series) has a very keen sense of how children learn to read, and how they can have a great time doing so.
Geoff Fox edits Children’s Literature in Education and is an honorary research fellow at Exeter University School of Education.
Titles referred to in the text
Pop-ups! A Guide to Novelty Books
The Children’s Literature Team, Booktrust, Booktrust, 24pp, 0 85353 491 8, £5.00 pbk
Christopher Gunson, Doubleday, 16pp, 0 385 60223 5, £10.99 hbk
Moo Moo goes to the city
Jo Lodge, Bodley Head, 14pp, 0 370 32624 5, £9.99 hbk
Let’s Go Driving!
Gus Clarke, Walker, 12pp, 0 7445 8110 9, £7.99 hbk
Cheer up, Little Duck!
1 84011 805 9
Don’t be Cheeky, Little Monkey!
1 84011 810 5
Ronne Randall, ill. Caroline Jayne Church, paper engineering by Keith Finch, Templar, 18pp, £7.99 each hbk
Five Little Monkeys
Ill. David Melling, Templar, 24pp, 1 84011 058 9, £8.99 hbk