The Magic of Pop-Up (or should that be Plop-Up?) with Mini Grey

The book: it’s portable
magic – an object full of possibilities. With pop-up books there’s the
possibility that the book is a Tardis: bigger on the inside. A world explodes
from the book. Pop-ups are about movement: the book comes to life in your

Pop-ups are made
possible by the structure of the book, that central fold that lends itself to
movement and acts as the engine that moves the mechanism: opening and shutting
so that pop-ups can hide away inside.

So, this week
(inspired by Garry’s post from April about lift-the-flap books) I thought I’d
bring you a quick tour of the history of pop-up, through books I’ve picked up
over the years.

The first pop-ups were for grown-ups, to
do useful things like show the movements of the planets or the structure of the
human body. 

De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius

In Andreas Vesalius’s book De
Humani Corporis Fabrica
the Fabric of the Human Body
) from 1543, layered pages allow the reader to
probe through the layers of the human body.
Now I don’t have this book, but I have seen it! The
images were woodblock printed, then cut out like fine lacework.

On my bookshelf we
start with Lothar Meggendorfer and the first golden age of pop-ups in Victorian
times. With industrialization, a wealthy middle class was emerging who had
income to spend on books for children, and all could gather in the evenings to
be entertained by the movable book. Meggendorfer’s moving pictures had an amazingly
complicated under-structure of tabs and metal pivots.

Movable horserider by Meggendorfer

This is the kind of mechanism of levers and pivots that would have lain beneath the movable piccture.

International Circus (by Meggendorfer) is
a book that is also a toy and a model. 

My copy of International Circus opened out, each scene pulls down with a parallel box type mechanism.

Meggendorfer’s Doll’s House folds out
into a set of rooms you could play with.

That golden age of pop-up was
brought to a close by the 20th century and the first world
war: materials for making books became scarce. Then in the late 1920s the
Daily Express started publishing the Bookano books. 

These were fat volumes with
self-erecting pop-up ‘models’. They were made of cheap low-quality paper which
meant they were affordable, so pop-ups were suddenly available to a mass
market. One Bookano was given to me by John Vernon Lord. It had been given to
him by Raymond Briggs. 

It must have been well played with; every single pop-up
is broken except one.

The one unbroken pop-up in Briggs' Christmas present

  But not broken is the Bookano  Story of Jesus – somehow this one
stayed safe from young fingers.

 Look at this – the last supper, assembled in a panelled room. Judas is skulking off in the background. There's a landscape beyond the back window. Da Vinci would have been

In case you're wondering , there are 12 disciples in this pop-up but two of them are at right angles to us so we can only see their Flat Stanley-style edges.

In my Bookano Stories book is a fabulous underwater world complete with
cellophane water layer.

The stand-up models in the Bookano books, like this
dog, remind me of The Tiger Prowls by Seb Braun; there’s something lovely about 3D animals
springing up on the page. 






In Prague I came
across the work of  
Kubašta, who was a former architect and p
rolific maker of pop-ups from the 1950s. 

I love the
scary movable cover for his Red Riding Hood. You can watch the whole book here. 

He made thousands of works of pop-up. The ones I have are pop-up stand-up
models, and my favourite is Columbus’s ship.

Probably my
ultimate favourite and full of endless inspiration for pop-up mechanisms to try
is Jan Pienkowski’s Haunted House.

Note the pop-up toilet. This one has a black cat inside.

Also in my all-time
favourites is Raymond Briggs’ – Fungus the Bogeyman Plop-Up Book. 

Here's Fungus about to use the facilities.

Fungus's toilet 'The Leaky' has a sign in it: DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN HERE UNLESS YOU HAVE EATEN IT FIRST, and it's patented non-flush and guaranteed to rust.

I love the
toilet page, complete with Government Property toilet paper that tells you the address
of the person to complain to about this page (and that there's an entire complaints department dedicated to Fungus the Bogeyman). (For more on the wonderful Raymond Briggs, see Pippa Goodhart's post from last week.)

OK, the Pop-up toilet is an obsession
of mine. Here are a couple of pop-up toilets I’ve made.

From Our Machines are Sick, personal project from long ago

These toilets are for using the contents to discover plots and conspiracies with a bit of stool-reading - from Gulliver's Travels (to Laputa). (personal project from long ago)

And on, and away from toilets, to the king
of pop-up – Robert Sabuda. My favourite is the Wizard of Oz.

Look at the city
of Oz with its iridescent foil and green glasses to wear. 

The Wizard of Oz by Robert Sabuda

The message in the
multicoloured dots is invisible until you put the green glasses on. (In photos you can make it out, but in real life you can't.) There’s also his Alice in Wonderland. Here
is a beautiful V-fold house with a gigantic Alice trapped inside. 

From Alice in Wonderland by Robert Sabuda

The genius of Nick
Sharrat is in making movable books that play in beautifully simple ways. Here’s
the floating helicopterpus from Octopus Socktopus.

Octopus Socktopus

The lenticular cover of ABC3D

Pop-up playtime is not just for children.

ABC3D is a pop-up alphabet of surprises made from purely architectural letters.

 Pop-ups can even explain
Plate Tectonics. Have a watch here


 In the Sensational
Books Exhibition at the Bodleian Library I came across Creatures of the Deep
by Maike Biederstaedt – bringing
scientist Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations of underwater flora and fauna to life.

is a Game of thrones pop-up book and a Pop-up Book of Phobias.

At the dentist in the frankly triggering Pop-Up Book of Phobias

The Walking Dead
Pop-up Book – this is an actual horror; zombies attempt to escape the book - look
away now if you feel fragile.

 – and there are even more terrifying pop-ups in this book that I can’t show in a
family-friendly blog like this.

Pop-up involves the
reader: the engineer is the puppet-maker, the reader becomes the puppeteer.

But sometimes, less
is more. When my son Herbie was little we acquired the We’re going on a Bear
pop-up book and you know…the pop-ups felt clunky compared to the pop-up-free
original. A simple flap can often be more effective than a wildly complicated mechanism. The magic of every picture book is to have space for the reader’s
imagination to get involved.

I’ve only scratched
the surface of the incredible world of pop-up books in this post. Have you got
a favourite? Do let me know!

Bruce Foster, a paper engineer based in the US, commented
about the process of inventing pop-ups: “The first phase of any project is
strictly playtime,” he said. “I play around a lot, work out these different
mechanisms, putting them all together, experimenting.”

So, to end with, here are some books I’ve found useful for learning
how to make pop-ups, because inventing pop-ups is all about playing with paper.


Paper Engineering by Mark Hiner.You make your own demonstration models for the mechanisms so it turns into a useful resource for working out what you might need to make - a nice first introduction.

Pop-Up - A Manual by Duncan Birmingham - This is a dense exhaustive guide to just about every paper engineering mechanism. For the die-hard pop-upper.

By the same author - Pop-Up Design and Paper Mechanics is much more user friendly and appealing visually, with a nice set of projects to make at the back.

The Elements of Pop-Up by David A. Carter and James Diaz. This is a brilliant resource - it contains little working models for all the mechanisms like a delicious moving menu of pop-up possibilities - being able to see how they move really helps you to choose which mechanism will work for what you want to do.

Still want to see more pop-up books? Watch on Youtube here! 


Mini's latest book is The Greatest Show on Earth, published by Puffin.

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