Selections from Special Collection’s
Dimensional and Artists’ Books Collection
Although the earliest movable books date to the 1000s and conveyed scientific or scholarly information, the majority of contemporary pop-up and movable books are published for children. With “moving” elements that stand up, or pull-tabs that alter illustrations, or volvelles to turn, or flaps that flip up to reveal hidden pictures, these books combine instruction with surprise and play, making them entertaining for children but also useful for learning the alphabet or dinosaur names.
But pop-up and movable books also reflect history. Ernest Nister’s books, for example, reflect a Victorian sentimentality in their idealization of childhood: they are filled with cherubic, rosy cheeked youngsters whose clothes remain remarkably kempt and unsoiled even as they tumble down a hill or prance along the bank of a river. And the enormous popularity of Julian Wehr’s animated books might be partly due to a shortage of toys during World War II, because many toys were made from metals, rubber, and other materials needed for wartime industries.
Pop-Up and movable books also remind us that reading is an inherently social act. When we read, we habitually bring a set of shared but unspoken assumptions about books. In taking a volume in hand, we orient ourselves to its material form, binding to our left, front cover before us. And our attention routinely moves across lines of text from left to right, and from top to bottom of the page. Tacitly, we understand that reading books involves conventions, and these we follow automatically whenever we read a book.
Perhaps one of the joys of pop-up and movable books is how they play with conventions of reading or defy our expectations of books. We are accustomed to flat, two-dimensional pages, of the book, but the pop-up book is three-dimensional, thrusting its elements upward and off the page. Our eyes readily focus on words and sentences, but pop-up and movable books invite us to use, as well, our hands and fingers.
The pop-up and movable editions displayed in this exhibit are a small selection of hundreds held by Special Collection. We invite you to come in and play.