Are pop-up books dying? We remember pulling our first paper tab and seeing a book miraculously come to life. But a lot of kids these days are getting that kick on iPads and other fancy tablets. Which makes one wonder if the steady stream of interactive ebooks aimed at kids means that this generation won’t have childhood memories of Pat the Bunny, Where’s Spot, or Peter Rabbit?
Anyone worried about the future can exhale—sort of. Pop -up books aren’t dead, they’ve just turned into book apps. The apps for, say, Peter Rabbit or Alice in Wonderland are the easiest to compare to old fashioned pop-up books, thanks to their traditional stylings and digital pull-tabs. They inhabit a strange middle ground between ebook and app: not strictly text but also not quite Angry Birds. They are what ebooks would look like if their illustrations came to life....
Magazine apps and book apps for kids may be the new pop-ups, but that doesn’t mean we should go all Fahrenheit 451 just yet.
Pop-up books, pretty much anything on paper that has moving parts or appears in 3D, first showed up in the 1300s but didn’t really start catering to kids until about 500 years later. In the 90s, thanks to some improved printing know-how and artistic gumption, things like The Daily Express Children’s Annual sprouted up. Innovators like Vojtech Kubasta in Prague and Waldo Hunt in the U.S. tried to blend high-level paper cutting with charming titles featuring Babar, Sesame Street, and Disney characters.
Despite their popularity, pop-up books have never been an over-populated field. “There aren’t that many people that make pop-up books,” says Maria Tatar, a Harvard professor specializing in childhood literature. “My guess is that there are probably less than 100 [authors] that have done it successfully. So you have a very dangerous ecology. You could imagine that it would disappear overnight.”
Jump forward some decades and the number of ebook designers is comparably small. Tatar is understandably a big fan of the printed page despite owning an Amazon Kindle.
Pop-ups have occupied a strange place in between art and literature.Tatar says pop-ups are largely left out of the children’s literature canon despite general admiration for them as art objects. That art also makes pop-ups more fragile. An expensive iPad usually wins the durability contest.