Reviewed by Nikki Gamble
Pop-Up Earth: I have a love-hate relationship with pop up and other movable books.
The love comes from two wonderful peep show books that I had when I was about four, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. These carousel format books set the stories as though they were on a theatre stage. The 3D illusion made me feel that I could step into the story and that things were happening in the distance, in the houses or around the bend in the road, just out of sight. When my son was around the same age, we enjoyed sharing Jan Pienkowski’s Haunted House and Robot over and over again, never tiring of the ingenious use of tabs and wheels. While some teachers and librarians that I have worked with in the past have been hesitant to purchase novelty books for the classroom,’ because they get destroyed by clumsy handling’, I have always championed them, pointing out that learning to handle books carefully is a lesson that we can teach – and we can manage how the books are distributed if we need to. If some books wear out, then we should celebrate that they have been well-read and replace them if we need to.
My dislike arises from those books where paper engineering takes over and detracts from the story so that while the reader might marvel at the cleverness, they are not inclined to engage with the text. This is true for information books too. If the purpose is to thrill and excite a reader about a topic, then paper engineering should enhance the experience. It is perfectly valid for a book to be about the ingenuity of engineering. There are some fine examples where the book’s format is a showcase, for the paper engineering, for instance, Marion Bataille’s A-Z. However, when the book has an informative purpose, the engineering should enhance rather than detract from the communication of ideas.
I write this introduction to contextualise my review of Pop-Up Earth, which has some great features but, overall, falls into the trap of novelty at the expense of engagement with content. I’ll justify that assessment.
Pop Up Earth is an introduction to the Earth, from the planet’s creation to the beginnings of life on Earth, the importance of water for life, biodiversity, the Earth in crisis and a more hopeful look towards the future. Five stunning pop-ups alternate with four flat spreads.
The art is sumptuous. I loved the endpapers: at the front of the book, there’s a beautiful array of microorganisms, and at the back of the book, a celebration of the diversity of human beings. The artwork on the flat spreads is both beautiful and informative. For instance, a spread about the story of water depicts all the major concepts about water and yet manages to be aesthetically pleasing, unlike a lot of diagrammatic representations found in information books for the education market.
The engineering of the pop-ups shows imagination and ingenuity. I thought the simplicity of the pop-up of the planet Earth was particularly sensitive to the subject matter. The visualisation of the biodiversity of species as a house of cards is inspired and beautifully done. It shows the interconnectedness of species, and the metaphor implies that when you remove a plant or animal from the system, the balance is upset, and the cards will come tumbling down.
So what’s the problem, I hear you ask. Sadly, the readability of the book is impacted by the elaborate pop-ups. For instance, the spread called ‘The Magic of Life’ is virtually unreadable because the page has to be held uncomfortably to be able to see the text. You can’t appreciate the pop-up ( which I think is intended to be viewed from above) and read the text at the same time, And on the spread ‘A Burning Heart’, the text is obscured by the impressive but large pop-up of the volcano.
In summary, there were many elements that I could appreciate in this book, but it is a case of each of the parts being greater than the sum of the whole, which is a shame. When sharing the book for the first time, it is likely to elicit gasps of wonder, but it isn’t a book that I think many readers will return to after the initial surprise.
Formerly a teacher (secondary and primary) and university lecturer, with over 35 years’ experience, Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature now in its fourth edition (Sage, 2019) Co-author of Guiding Readers, winner of the UKLA Academic Book award (UCL, 2016). Nikki runs workshops for teachers, librarians, students and researchers on different aspects of children's literature, an online summer school and an Audience with events, celebrating writers and illustrators who have made an exceptional contribution to the world of children's books. Further information exploringchildrensliterature.uk