Movable books in the Spencer Collection
Books with movable flaps, pop-up pages, and other "interactive" features are known to librarians as "Toy and movable books" and more than a thousand examples can be found in the Library's catalog. Most are modern children's books, but the genre has a surprisingly long history, pre-dating even the dawn of printing, and most early examples were meant to instruct or elucidate, not (only) to entertain.
Much in the spirit of modern interactive Web pages, many early movable books enticed the reader to look further into some aspect of what was being presented. A 17th-century example in the Spencer Collection is a collection of sacred engravings known as Descrizione del sacro monte della Vernia, which depicts sites on Mount Verna (Italy) associated with St. Francis of Assisi. A digitized version of the copy in the Franciscan Institute Library at St. Bonaventure University may be seen here.
The artist was Jacopo Ligozzi and the engravers were Raffaello Schiaminossi and Domenico Falcini. The book is memorable because of the extravagance of the dizzying vistas recorded, but even more for the fact that movable engraved overlays are attached to five of the plates, permitting the reader to "see inside" several of the views.
In recent years the movable book has evolved. Alongside the thousands of commercial examples aimed at very young readers, many book artists have adopted the genre as a way to showcase their wit and ingenuity. A considerable amount of skill in the technology known as "paper engineering" is also required.
One of the most delightful modern examples in the Spencer Collection is Op-up (2006), a pop-up alphabet book by the French graphic artist Marion Bataille. The French term for movable books is "livres animés," and this one truly is animated, not to say positively cinematic. Nearly every letter has a scene to itself, making an entrance as the page is turned, performing its one small act, and exiting again as the next letter on the next page takes the scene. A few of our "cast" raise the ante by transforming themselves into other letters while still holding the stage.
Those who know French can read an interview with Bataille on the French site www.livresanimes.com, in which she explains that she spent six months on a model of the project, which was then approved for publication by Les trois ourses (The Three Bears), an organization that supports the "artist's children's book" and those who make them. The volumes were entirely hand-assembled by the artist in an edition of only 30 copies.
The book is presented in a plain white corrugated cardboard box, with labels for Bataille's name and production information visible through cutouts in the sides. When the box is opened, the small volume emerges ...
...and the parade of "animated letters," snappy and crisp in red, black and white, may begin.
This little work was too good to leave to the connoisseurs (and the library special collections) that could afford to purchase one of the thirty hand-produced copies—and of course, it was too valuable to be handled by the audience that would appreciate it most, young children. In 2008, a mass-produced edition was arranged, to be assembled in China and published in England (Bloomsbury), the U.S. (Roaring Book Press) and several European countries under the title ABC3D (or ABC 3D, as some publishers have it). (The book works equally well in any country whose language employs the Roman alphabet—and even beyond; there is a Japanese edition also.)
Snazzier if less elegant than the original, the cover features a lenticular rendering of the title—the characters A B C 3 D reveal themselves successively as the book is turned in the light. (The cover design is by Michael Yuen.) Once you open the book, the cast of characters and the action are nearly identical to what is found in the artist's limited edition. I could describe them one by one, but even better ... watch the video on the publisher's web site and see for yourself. It even has its own jazzy theme song! (Also available, with different music and a larger video, on www.youtube.com and other sites.)
(Warning: "spoilers.") I think my favorites are the O and P, tranformed into Q and R by a transparent overlay containing the "tails" ... and the V that languidly reflects itself in a mirrored sheet, becoming a W.
But why not go even further? Grab a child and come on over to your nearest New York Public Library branch boasting a copy and see for yourself. The one I examined, at the Children's Center at 42nd Street in the Steven A. Schwarzman Building, is a little worse for the wear from small fingers—and no doubt larger fingers too. But don't let that discourage you. At a publisher's list price of $19.95—discounted to $13.57 on Amazon.com—you can probably afford your very own copy. Be nice and share it with the little ones!