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Pop-up Books Bring Children’s Stories to Life with art

Mills College Weekly

Before GameBoys and the like, the first interactive entertainment for children and adults alike was movable and pop-up books. These were the first moving images people saw even before the advent of movies.

Steve Woodall, Artistic Director of the San Francisco Society for the Book, introduced the F.W. Olin Library’s newest exhibit, Show Me a Story: Children’s Books and the Technology of Enchantment opened on Feb. 6 to a packed room of Mills students, faculty, pop-up book collectors and enthusiasts. Some, including Woodall, consider “children’s books as precursors to contemporary artists’ books.”

The featured speaker, Andrew Baron, paper engineer for the multiple award winning Knick Knack Paddywhack: A Moving Parts Book, gave attendees an insider’s look into the making of what may be the most mechanically complex mass-produced book in history. Baron created the mechanizations that give pop-up and movable books their life, a process he calls the “marriage of art and engineering.” As Mills Books Arts students should know, imagination may be the only constraint to the creative possibilities of books.

Baron indicated, “awareness of the paper engineer is certainly changing,” many people don’t realize that there is an engineer/inventor behind every effect, every pull-tab and every pop-up within a movable book.

Baron teamed up with Caldecott Medalist Paul O. Zelinsky to create the enchanting effects of movable illustration in Knick Knack Paddywhack. The book took nearly one year of collaboration between artist and engineer and close to four months to prepare for final production before going to print. There are only a handful of factories worldwide capable of undertaking assembly of such an intricate volume. The factory printing, die-cutting and hand assembly required several additional weeks to complete, with 500 assemblers working to complete the nearly 24 million assembly steps in the production run of 75,000 books.

Baron’s early interest in the workings of antique record players, clocks and jukeboxes gave him the background necessary to create moving images entirely of paper. The mechanization required to create the effect of the Old Man playing knick knack on the boy’s shoe and then rolling home was very much inspired by the mechanical design of these vintage machines. Baron finds his work even more challenging with a book like Knick Knack Paddywhack because he must keep his mechanical inventions both innovative and cost-effective to the publisher.

Book Arts program head Kathleen Walkup was pleased with the high student turnout, and other attendees took advantage of the chance to speak with and learn from Baron.

Show Me a Story, with over 35 examples of innovative moveable and pop-up children’s books, 1884 to the present, will be exhibited in the Heller Rare Book Room of the library through March 11. Visitors can also request a viewing of the video Baron prepared of the factory production of Knick Knack Paddywhack.To see other interesting pictures and videos on the making of this and other books, visit