In a world where "interactive" is invariably synonymous with "electronic," you might expect paper pop-up books to seem hopelessly analog.
But today's kids, raised on the touch-screens and prerecorded audio of LeapPad and Reader Rabbit, are likely to be surprised and delighted by the deliberately low-tech magic found in the current crop of pop-up books. And parents with fond memories of the pop-ups they read a quarter-century ago will likely be impressed at just how elaborate these paper creations have become.
"In a way, there's been a bit of a backlash against technology," says Robert Sabuda, one of the country's best-selling pop-up artists, about the growing market for intricate pop-up books. "Parents sometimes feel guilty about the amount of electronics that are invading their children's lives. Whenever they get the opportunity, they want their children to have books."
Computers do play a role in the creation of today's pop-ups. But "designing the actual pop-ups themselves, it's old-school," Sabuda says. "We do it all by hand. We fold the paper, we glue it, we tape it."
That time-consuming craftsmanship is a central part of these books' appeal. Mechanical engineers have lined up alongside kids and parents at book-signing appearances by Sabuda and his creative partner, Matthew Reinhart, just to ask how they do their work, which includes the three-part "Encyclopedia Prehistorica" series.
Here are some new pop-up books:
"Chewy, Gooey, Rumble, Plop" by Steve Alton and Nick Sharratt (Dial Books for Young Readers, $17.99)
For all their whimsy, this book's wonderfully cartoonish 3-D illustrations offer a surprising amount of useful information about how the human body digests food. The details may be lost on the littlest readers, who will be busy giggling over the goofiest of the pop-ups and the weirdly lifelike synthetic tongue embedded in the book's cover. But it's a book that will grow with kids, teaching more to them as they get older.
"X-Men Pop-Up: Marvel True Believers Retro Collection" edited by Caroline Repchuk (Candlewick Press, $24.99)
Marvel fans of all ages will love the eye-popping graphics in this detailed history of the mutant X-men and their deadliest enemies. It reads like a comic book on steroids, with huge pop-ups that seem ready to leap out of the book. Glistening, metallic paper draws attention to Wolverine's huge claws and the mighty fists of Colossus, while smaller, more delicate pop-ups are hidden beneath the folded edges of practically every page. Readers will also enjoy searching for the hidden pull-down "fact file" tabs, which offer additional tidbits of information about the mysterious mutants.
"Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy" by Matthew Reinhart (Orchard Books, $32.99)
Reinhart says the early "Star Wars" films inspired his fascination with creative artwork, and he pays homage to George Lucas' sci-fi creation in this densely packed, detail-rich book. The largest pop-ups at the center of the book, which depict everything from the Millennium Falcon in flight to the bustling cantina on Mos Eisley, are meticulously detailed. And amid all this old-school paper folding, Reinhart offers a nod to the groundbreaking special effects of the original "Star Wars" films: Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker brandish light sabers that actually light up when the pages are opened.
"600 Black Spots: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages," by David A. Carter (Little Simon, $19.99)
This inventive book from the author of "One Red Dot" and "Blue 2" would be equally at home on a child's bookcase or a grown-up's coffee table. Tiny readers may be more interested in grabbing the intricate pop-ups than in contemplating the book's quirky clusters of geometric shapes and snippets of language. But there's fun here for everyone, with abstract displays on each page offering plenty of room for interpretation.
"Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Mega-Beasts" by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart (Candlewick Press, $27.99)
This book has already been available for several months, but its spectacularly intricate pop-ups and useful nuggets of historical information make it worth mentioning here. This third installment in the "Encyclopedia Prehistorica" series by Sabuda and Reinhart includes several fantastic pop-ups on every page. The largest of these, including a ferocious woolly mammoth and a huge saber-toothed tiger, may be realistic enough to scare small children. But this book is a must for dinosaur-lovers and their kids.