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Pop-Up Books: Art & Engineering Together

By Iggi at the Republic Branch Library

Pop-Up books are truly a wonder. Even as an adult, opening up a particularly impressive pop-up book feels like magic - but of course, it’s actually engineering! Pop-up books are created with paper engineering and simple physics that you can explore at home.

The basis for every pop-up mechanism is simply the force of opening a page or pulling a tab. In physics, force is a push or a pull that changes the motion of an object. Take a look at a pop-up book you have, or search up some example videos from the internet, and you can easily see this concept in action. If you stop opening the page, the pop-up mechanism stops too, because the opening and closing of the page is the force that powers the pop-up.

While you’re looking at pop-up books, try asking your child some questions like: Can you tell how the scene pops up? Where is it connected to the page? What folds or other structures allow it to move in the way it does?

Studying these features of a pop-up book is the study of engineering with a healthy dose of art and a subtle side of geometry. And good news, if they spark your child’s imagination, you don’t need much to put one together! Just like anyone can write a book without being published, anyone can build a pop-up. All you need is paper, scissors, glue and maybe a pencil.

All pop-ups have to have a page that turns so they have the force to move, but a single sheet of sturdy paper or cardstock folded into a card works too. The simplest shapes to start with are folded rectangles with gluing tabs cut along the bottom. If you line the fold in the rectangle up with the fold in your card and glue it down, you’ve got the makings of a basic pop-up! What shapes could you cut instead of a rectangle? What features could you add to the rectangle to make it more interesting? Does changing the angle of the rectangle change anything about the pop-up? Questions like these are the essence of science, technology, engineering, art and math!

If you’re interested in learning more about making your own pop-ups or just learning how pop-up paper engineering works, check out these resources:

How to Make Pop-Up Cards: 55 Practical Projects Including Step-by-step Folds by Trish Phillips & Ann Montanaro

The Art of Papercraft: Unique Projects Using Origami, Cutting, Quilling, Pop-up and Other Inventive Techniques by Helen Hiebert & Michael G. LaFosse

The Pop-Up Channel on YouTube

Questions or need more ideas? Email imagine@thelibrary.org.