Pop-up restaurants, boutiques and even cinemas are all the rage these days but, as the holidays approach, consider treating yourself and the youngsters in your family to a more enduring kind – a pop-up book.
Surprisingly, pop-up books have been around for centuries, although the earliest varieties were made to help monks calculate holy days or teach anatomy to would-be physicians. It wasn’t until 1929 that Louis Girard got the idea of publishing pop-up books for kids, and his Bookano series set the stage for the Disney, Sesame Street and Star Wars pop-up books so popular today.
If you want a real winner that both adults and children will enjoy, I’ve got a dandy for you: “Pop-Up Shakespeare,” written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, and marvelously designed and illustrated by Jennie Maizels. The authors may be familiar to theatre buffs, since they are long-time members of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, a group famous (or infamous) for cramming all of Shakespeare’s plays, plus all of his poetry, into a hilarious 90-minute play called “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”
As the bard wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and that is certainly true for both the play and its pop-up equivalent. In only five double-page spreads, the authors and illustrator manage to cover not only background information about Shakespeare, but also every single one of his plays (even the lost one, “Cardenio”), plus both his long poems and sonnets. I get breathless just thinking about the sheer audacity of such a project, but they are an ingenious bunch, and have pulled it off beautifully.
I can see you shaking your head and muttering, “Oh man, this sounds boring,” but trust me, it’s anything but. Why? Because one of the stellar attributes of this book is that it demolishes the idea that we have to approach Shakespeare with reverence. Yes, his genius is awesome, but why not celebrate it joyfully instead of with a glum sense of duty? And that’s just what Reed and Tichenor do. True to form, they provide us with funny, cheeky, informative and lively descriptions of Shakespeare’s life and times, his comedies, history plays, romances, tragedies and poetry. Not only that, but they also offer up “Long Story Short” blurbs that humorously sum up, and sometimes irreverently criticize, each play in a single sentence or phrase. For example, the “Long Story Short” for “King Lear” is “Families can drive you crazy.” Apparently, the authors don’t think much of Shakespeare’s tendency to write sequels to his history plays because the blurb for “Henry VI Part III” reads: “It’s two plays too many about this king.” You’ll also get a kick out of the random snippets of information hidden behind various illustrations. Pry open the picture of a book titled “Shakespeare’s Words and Phrases,” and you’ll discover that Shakespeare is credited with introducing “puke” into our vocabulary. Famous quotes, of course, abound.
If the content is one good reason to buy this book as a gift, another is its interactive design. Just as the littlest children love touching the various textures in “Pat the Bunny, “Pop-Up Shakespeare” will thoroughly engage older kids. Who could be bored with a book that keeps you so busy? Both grown-up and young readers will enjoy the complex “paper engineering” that makes this book so spectacular. Open the last spread, for instance, and watch with delight as Hamlet’s castle rears high above the page and Othello’s bedroom, Juliet’s balcony and Lear’s table pop up. Then lift and fold the die-cut tab hidden behind them to read all about “Timon of Athens.”
The word “hidden” is key to the intriguing nature of this book’s design, since the artist, Ms. Maizels, has craftily tucked all manner of goodies behind what look like mere illustrations. I think children will especially enjoy ferreting out all of the camouflaged tabs. You’ll also find you need to turn the book around to discover even more plays, more tabs to open, more witty little asides.
By the way, you may be interested to know that pop-up books are really challenging to produce. The paper has to be sturdy enough to withstand repeated manipulation by readers, and the illustrations must be precisely printed and die-cut meticulously. So intricate is the production that much of a pop-up book must be assembled by hand. All this T.L.C. probably accounts for the fact that pop-up books are more expensive than your standard Little Golden Book. “Pop-Up Shakespeare,” for example, will run you close to $20, but it’s worth the price.
Just think: here’s a painless and totally fun way to introduce Shakespeare to young readers. And once they’re hooked, you will have given them an entree into arguably the greatest literature of all time. In short, you will have given them a gift that is priceless.
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