In this post our guest blogger on pop-up books, Lena Kleine Bornhorst, looks through the Seven Stories Collection and picks out examples of pop-ups featuring some very well known children's characters:

Winnie the Pooh, Noddy, Peter Rabbit, Paddington Bearand The Tiger who Came to Tea are all well-known children’s book characters who have featured in pop-up books. Popular figures or famous stories have often been published in pop-up editions – with varying results!  Pop-up books can be used to raise the popularity of a book or character. They can be used as a merchandising product (like soft toys or board games) and they’re a clever way for publishers to reuse already existent material.

The reuse of established characters in pop-up books is not a new concept: as we saw in the last post, one of the key partnerships in the history of pop-up books was that between US publisher Blue Ribbon and the Walt Disney Company in the 1930s. Pop-up books are a convenient medium to bring film characters or themes into a book version. The movement in the pages and the dynamics can fill the gap between a film and an ordinary book: like a film in a book format.

However, pop-up books with well-known characters shouldn't only be seen as merchandising products. The results are very often quite exciting and it’s interesting how diverse the pop-up editions can be. We can take a look at an example from the Seven Stories Collection: three Thomas the Tank Engine pop-up books produced in the 1990s.

Thomas’s Party Pop-up (Heinemann, 1999) tells in five double-pages a short story about Thomas Birthday Party. The paper engineering is kept very simple and the technique of the pop-ups is always the same. The back of the book is located at the top. Each double-page contains a 90 degree pop-up-element which unfolds when you held the book in a 90 degree angle.

Thomas's Big Railway Pop-up Book (Heinemann, 1992) features seven double-page spreads about seven adventures had by Thomas and his friends throughout a week.  In contrast to Thomas’s Party Pop-up, this book includes different and complex paper engineering. All the included pop-up elements are 180 degree pop-ups, which work when the book is completely open. The reader is encouraged to turn the book in different directions to see all of the pop-up elements and there are many interactive pull-tabs. Two of the interactive elements feature string, which is used to demonstrate rope – the text says: “On Wednesday James runs away. Edward and an Inspector chase him and stop him with a rope.” The other string is integrated in a pull-tab, which makes it possible to lift the Tank Engine after an accident.

Spread from Thomas's Big Railway Pop-up Book (Heinemann, 1992)

Thomas’s Amazing Pop-Up Train Set Book (Heinemann, 1995) contains only four double pages, but the format has a bigger size than the other two books. This book contains detailed 180 degree pop-ups and there are many interactive elements – in particular, a detachable paper engineered Tank Engine, which can use for a free play with the book.  The book is the base for the play as it contains railway lines, over which the Tank Engine can find the way (via a house and over a bridge) through the book. The story is told on little story-stops on every page: Thomas has to deliver a parcel in time, but is too late so he follows further story-stops which bring him back through the book till he catches a paper engineered helicopter which brings the parcel safe to his owner. The story and the interactive part with the detachable Tank Engine are cleverly combined and show another aspect of how pop-up elements can be used.

Spread from Thomas’s Amazing Pop-Up Train Set Book (Heinemann, 1995)

The Thomas the Tank Engine examples show how different paper engineering can look and how different the functions of pop-up books can be. If pop-up books are cleverly made, they can make a story more alive and intensive. Interactive elements let the reader be part of the story and join in.

Other examples of innovative pop-ups featuring well-known characters include the Winnie-the-Pooh Pop-up Theatre Book (Methuen, 1992), for which the paper engineering was done by Helen Balmer and Jose R. Seminario.  The book contains five double pages and every right side is covered by a big flap which can be lifted with a small ribbon. The enfolded paper engineering shows a scene of the story. With the included character puppets these scenes can be used for a free theatre play and pull-flaps bring movement to the scene.

Spread from Winnie-the-Pooh Pop-up Theatre Book (Methuen, 1992)

The amount of work required to make a pop-up book can be seen in the archive at Seven Stories. For example, Angelina Ballerina illustrator, Helen Craig’s collection includes extensive material from two Angelina pop-up books. This material shows the entire process of the development of a pop-up-book, in this case Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up and Play Musical Theatre (Penguin, 2008) and Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up Dancing School (Puffin, 2007). Looking at this archive, we can see that the production of a pop-up-book is very different to that of a normal book.

Dummy book of Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up and Play Musical Theatre (Penguin, 2008) ©  Helen Craig and Katharine Holabird

Dummy book of Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up and Play Musical Theatre (Penguin, 2008) ©  Helen Craig

The Angelina Ballerinamaterial shows how important and precise the arrangements between the illustrator and the paper engineer must be. Helen Craig’s collection includes paper engineering dummies of different stages, original illustrations, work plans about necessary illustration parts, letters, emails and many designs and construction sheets with handwritten comments by Helen and paper engineers Ian Smith and Maggie Bateson. In their correspondence they talk about things such as the right sizes of the illustrations, so that they fit perfectly on a particular flap. In one email exchange they speak about the size of miniature coat hangers so that the press-out clothes hold perfectly on the small clothes rail!

Preliminary drawings for Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up Dancing School (Puffin, 2007) ©  Helen Craig

The dummies seem to be a very important resource for this process. They make it understandable for the illustrator which areas can be seen at the end and which illustrations or added decorations are needed, so that at the end a wonderful pop-up book can be published.

Part of early dummy book of Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up Dancing School (Puffin, 2007) 

Part of later dummy book of Angelina Ballerina’s Pop-up Dancing School (Puffin, 2007) 

The creation of pop-up books and bringing well-known characters into this new format demands a lot of creativity and knowledge. A successful pop-up-book that can offer something interesting and different to a traditional book is much more than a simple reuse of existing characters and illustrations. It can be an exciting new artwork. Pop-up books provide multifarious opportunities to create something special and new with already well-known characters and stories.

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, the Helen Craig archive, or the pop-up (and other!) books we hold, then 
email: or phone: 01914952707.