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Understanding Children's Literature and Material Culture through Pop-Up Books



This paper explores the linkage between children's literature and material culture through pop-up books. The questions to be explored include how the pop-up book's literary-visual content is combined crucially with the book's physical properties-the mechanical devices-to script for the child-reader, and how elements of material properties in pop-up books shape the reader's construction of various categories, such as environmentalism, toys, souvenirs, and/or collection. The paper argues that the pop-up book is a fitting form for investigating material culture because there is hardly any book form apart from pop-ups that best manifests its materiality to children. Each pop-up mechanism is designed to draw the reader in; when a pop-up spread unfolds, it demands a reaction from the reader. The pop-up books selected for analysis include In the Forest (2012), Robots (2014), and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up (2000). While all three pop-ups enhance the comprehension of the link between children's books and material culture, their diversity in themes, aesthetic devices, and social reception serves different purposes, displaying the distinct dimension of objects. The paper consists of three parts. The first part considers a number of contemporary theoretical literatures on objects. The second part briefly surveys the history of movable/pop-up books, overviewing the genre's evolution and its conjunction with children. The third part examines the selected pop-up books, with special attention placed on each book's device features, aesthetic accomplishments, and material elements. The paper concludes that the pop-up book is a form deserving more critical attention not only because its materiality helps us theorize in more nuanced ways about how children can exercise agency, but also because the ingenuity and efforts of paper engineers demand, likewise, more recognition and appreciation.

Parallel abstracts



Bernstein, Robin. “Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or, the Possibility of Children’s Literature.” PMLA, vol. 126, no. 1, 2011, pp. 160-69.
Bernstein, Robin. “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race.” Social Text, vol. 27, no. 4, 2009, pp. 67-94.
Bernstein, Robin. “Toys Are Good for Us: Why We Should Embrace the Historical Integration of Children’s Literature, Material Culture, and Play.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 4, Winter 2013, pp. 458-63.
Bluemel, Nancy Larson, and Rhonda Harris Taylor. Pop-Up Books: A Guide for Teachers and Librarians. Libraries Unlimited, 2012.
Boisrobert, Anouck, and Louis Rigaud. In the Forest. Tate Publishing, 2012.