I love pop-up books and collect them whenever I can. Which is lucky for my children, because they love them, too. Many of the best ones are astoundingly creative, and they’re also a brilliant way to encourage kids to spend time with books. Here are my favorites, from sturdier pop-up books for the very young, to informational pop-up books for curious kids, to pop-up books that might delight adults all by themselves, too. (And of course, all of these books make wonderful gifts.)
What’s Up?, Olivia Cosneau and Bernard Duisit [Amazon | Bookshop] — A perfect pop-up book for toddlers. Not only does every page have 3D elements, but kids can make the pop-ups move by pulling tabs. (As pictured below, pull the tab and the flamingos flap their wings like choreographed dancers.) Also check out How Do You Sleep? [Amazon | Bookshop], which is equally wonderful (but the others in the series aren’t as good as these two).
My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs, Owen Davey [Amazon | Bookshop] — This near-wordless book is all about the pop-ups: a beautiful array of dinosaurs and plesiosaurs, simply labeled. It’s a wonderful book for toddlers, since the pop-ups aren’t too fragile — and as long as toddlers aren’t frightened by the lunging T. rex in the middle. Also check out Davey’s equally wonderful My First Pop-Up Mythological Monsters [Amazon].
Magique Circus Tour, Gérard Lo Monaco [Amazon] — You can’t get this book in English, but if you can’t read French, no matter. It’s an amazing work of art even without reading the (minimal) text. Simply open it and tie the front and back covers together, and you have an intricate circus carousel. Beautiful and fascinating to study.
The Goldilocks Variations, Allan Ahlberg and Jessica Ahlberg [Amazon] — This great Ahlberg book about fairy tale characters is not so much a pop-up book as a book with a pop-up. But I’m including it because it is elaborately constructed, like a work of art (and best suited for kids kindergarten+). Here, the Goldilocks story is retold several times, getting more and more unusual with each telling. The final retelling features loads of different fairy tale characters from other stories, too. This book has lots of amazing little flaps and pull-tabs, and in the middle is “Goldilocks the Play,” a mini-book to take out of a sleeve and read. Amazingly, this mini-book has flaps, fold-out pages, and an incredible, tiny 3D pop-up. The book is somewhat expensive, but it’s the product of a lot of craftsmanship and creativity.
Pop-Up Things That Go!, Ingela P. Arrhenius [Amazon | Bookshop] — I love Arrhenius’s whole oeuvre, and these mini pop-up books were some of our most frequent reads for 2- and 3-year-olds. Each book features quite a few pop-ups, and almost all of them are sturdy enough to withstand repeated handling by toddlers. Also check out Pop-Up Ocean [Amazon] and Pop-Up Jungle [Amazon | Bookshop].
What’s That in the Water?: A Pop-Up Mystery, Eryl Norris and Andy Mansfield [Amazon] — A great pop-up book for toddlers that also has really enjoyable rhyming text. Here, all the ocean creatures — including the most ferocious ones — are terrified of something lurking in the water. What could it be? You can easily read this aloud for big laughs. Also check out Who’s Who in the Woods? [Amazon | Bookshop].
That’s My Hat!, Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud [Amazon | Bookshop] — In this brilliantly designed book, a monkey has stolen someone’s hat, and it’s up to the reader to spot the monkey by peeking through the dizzyingly complex pop-up scenes. Tilt the book this way and that to find all sorts of surprises concealed behind the paper strips, splashed with a riot of colors and shapes. And the text is charming, too.
The Nutcracker: A Papercut Pop-Up Book, Shobhna Patel [Amazon | Bookshop] — This delicate, beautiful book is a little different from the other books in this list. Instead of popping up on its own, the art in this book must be lifted into a vertical position and gently pressed down. As you push down, intricate papercuts are revealed. It feels like a magic trick. And since the papercuts have designs on the backs and sides, too, you can lean close and feel almost as though you’re inside the scene. There’s quite a bit of text, and, yes, it’s the story you know, but the papercuts are the star here. Unusual and breathtakingly beautiful (but too delicate and complicated for young children to manipulate on their own, so you would want to supervise with this one).
Bahaus Ballet: A Pop-Up Performance, Gabby Dawnay and Lesley Barnes [Amazon | Bookshop] — This beautiful, interactive book was inspired by Oskar Schlemmer’s 1922 Bauhaus Ballet (Schlemmer, the book points out, also inspired David Bowie and Alexander McQueen). The text is light and well suited to young children, but the art is for everyone: pop-up dancers with mesmerizing spinning tutus, a fold-out procession of dancers in black and white, and pop-ups in candy colors of purple, pink, and red. It’s so very beautiful, and the final page has some fascinating photos of the incredible costumes from the original ballet.
Midnight Monsters: A Pop-Up Shadow Search, Helen Friel [Amazon | Bookshop] — For this ingenious pop-up book, you’ll need to turn off the lights and fire up your flashlight (or phone). Each spread features a different location, like a misty lagoon or a haunted castle, populated with terrifying creatures. It’s hard to make them out in the pop-up itself, which makes it feel all the more miraculous when the shadows come into focus on the wall. There’s a key at the bottom of each page, too, with short descriptions of each monster or mythical creature. Really good fun and a bit spooky, too.
The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic [Amazon | Bookshop] — The text in this book about Earth is best for kids kindergarten+, though many preschoolers will also be fascinated by the flaps and pop-ups. The book has very informative pages about the Earth’s core, tectonic shifts, volcanoes, climate, natural resources, and more. There’s a fold-out timeline of life on Earth, and the pop-up volcano and towering cloud pop-up are stand-outs — really impressive.
The Ultimate Book of Space, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Olivier Latyck [Amazon | Bookshop] — This interactive book is filled with impressive pop-ups and flaps, along with loads of information about space and space exploration. Younger children will be impressed by the pop-ups, like the rocket you can launch into the air, and might well also love the book, though the content is most suited for kids kindergarten+.
Pop-Up Volcano!, Fleur Daugey, Bernard Duisit, Tom Vaillant [Amazon] — A breathtakingly stunning pop-up book all about volcanoes, with five spectacular pop-ups. The design is beautiful, highlighted with a neon, magma-like orange throughout. But aside from being visually impressive, it’s packed with information about volcanoes, too: historical volcanoes, the ways people coexist with volcanoes, legends, and volcanoes on other planets.
Pop-Up Moon, Annabelle Buxton, Olivier Charbonnel, and Anne Jankeliowitch [Amazon | Bookshop] — In this incredible book about the moon, the pop-ups are so big and impressive that they seem to leap from the page. There are only four of them, but they’re good ones, including a pop-up wheel you can spin to see the phases of the moon as it orbits around Earth and, for the pages on the moon landing, an astronaut inside a big, retro television set. The information here is very interesting and readable, too, and the design and illustration are top-notch. A beautiful book.
A Sea Voyage, Gérard Lo Monaco [Amazon] — A Sea Voyage has a minimal plot, told in rhyme: a couple of people and their dog go out to sea and spot lots of amazing boats. But the pop-ups are so elaborate and detailed that you might forget the text altogether. They’re often adorned with strings (for an anchor or attached to a life belt) or feature pop-out clouds and airplanes behind them. The tall ship is practically a layer cake of sails. It’s gorgeous, astonishing work that adults might simply buy for their own pleasure (and it’s a bit delicate, so you’ll need to supervise the youngest readers).
ABC3D, Marion Bataille [Amazon | Bookshop] — A true work of art. And yes, an ABC book, but one that grown-ups might page through simply to take pleasure in its cleverness and artistry. From the lenticular cover (that changes from A to B to C as you tilt it) to the astonishing paper art, featuring pop-ups, mirrors, flaps, delicate paper cuts, transparencies, and elements that suddenly slide into view, this is paper art at its best and most dazzling. Small children adore this book but would also tear it apart, so best to view it together and store it out of reach!
This Book Is a Planetarium, Kelli Anderson [Amazon | Bookshop] — This spectacular interactive book function as a toolkit, with a pop-up instrument, planetarium, decoder, perpetual calendar, speaker, and spiralgraph. It’s an incredibly impressive and ambitious book. For some of the pages, like the speaker and planetarium, you’ll need a cell phone. The string instrument works roughly as well as your average rubber-band guitar (and works a little better with the included pick), and the decoder can get a little wonky but is still interesting and fun. For the curious, each spread also has a short explanation of how the contraptions work. You can have a lot of fun with this amazing book — it is, I think, a challenge to other pop-up books: what can you make a book do?
This Book Is a Camera, Kelli Anderson [Amazon] — Unlike This Book Is a Planetarium, this book from Kelli Anderson has just one function: taking pictures. It opens up into a paper pinhole camera, which you can use with the included photo paper to take photos (though you might quickly have to buy more photo paper). This is definitely not a book for young children to use solo, as you have to be quite careful with the photo paper. But parents could definitely use it with children, and of course it’s fun for adults by themselves, too. And, importantly, it does actually work.
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