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Ten Children’s Books for the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing





Future Astronaut Book CoverFUTURE ASTRONAUT
Written by Lori Alexander
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Cartwheel Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

With its catchy opening line of Ground Control to Major Baby, a play on popular David Bowie lyrics, Future Astronaut is off and running! You want cute? This is cute! Twenty-four pages playfully pit Alexander’s prose plus Black’s whimsical side by side illustrations of what it takes to be an astronaut against whether or not baby has what it takes to join NASA. Note its logo emblazoned on several uniforms worn by the adults. Healthy hearts, good eyes, and strong teeth are needed. Check! Baby’s passed that test. Astronauts swim and so does baby. Looks like baby’s on track so far! What about two astronauts working together as they float in orbit? Astronauts live and work in small spaces. On the opposite page are two friends playing inside cardboard boxes. Small spaces are Baby’s favorite places! My favorite illustrations show first an astronaut eating from her plastic dehydrated food packs while baby clearly enjoys playing with plastic too, though not as neatly! But cleverly, once space travel involves leaving home to visit “far-off places,” baby’s not quite ready to take the next step and Alexander wraps things up beautifully with a blissful baby ready to travel as far as dreamland.

Look There's a Rocket! Book CoverLOOK, THERE’S A ROCKET!
Text by Nosy Crow
Illustrated by Esther Aarts

(Nosy Crow; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Another fun interactive book in Aarts’s “Look, There’s a … ” series of board books, this one’s ideal for little hands of Moon and Mars minded toddlers. Ten sturdy die cut pages let youngsters peek through the holes to see what’s next while answering easy questions in the rhyming text. Look, there’s a star and some planets outside. / Can you see three comets? / What a bumpy ride! Here’s a chance to introduce space travel in a colorful way that rocketeers will find hard to put down.

Moon's First Friends Book CoverMOON’S FIRST FRIENDS
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Moon has always held such a fascination for mankind. What is it like up there? Is the Moon affecting our mood in addition to our tides? How long will it take to get there? But Hill’s picture book, Moon’s First Friends, turns that curiosity on its head by presenting a story told from the Moon’s point of view.

This Moon, friendly and a bit lonely, is watching Earth and its inhabitants evolve. From dinosaurs to caveman, from bicycle riders to hot air balloonists, from early rocket engineers to the Apollo 11 crew, the Moon sees everything, hoping, waiting … until one day in July it happens. Earth men blast off into space towards the Moon. Hill’s lyrical language here capture’s not only Moon’s joy, but everyone on Earth’s too. “At thirty stories high and weighing six million pounds, the rocket rose into the air amid an explosion of flames.” Several days later the mission makes it to the Moon. Then the most amazing thing occurs in Moon’s lifetime (and it’s my favorite part of the story), men emerge from the module and walk on Moon’s surface. Nothing would ever be the same after that visit. Young readers will share the delight felt by the Moon as expressed through welcome gifts of rocks and moon dust offered to the visitors. The astronauts bestow a token of their friendship as well by leaving a plaque that reads: HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON / JULY 1969, A.D. / WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. They then plant an American flag and zoom back to Earth. The Moon is now confident others will follow suit.

Paganelli’s artwork is charming and cheerful, breathing life into the Moon and all the events leading up to July. Readers can find a selected bibliography in the front of the book as well as back matter about the Apollo 11 voyage plus a couple of photos. Another cool thing that’s been included is a scannable QR code so kids can listen to a recording of Neil Armstrong’s historic first words on the Moon!

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOONAliana Reaches for the Moon book cvr
Written by Laura Roettiger
Illustrated by Ariel Boroff
(Eifrig Publishing; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

Add Aliana Reaches for the Moon to your assortment of Moon books because, while this one’s not about that historic time in July 1969, it is about the Moon’s influence on one clever young girl.

Aliana is creative and observant, great qualities for an aspiring scientist. She tells Gustavo, her little brother, that she’s planning something secret to present him on his upcoming birthday. A calendar in the illustration that accompanies her dialogue shows that there will be a full moon on May 26, Gustavo’s big day. What is Aliana up to that involves making such a mess at home? Thankfully, her parents don’t complain because they know that whatever she’s creating will be worth it. Inspired by great women of science before her, Aliana wants to invent something unique for Gustavo but that  requires a lot of reading and preparation so she takes out a ton of library books to begin researching.

When the full moon arrives at last, Aliana shares the glowing result of her experiment. Behold an amazing “magical birthday cake!” And all it took was the ingenuity of gathering up five (Gustavo’s turning five years old) vases and glasses, filling them with marbles, coins, pieces of quartz and topping them “with a crystal from her collection … ” and waiting for the full moon to shine. Roettiger’s story shows readers what’s involved in inventing with the goal of motivating children to experiment themselves. By using the moon as her source, Aliana has harnessed the lunar light to bring her invention to life. Boroff’s jewel toned illustrations complement Roettiger’s prose as they convey the joy and satisfaction transforming a dream into reality can bring. An author’s note at the end explains the moon cycles for budding inventors.

I am Neil Armstrong book coverI AM NEIL ARMSTRONG
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial BYR; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

The fifteenth book in Meltzer’s best-selling “Ordinary People Change the World” series is like Armstrong himself, it doesn’t fail to deliver. Kids as well as adults will learn so much from the 40 pages of Armstrong’s biography. I didn’t know that even as a young child, the future first man on the Moon exhibited astronaut-worthy traits such as patience, bravery, and intelligence (he loved to read). He was obsessed with airplanes too. He worked hard from an early age to earn money for flying lessons, earning his pilot’s license even before his driver’s license!

After joining the navy and “flying in seventy-eight missions during the Korean War,” Armstrong went on to become a test pilot after college. He eventually heeded President Kennedy’s challenge of “… landing a man on the Moon” and applied to NASA and was accepted into their astronaut program. The rest as they say is history, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. A double gate-fold in the center of the book shows the Apollo 11 astronauts’ glorious view of the Moon and Eliopoulos’s other cartoon-style artwork playfully depicts the space journey with the Eagle ultimately landing on the Moon’s surface. Parents can remind children to keep an eye out for a picture of Meltzer hidden somewhere in this and all his other books in the series. I love how both astronaut John Glenn and mathematician Katherine Johnson are also featured in one of the illustrations because their contributions to our successful space exploration deserve recognition. As a humble individual, Armstrong always credited the entire team that helped put a man on the Moon.

When Armstrong took his first steps, “One-fifth of the world’s population was watching on TV.” Children love to learn facts like that which are not easily forgotten. I am Neil Armstrong provides age appropriate and always interesting information conveyed in a kid-friendly fashion that demonstrates how one man’s determination and humility changed the world forever. Meltzer mentions what Armstrong’s family said after he passed away: “Next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” Back matter includes a time line of the space race and several color photos including ones of the Apollo 11 crew.

Moonstruck! Poems About Our Moon bk cvrMOONSTRUCK! POEMS ABOUT OUR MOON
Edited by Roger Stevens
Illustrated by Ed Boxall
(Otter-Barry Books; $16.99, Ages 7 and up)

Moonstruck!’s over 50 fab poems not only help children reflect on the momentous occasion from 50 years ago, but also touch upon so many different aspects of the moon orbit, landing as well as the mystery and majesty of the Moon itself. “The Lonely Side of The Moon” by Laura Mucha is about Michael Collins’ radio silence when he was separated from Armstrong and Aldrin for 48 minutes while Doda Smith’s “Dear Mr. Astronaut” features a child requesting some moon dust to add to his amazing collection of things. James Carter’s concrete poem, “The Moon Speaks!” is told from the moon’s perspective and B.J. Lee’s rhyming “Moon Marks” considers how long a dozen spacemen’s footprints will remain, frozen in time.

Classic poems from Emily Brontë and Robert Louis Stevenson join new ones from Catherine Benson and Celia Warren and many more. Not only is this an awe-inspiring anthology of moon-themed poetry from internationally known poets, it’s got interesting facts when they can add to the appreciation of a particular poem’s topic. Boxall’s beautiful black and white linocuts add another delightful dimension to what’s already an out of this world anthology. Keep this one on hand for National Poetry month!

Rocket to the Moon! Book CoverROCKET TO THE MOON!
Big Ideas That Changed the World #1
by Don Brown
(Amulet; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

If you love graphic novels, don’t miss picking up a copy of Brown’s Rocket to the Moon! because it’s an excellent way to experience the trajectory of space exploration in cartoon format. It’s also the first in what promises to be a super new series, “Big Ideas That Changed the World.” This fast yet engaging read taught me more than a thing or two about the history of rockets with its attention to detail both through the text and the illustrations. Celebrating “the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately remade the world” the novel uses a narrator drawn from real life named Rodman Law to share the ups and downs of rocketry. We’re pulled into the story by this American daredevil’s attempt to launch a homemade rocket in the early 20th century.

Contrasting the entertaining introduction to the subject matter, Law takes us back in time to first century China where gunpowder was invented then fast forwards many centuries to explain how the British used rockets to bombard Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, hence Francis Scott Key’s lyrics in our national anthem, “… And the rockets’ red glare … ” We also find out how Jules Verne’s prescient science fiction novel, From the Earth to the Moon, influenced rocket scientists from Russia, Germany and the U.S. and how his vision translated into actual technology used during WWII. When the war ended, several German scientists surrendered to American authorities. Not long after, the space race began when the Soviets launched the first satellite and America, not be outshone by the Soviets, created NASA and the quest for U.S. travel beyond Earth began.

Brown goes above and beyond in recounting and depicting in his illustrations exactly how the competition played out which is what I’m sure tweens will enjoy. From sending dogs, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees into space (with some humorous and sad asides) to the ins and outs of peeing and pooping in a spacesuit, Brown doesn’t hesitate to illuminate us. But he manages to perfectly balance the funny facts with the serious ones including failed launches and devastating disasters resulting in death. About a month before President Kennedy announced the plan to land a man on the Moon, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space on the first manned trip. So, with the clock ticking, NASA’s planning began. We see and read about how many missions prior to Apollo 11 led the way for America’s historic achievement but it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. It took dedication, smarts, teamwork, billions of dollars and eight years to get a man to the Moon. Yet Brown poignantly shows us how also, after all that had been accomplished, the last astronaut to walk on the moon was Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan in 1972, which is when Brown’s novel ends. Throughout the book, Brown’s artwork seamlessly succeeds at pushing the narrative forward and only adds to the emotional connection readers will feel with the subject matter. Ten pages at the end offer a helpful timeline, info about Rodman Law, Notes, a Bibliography and an Author’s Note. Needless to say, I devoured all 136 pages of Rocket to the Moon! It was carefully researched and presented in such an exciting format making it an invaluable and must-read graphic novel for middle grade kids.

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon book cvrCOUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON
Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
(Peachtree Publishers; $22.95, Ages 10 and up)

The title of this middle grade nonfiction book, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, refers to the amount of time it would take to land a man on the moon starting from May 25, 1961, the day President Kennedy first made his historic challenge. This clever date-driven concept, presented in winning free verse by Slade, combines with Gonzalez’s dramatic illustrations to give a well-rounded account of that critical time in our nation’s history. Black and white as well as color photos add to the energy that emanates from Countdown.

Readers will find they soar through the book as Slade deftly describes the missions from Apollo 1 through Apollo 11 including the tragic Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts, Grissom, Chaffee and White. The sacrifice made by those three courageous men on January 27, 1967 was not in vain and resulted in life-saving improvements in subsequent missions. Following the fire Apollo 2 is grounded and “NASA decides there will never be a mission called Apollo 3.” Apollo 4 and 5 are unmanned and successful. “The dream is still alive.” Following that triumph, Apollo 6 fails and fears about the future loom large. Soon Apollo 7 is manned for space travel and will circle Earth. The crew even make TV appearances then return home jubilant. “It’s time for Apollo to head to the Moon!” Tweens may recognize the names of the Apollo 8 crew, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. They become the first humans to fly above Earth orbit and to reach lunar orbit. I cannot imagine how it felt when they could see the Moon!

Slade intersperses actual astronaut dialogue which heightens the impact of these mind-blowing moments. She gets into more technical detail than I will here, but suffice it to say kids will learn the lingo and understand who and what’s involved in getting a mission off the ground. Apollo 9 and 10 are also monumental achievements, with their advanced space technology put into action with a space walk, a lunar and command module separation and re-connection, and flying the lunar module just miles from the Moon surface. Look out Moon, here we come! Of course Apollo 11 is given no short shrift but I’m out of space (no pun intended) so get this book and experience the excitement this 50th anniversary is celebrating. When the book ends, 18 astronauts will have braved the risks of space travel and fulfilled President’s Kennedy’s dream. On July 20, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said of the Moon landing, “For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

This inside look at the Apollo missions confirms the contributions of a vast team of individuals (400,000) whose dedication to the shared vision “never wavered.” Slade and Gonzalez have clearly worked hard to brought that vision to every page of this beautiful book. Enjoy additional info in the Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes plus more photos in the back matter.

To The Moon and Back book cover TO THE MOON AND BACK: MY APOLLO 11 ADVENTURE
A Pop-up Book
Written by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne J. Dyson
Paper Engineering by Bruce Foster
(National Geographic Children’s Books; $32.00, Ages 8-12)

Prepare for liftoff, lift up (pop-up and pull really) then prepare to be wowed by the impressive and brilliantly executed paper engineering along with a fascinating first hand account by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon in To The Moon and Back.

Kids even younger than eight will enjoy the design element of this book but the text truly is geared for an older reader who will appreciate the candid and detailed commentary Aldrin has contributed to the book. In just 16 pages, readers are filled in on all that was involved in beating the USSR to a Moon landing and having the first men walk on its surface. I like how we’re pulled in immediately by the first spread showing photos of a newspaper headline, President Kennedy and the Apollo 11 crew positioned on top of a powerful image of the lunar module floating in space near the Moon. “Historians have called this story humanity’s greatest adventure” and I agree, especially considering how much was at stake.

The second spread and first pop-up depicts Aldrin’s space walk on the last Gemini flight, 12, juxtaposed against an enormous shot of Earth. It’s definitely the first “Wow!” moment but not the last! Here we learn Aldrin was nicknamed Dr. Rendezvous because of his excellent abilities at docking, a crucial element of the Moon mission. This page also features a recollection by Jan Aldrin, Buzz’s daughter about the day that Gemini 12 took off for space. Additional exclusive reflections can also be found on other pages. Filled with an insider’s anecdotes, this book is not only a great way to learn about Moon exploration, it’s also a fast, entertaining read.

What works in an interactive book like To the Moon and Back is how the story of Apollo 11 comes alive. By learning from Aldrin himself how he first came to join NASA in 1963 all the way through to his ultimate achievement of reaching the moon is inspiring. At the same time looking closely at the the pop-ups and other interesting images along with Jan Aldrin’s recollections, make this a powerful educational tool for kids. The engaging nature of the book means space enthusiasts can easily follow along on the successive missions, while reading about which astronauts were involved and what new goals were accomplished or sadly, sometimes not. Before that decade had ended, America had achieved what had once seemed impossible, confirming the “endless endurance of the human spirit.”

A bonus paper model to build is included. Tweens can assemble the Apollo11 Lunar Module and go to for additional step-by-step and video instructions.


by Ben Hubbard
(B.E.S. Publishing Co.; $18.99, Ages 10-13)

There’s more to this book than simply a comprehensive history of “humanity’s journey into space.” It’s actually a book that’s been enhanced with augmented reality (AR). All readers need to do is download the Space Race AR app to be able to see detailed 3D spacecraft and vehicle models appear right on the pages of the book! Kids can also “watch videos come to life on the page, including real-life footage from NASA. How cool is that?

From Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Union’s chief rocket designer whose identity was kept top secret “for fear the Americans would assassinate him,” to the search for alien life (aka SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), it’s all here to soak up in 96 fantastic pages. 

The book is broken up into six accessible chapters averaging between 13-16 pages: “The Race for Rockets”, “Humans in Space,” “The Moon in View”, “Space Stations and Shuttles,” “Probing the Planets,” and “Into the Future.” Tweens can choose to read the book in order or pick their favorite topic and indulge themselves. What’s wonderful is that even without using the AR app, I found the illustrations absolutely gorgeous. There are also a tremendous amount of photographs that capture important moments in time, and quotes such as one from Gus Grissom before his tragic death on Apollo 1 when killed by fire, If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we’re in and we accept those risks.” One of my favorite spreads in Space Race is the one where we get a peak inside the Apollo spacesuits. Its designers really thought of everything and I’m sure Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were grateful! For readers eager to learn more about living in space, the space station section offers detailed info on life aboard MIR.

This book will be a hit in classrooms, libraries and at home. Pick up a copy to be up-to-date on what’s happening in outer space and beyond the solar system.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


by Jill McDonald

LUNA: The Science and Stories of Our Moon
by David A. Aguilar

National Geographic Early Reader Level 3
by Kitson Jazynka

Helped Put America on the Moon
by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison

Read a fascinating article about Katherine Johnson called “The Path to The Moon” written by Joseph Taylor in Cricket.  Johnson, who worked at NASA “helped figure out the mathematics behind space travel—specifically the path astronauts would take to make it to the moon and back.”

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The Magic of Pop-Up Books: An Interview with Paper Engineer Bruce Foster

Debbie Glade was overwhelmed by the detail of America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book, so she asked Bruce Foster, the paper engineer if he’d answer some questions and enlighten our readers.

bruce-fosterBruce Foster is one of those lucky people who lives his passion every day through his rare talents as a paper engineer. He has designed many intricate pop-up books and also designs pop-up scenes in movies such as Disney’s Enchanted. Today he shares his passion with our readers and provides us with insight into the fascinating and often painstaking process of creating pop-ups.

How old were you when you realized you had artistic talent?

Well, I had been doodling space ships for awhile (I gorged myself on superhero comic books as a child) when in the 5th grade I discovered a set of three books:  The Lord of the Rings. On each cover was a beautiful foil embossed elven symbol. Fascinated, I copied them over and over. In hindsight, that was my first awareness of graphic design, a skill that I have used throughout my career. But my first true artistic validation was as a freshman in college. Actually entering in Pre-Med, I was introduced by a friend to a class in drawing. The class was magic and shortly thereafter I changed my major to art.

Please tell us how you went from majoring in Art/Painting at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to becoming a paper engineer.

So here is the rest of that story. As a grad student in painting, I became friends with several people in the sculpture department. This exposure began to inform my choices, and before long my work was more like sculptured abstract paintings.

Later I became a graphic designer and art director. And then years after that, I had an assignment for a direct mail piece for Hi-C Juice that stipulated 3-D. I conceived a pop-up element, even though I do not recall ever seeing a pop-up before in my life! Really! So I grabbed a few pop-up books and taught myself how to make this pop-up, although I would never do it that way now.

The realization that I could create sculptures using my graphic design skills was a revelation. Later, a publisher in Baltimore saw it and offered me some freelance paper engineering work. From there I pursued it with a passion, buying books and studying them inside and out (I call them book autopsies!) Eventually I made a breakthrough in New York with Simon & Schuster.

How did you even know what you were doing with that first project?

Actually, I did NOT know what I was doing! I was just inventing it as I went along and had to use an elastic band inside the pop-up to make it work. Today I would not need that crutch. Maybe one day I’ll revisit that project to see what I could do with it today.

In designing the pop-ups for America’s National Parks, how does the process work? Do you give the artist direction first or do you determine the pop-up function from whatever the artist provides for you?

The publisher, Don Compton, gave me a list of the parks to concentrate on, sending me a box full of books I could study and draw inspiration from. Then I shared thumbnail sketches and photo inspiration with Don and our illustrator, Dave Ember. Dave would do some pencil sketches that furthered my own sketches, and from there I began to work out the engineering. I built a dummy and sent it to Dave along with templates of the pieces, and he began illustrating. It was very much a back and forth exercise over the course of nearly two years, much longer than I normally spend on a book.

Dave was illustrating with point and click Vector drawing tools, so it was extremely time consuming for him. From spread to spread we discussed features we thought would be good for the park and the book’s flow as well. We certainly didn’t want a book full of nothing but rock! So for instance, Everglades very quickly focused on wildlife. Even later, we had decided that the red jammer cars would be the focus for Glacier, but after designing it, we felt we had tilted too far toward inanimate objects and decided that Glacier needed to be refocused on a living thing. Inside one of the small booklets is the logo for the Great Northern Railway that was cut through those mountains. It features a mountain goat, so I actually designed the pop-up now to feature a mountain goat in the exact same position!

Image 4

So it actually took you two years to complete those six National Park spreads featured in the book?

Yes! I was first contacted for this project in March of 2010. We wrapped up the files and sent them to Thailand in March of 2012.  However, individual spreads would usually take me two weeks each to work out, although over the course of the two years, I would refine them over and over, especially when Dave’s illustrations began arriving.

The book is so complex and spectacular, I’m not all that surprised by how long it took to complete. Have you personally visited any of those National Parks in the book and which is your favorite? 

Well of course, as a student in Tennessee, I was basically at the foot of the Smoky Mountains, so I would visit and camp up there a lot. I miss it so much! I would even go white water rafting down the Ocoee. Other than that, I have not visited any of the parks in this book! So in a way, I am a perfect example of one segment of the public we would like to reach: those who do not know what they are missing! Hopefully I will be able to visit some of them soon.

Image 7

Grand Canyon National Park

I watched the fascinating Smithsonian Library video about Paper Engineering where you are featured. During the process of designing pages, do you have many different prototypes you experiment with to get it right? And is this process ever frustrating to you?

It depends. Some pops only need two or three builds. Some may require multiple. The Hogwarts castle in Harry Potter took seven attempts to reach the point that all of us working on it felt it was nailed. And if you think building something seven times isn’t frustrating, well, let’s just say um, yes. There are times when I am attempting an idea for a pop and after days and days of working, just have to decide that my approach is a dead end, and I must start all over with a new idea. So there are times when this is nothing but pure fun and others, nothing but frustration. But it’s important to not give up! Persistence is behind the efforts of every paper engineer. There is a lot of experimentation that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.

Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s important for admirers of these kinds of books to understand just how much work is involved. Are you involved in the printing process of these books in any way? I’d imagine it is fascinating to watch the pages being printed and even more amazing being assembled.

You know, I’ve been doing this for more than 23 years now, and despite my pleas to travel to Asia to see this process, it was not until this wonderful book and the patronage of Mr. Compton, that I was finally able to do so. Publishers usually have their art directors travel for the press checks and as a freelance talent, there was never a budget for my travel expenses. Mostly I would receive models via FedEx or DHL that the printers constructed. From those I made my comments and suggestions for refinement.

Sometimes however, the publishers never consult with me at all after I submit the dieline files, which I firmly believe is a mistake. Being at the printer, with America’s National Parks Sirivatana, in Bangkok and Laos, I was able to make refinements on the spot, discussing issues with the assemblers, and working with them to solve any problems. I can look back at past books that might have something not working as smoothly as it should, and realize that if I had had the opportunity to see what they were doing and work with them, sometimes a very, very small adjustment would have completely fixed the issue.

You have designed both pop-up books and pop-up scenes for movies. Can you explain to us what is entailed in making a pop-up scene?

The processes are not that different, except for books that have a defined purpose for each spread (like popping up the Taj Mahal). Designing the whole of a book is very much like designing the scenes for a stage play or movie. Just as the stage designer has to decide what the overall scene is going to be in a particular act, even though many things may happen during that act, its the same for the book. I have to decide what is important in this spread, how to get it to where it needs to be and make sure it flows in a way that carries the story logically. Sometimes the small pops inform or provide exposition to carry the story forward.

Are there specific projects you’ve done that you consider your favorites, or is it impossible for you to choose?

Any given project I’m working on at the moment is usually a favorite, because I’m still discovering it. However, looking back, there are a few favorites, for different reasons:

  • Little Red Riding Hood my first book for a New York publisher. Wow!
  • The Pop-Up Book of Sports – I just loved the creative team at Sports Illustrated and they were so supportive of my solutions
  • Harry Potter – I love that series and I used to read the books aloud to my daughters. My eldest daughter, Nicole, was actually the same age as Harry at the same time
  • America’s National Parks – This book is beautiful but more than that, it has a soul. It is infused with Don Compton’s love of the great parks and conservation efforts. Our parks are more in danger now than at any other time. Both because of climate change and the other our national politics. The budget cuts are very harmful to the present and future of these national treasures. Our hope is that this book will help foster an urgency in people to help these parks survive for our future generations.


From The Pop-Up Book of Sports

Can you tell us more about the Harry Potter pop-up book you engineered? I have seen photographs of it, and I was blown away by how detailed and spectacular it looks.

First of all, that was a true labor of love for me, and as I said, it was already a favorite series for my family. I was given permission to really pull out the stops and try to accomplish something extraordinary. But then the icing was that Warner Bros. was fully involved with this and arranged for us to have their great concept artist, Andrew Williamson, as our illustrator. The resources that were at his command were immense. Working at the London studio itself gave him access to details that no one else could even begin to replicate. In the water below Hogwarts most people don’t even notice, but there are tiny mermaids in the water. It was just that detailed. And the speed that he was able to turn these out still amazes me. But he was able to go into actual concept art and use them to inform his illustrations. Sometimes we would ask for reference and he was able to just walk over to the set and take a photo. Like the opening spread – it’s a view of Dumbledore’s office, but from his desk’s point of view. Andrew was able to actually walk into the set and take a shot from a vantage that was never seen in the movies! Access like that and talent like he possesses was a dream come true for this project!

Image 6

Hogwarts in 3D

That is truly amazing. Now that we understand a bit more about the work these books require, do you have any tips on using and preserving pop-up books?

First I’d like to stress to people that pop-up books may look like toys, but they are not. These are delicate, hand-assembled works of art. Also people often think pop-ups are just for kids, but in truth, most of my body of work is not aimed at children. However, my advice is to take advantage of the opportunity for bonding with your children that a pop-up book offers. Sit with your child in your lap and share the book with him or her. Teach her to turn the pages with respect and the books will last long enough for their children to enjoy. Other than that, its good to keep them in their acetate sleeves when you can.

I love the fact that pop-ups must be physical books that are to be held and are interactive. What is your opinion about the recent shift away from paper books as e-books are becoming more and more the publishing norm?

Well, we are at a turning point in history. Not just for pop-up books, but books as a whole. A pop-up book, in its current form, is the only way to truly “get” them. It is a magical transformation of something that your mind tells you shouldn’t be happening! If and when someone figures out how to electronically reproduce a pop-up book, it still will not have that “magic.” We suspend disbelief for everything computer. Of course it can do that; it’s a computer! But a book that transforms… ah. Magical.

Unfortunately, the ease of downloading electronic books is also endangering the bookstore. If you don’t see a pop-up book on display in a store, how do you know it’s there? If you can’t open it to experience the magic, how do you know it’s something you must have?  And facing limited budgets, publishers have little recourse but to divert money from pop-up books – among many types of books – to the electronic versions. A librarian once told me I must be very lucky because with so few skilled paper engineers, I must have a built in market for my skills. You can’t have a pop-up book without a paper engineer, after all. But in reality, if a publisher can’t see a way to make a profit on a project, it…just…won’t….happen.

Do you have any advice for artists who want to become paper engineers?

First, don’t let my previous answer discourage you! I don’t know how much of a career there is going to be for this in the future, but if you love this art form, think of it as just that: an art form. There is never any guarantee of financial rewards with art, and that has never stopped artists from doing what they are born to do. Since there are very few schools that even teach paper engineering courses (and no such thing as a degree program), study as many pop-up books as you can. The best way to learn this, short of interning for an established paper engineer, is just to do it. Copy the mechanisms. Rebuild them. Change something to make it your own. Do it again until it works the way you envisioned. Some of you will figure a way to make a career out of this, even if the established model of going through publishers is diminished further. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. I’m constantly looking for those opening doors and you should, too!

When you are not designing, what do you most like to do?

I love movies, and I love to read and cook. We’ve been fans of Top Chef from its beginning and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of them and dine in their restaurants. So it’s a hobby to be inspired by their dishes as I prepare meals. My wife and I have a menagerie of pets (three dogs and five cats) all of whom I love. I also love to travel, although now that my children are recently out on their own, we have a bit of problem with the pet-sitting situation!

Bruce, I am in awe of your work, and I have truly been enlightened by your words. All of us at Good Reads with Ronna are so grateful to you for taking the time to share your passion with our readers. If everyone could see and touch a copy of America’s National Parks, pop-ups books would certainly endure! Best of luck to you with your next project; I for one can’t wait to see what that will be!

Readers, click here to purchase your copy of America’s National Parks. For every copy of the book sold, $8 will be donated to the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) For more information about Bruce Foster and his pop-up books and movie scenes, visit his website.

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