“Believe” Author Robert Sabuda on the Art (and Sale) of Pop-Up Books

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Believe: A Pop-Up Book of Possibilities (Candlewick Press) is an inspirational new pop-up book written and illustrated by Robert Sabuda, an author, artist, and “paper engineer” with a 25-year career creating in the medium.

Believe coverThe book, to be published Tuesday, April 9, is “an elegant ode to possibility that will inspire anyone setting off on a new life chapter,” according to the publisher. While Believe is technically meant for children ages five to eight, it is appropriate as a gift for graduates of all ages, or for anyone who is dealing with a life transition. As the reader turns the pages, phrases and 2-D images evoking potential and possibility, including acorn, an egg, and a paper airplane, are each followed by a 3-D image representing the eventual reality or result (a towering tree, a flock of birds, a soaring rocket).

Sabuda, one of the more than 140 authors who met with indie booksellers at this year’s Author Reception at Winter Institute in Albuquerque, is the creator of multiple number-one New York Times best-selling children’s books and has over five million books in print published in over 25 languages. A three-time winner of the Movable Book Society’s Meggendorfer Prize, Sabuda is internationally acclaimed for his pop-ups, which include Ten Horse Farm; The Christmas Story; and the best-selling Encyclopedia Prehistorica and Encyclopedia Mythologica series, created with Matthew Reinhart.

Here, Bookselling This Week speaks with Sabuda about the inspiration for this new pop-up book, which is now available on YouTube as a virtual preview copy; his artistic process and origins as a paper artist; and his thoughts on independent bookstores and why they are the best places for selling pop-up books.

Robert SabudaBookselling This Week: How did you get the idea to create Believe: A Pop-up Book of Possibilities?

Robert Sabuda: Like everyone else in the world, my life has been filled with both ups and downs. The ups are easy enough to handle, but it’s the downs, and how you handle them, that can really define who you are. The challenges I’ve faced during the down times and how I responded to them are the basis of the book…I hope that in some small way Believe is a reminder that it’s ok to be afraid or unsure of yourself at times. Everyone feels like this sometimes! But knowing that there is something beyond those difficult moments and times can show you a strength that you never knew you had in yourself.

BTW: How did you get started making pop-up books?

RS: Well, I first started my children’s book career as a two-dimensional illustrator. And I discovered I loved illustrating with paper! I illustrated books using cut paper collage, I worked with papyrus paper, I even taught myself how to batik using paper! So I was crazy for paper! So I asked myself, “How could I illustrate a book using paper in a three-dimensional format?” I had pop-up books as a boy so I thought, hey, why not try that? I taught myself how to make pop-ups and I guess the rest is history.

BTW: Can you describe your artistic process for making them? 

RS: Like any book I first come up with the story or idea. Then I dive right in with the paper engineering of the pop-up mechanisms. I usually don’t sketch out in two-dimensions what the pop-up will look like because there’s no guarantee that what I draw in two-dimensions will actually work in three-dimensions. So through a LOT of trial and error I finalize all the pop-up mechanisms and when that’s complete I add two-dimensional artwork to the surfaces.

BTW: What has your experience been like with independent bookstores as a writer? 

RS: Independent bookstores and booksellers have been my lifeblood! I wouldn’t have a career without them! Who would have supported this crazy guy who makes these crazy pop-up books? I’m not sure the chain stores even knew what to do with me when I first started out, but the independent booksellers had my back from day one.

BTW: Do you think that indie bookstores could be particularly effective venues for selling pop-up books?

RS: I know they are! All an indie bookseller needs to do is put one of my books in a customer’s hand, open the first page and say, “Here’s just what you were looking for.” And the customer almost always agrees!

BTW: What is one of your favorite previous books you have done?

RS: As I’ve moved through my career in children’s books, I’ve discovered many different sides of myself as a creative being. Some of those sides are deep and serious and others are just light-hearted and fun. My last book with Candlewick was Ten Horse Farm, about an old horse farm I own in upstate New York that I converted into an art center. It was such great fun imagining what the 10 horses who lived there were like!