Technology

As long as there have been books, there have been designers who have been changing their formats and, by extension, the very definition of what we mean by the term “book.” From the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages through the invention of the printing press in 1475 to the innovations that were made possible by the development of machines throughout the Industrial Revolution, books have developed, changed, and adapted to the media available. Children’s books are an excellent place to see some of these developments, since they have used technology throughout their history. Moreover, over the last several years conversations have begun in relation to how the technological developments affect how we think about books. Lane Smith’s It’s a Book (2010) provides an amusing addition to the discussion with his fable depicting characters intrigued by a traditional book’s lack of technology yet enthralled by its imaginative appeal.

One of the earliest technological developments in books for children appeared with Toy books, a category also referred to as Moveable books and which include transformation books and pop-up. These are books with moveable parts made mostly from paper and are created through a process called paper engineering. Of these, the earliest and most common form were transformation books, an early forerunner of today’s lift-the-flap or pull-the-tab books.

Transformation books show a scene made of vertical slats that slide to display another scene when a tab is pulled; they have been around for several hundred years, at least since the English Renaissance. Marion Merrill’s The Animated Pinocchio (1945) is an example of a pull-the-tab book, and contains three pages with simple moveable parts; the second of these shows Pinocchio’s ears going down and the evil coach driver’s face appearing at the window when the tab is pulled, which also causes the cricket’s face – who here is named Creaky – to peep out of the basket. This book was published five years after Disney’s animated film of 1940 and in places the illustrations show Disney’s influence, though the characters are not quite duplicates.

Pop-up books also fall into this category of Moveable books, and Nick Bantock’s Jabberwocky (1991) shows excellent use of collage as well as other paper arts in his illustrations. The current master of paper engineering, however, is Robert Sabuda. Born in Michigan and now living in New York City, Sabuda is one of the world’s foremost pop-up book artists, and has created pop-up versions of such children’s classics as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan. With his The Wizard of Oz (2001), Sabuda has taken a classic of American Children’s literature and popular culture and created a tribute that appeals to fans of both the original book of 1900 and the film version of 1939. While Moveable books tend to be alluring, due to their tactile nature and moving parts, it is this very appeal that often results in their destruction. Due to their fragility many of them do not survive, since it is nearly impossible to resist their moveable lure – and they break easily.

Another category of Toy books includes books that make sounds, which today are created through the use of small, portable batteries or computer chips embedded in thick pages; when buttons on the pages are pressed, or in some cases when pages are opened, the batteries activate sounds which add to the story. However, before the advent of tiny batteries, at least one book was created that was able to make sounds: The Speaking Picture Book (1880), with voices of various animals created through a set of miniature bellows included inside the book. German in origin, the book was one of the most ingenious Toy books of its time, and was republished with English, French, and Spanish texts. The book included sounds of a cow, a cuckoo, a donkey, a lamb, and a goat, among others.

Technological developments in relation to books have appear most recently with the creation of electronic texts, which were initially read on computers but now can be transferred to or even purchased on a variety of devices, including electronic book readers created by such companies as Amazon, Sony, and Barnes and Noble, among others. One of the most intriguing of these in relation to Children’s literature is Apple’s iPad, released in April 2010, which came pre-loaded with a book reading program that contained an electronic copy of the full text and illustrations of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). The inclusion of this particular text helps to support the argument that Children’s literature contains not only a kind of universal appeal for readers, but also includes texts that possess a huge recognition factor: after all, how many people in the English-speaking, western world have not at least heard of Winnie-the-Pooh?

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