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Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart: A Cut Above, by Jessica Rae Patton

Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart: A Cut Above

With their books being used in the classroom and a new publishing imprint all their own, things are popping up roses for this paper-engineering team

Pop-up princess from Matthew Reinhart's book Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale

Pop-up princess. The ball gown-clad Cinderella from Matthew Reinhart's book of the same name was inspired by cakes that have a doll in their center, the cake shaped and frosted to look like a billowing skirt.

We arrived at Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart's studio on New York's upper west side during a downpour. It had been raining for days, and trash cans and gutters bore the storm's detritus – crumpled umbrellas, mournful-looking as broken-winged birds. My own umbrella was holding up tenuously; the push-button on the handle was obstinate and it took some effort to wrestle the thing open for the trek from the train, then closed again as we entered Robert and Matthew's building. It occurred to me that the mechanical forces that compelled my umbrella to open (or not) were similar to those that gave motion to the movable animals, vehicles, buildings and landscapes folded into the books these author-artists create both individually and collaboratively.

In royal company.
Robert Sabuda has been hailed the "prince of pop-ups" for his pioneering feats of paper engineering, which is the technical term for creating three-dimensional paper pictures (and other interactive mechanisms such as flaps or pull-tabs). The 20-plus books he has authored or created the 3d components for include The Christmas Alphabet (his first pop-up) (Orchard Books, 1994), The Movable Mother Goose (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and Winter's Tale (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

A pop-up book producer for over a decade now, Robert saw his creations move out of the world of niche kid's books and into the mass market this past December. Every Borders bookstore in the country featured his glittery white pop-up holiday installations based on Winter's Tale, including a snowman store greeter and flocks of doves. He also released the first in a series of "Encyclopedia Prehistorica" books, created with his partner Matthew Reinhart, Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs (Candlewick Press, 2005).

Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart

"We want to do more books for education purposes but that are fun. After we did 'Dinosaurs,' we realized there's a huge market for educational, fun books that readers can interact with."

Matthew joined Robert's studio initially as an intern while in graduate school at Pratt Institute (where Robert had gone to college and later started a paper engineering course, though they didn't meet there). After a stint as a model maker for Nickelodeon, Matthew signed on full-time in 1999, first assisting on Robert's projects, then collaborating with him (the "Young Naturalist's Pop-Up Handbooks" series from Hyperion). He now creates his own titles such as Animal Popposites: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites (Little Simon, 2002), The Ark (Little Simon, 2005) and Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale (Little Simon, 2005).

The pop-up workshop.
There are many projects afoot at one time at the Sabuda-Reinhart headquarters. On the day we visited, Robert and Matthew were at work on different stages of the prototype for a pop-up version of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, replete with a herd of elephants and a giant temple inhabited with feisty paper monkeys. The men talked excitedly about the project and showed us the various rough components that will comprise the final book. "The key thing at the beginning is not so much that the pop-ups pop up, but they have to be able to shut," Robert said as Matthew demonstrated the workings of a hinge-jawed tiger.

That day, designer Kyle Olmon worked on his own book, Castle, which will be the first produced for the brand-new Sabuda-Reinhart imprint of Scholastic. Michael Caputo, another design staffer, used a graphics program to add die-cut lines to a Jungle Book image. We got a sneak peek at a new Maurice Sendak book for which Robert created pop-ups, and learned what themes are upcoming on the "Prehistorica" front: sharks and sea creatures, followed by beasts of land and air. Their next planned collaborative series is "Encyclopedia Mythologica" – dragons, fairies, gods and heroes. "Teachers can use it in the classroom as a different way to introduce mythology," Matthew said enthusiastically.

Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart's desks

Cut and paste– Robert and Matthew's desks and entire studio, are awash with fragments of the white paper with which they build the original version of each of their books. From concept to completion, each book takes from one to three years.

Popping up in schools.
No one could argue the appeal for kids and adults alike of pop-up books, and Robert's and Matthew's are in a league apart, with their stunning production values, well-written narratives, informative content and the sheer sophistication of the movable art. The two pioneered the story-within-a-story device of having additional information and art, or subplots, tucked into smaller booklets that open like a surprise card from the larger page. But are these books school-friendly, or are they too delicate to withstand enthusiastic and repeated handling by elementary-aged kids? Robert addressed this question thoughtfully. "In the beginning when I was first publishing pop-up books, I very rarely met a librarian who would consider them. I had one librarian recently tell me, 'Oh, we put all your books in our library!' I said, 'You do? Really?!' She said that after a while they're going to get kind of beat up, but they will circulate at least 100 times compared to three times for other books. So if a book circulates 100 times and gets all beat up and loved, she can justify buying another copy."

Teachers are taking advantage of the attention-grabbing benefit of interactive books in the classroom, too. "A lot of teachers would come up to us at events and say, 'We use pop-up books in the class,' Robert told us. "So we started to delve into nonfiction, because if a teacher can use a book that can capture attention for a second in a saturated audience – boy, that benefits everybody. And if it has good, accurate information to use in a lesson plan – wow, that's us getting appreciation for our work that we never originally anticipated." Up until recently, pop-ups have been treated more as toys and less as books, but as education professionals see opportunities for their use in the classroom, that outlook is shifting. Robert said, "We very much thank the teachers for that change!"

Robert Sabuda, associate editor Jessica Rae Patton, senior editor Kate Pierpont of Teaching K-8 and Matthew Reinhart

The end of a fun visit – (left to right) Robert Sabuda, associate editor Jessica Rae Patton, senior editor Kate Pierpont, Matthew Reinhart.

Paper magnates.
My umbrella didn't survive another outing in the rain. Lucky for us, these portable pop-up shelters are for sale on every corner in the city. Lucky for readers, from national booksellers to your school library, Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart's wondrous, whimsical and educational pop-ups are becoming ubiquitous, too.

Exclusively for Teaching K-8, Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart have designed two different-sized T. Rex pop-ups! Download all four PDF pages:

For T-Rex Pop-up Instructions click here. PDF 567KB

For T-Rex Jaw sample (large version) click here. PDF 427KB

For T-Rex Card sample click here. PDF 433KB

For T-Rex Jaw/Card sample click here. PDF 455KB


Jessica Rae Patton, associate editor Teaching K-8 magazine.


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