Pop-up books for kids are the best and the absolute worst.
Well, let’s clarify: they are the best for children and the absolute worst for parents’ stress. It’s almost inevitable for the little hands to destroy the pages with sticky hands and torn flaps, but there is something magical about opening a picture book with depth. Pages come alive before your eyes. Details shared in a way to make reading crystal clear while young minds grow. *sigh* Face it, we’re all suckers for a great pop-up book for kids. And the best pop-up books are the ones your kids love as much as you do. Including the one they make themself.
Recently, I found one of my favourite classic children’s pop-up books: The Magical Pop-Up World of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne with illustrations by Andrew Grey. We originally bought this book for our first child almost 16 years ago. We never gave it to him because we moved house and a whole bunch of other excuses. The top of which, if I’m being honest, was my fear of damaging the book. I was so worried about sharing the book with him before he was old enough to appreciate it, I ended up leaving it too late until after he was no longer interested.
I repeated the same mistake with my second child.
Make Your Own Pop-Up Book
Our third child is far more creative and expressive and generally more everything than her older brothers. We spent a lot of time during COVID lockdowns making stuff and subsequently built a deep respect for books and projects created by others. Once she saw the process, she understood the amount of work others were putting into their projects and how she could also improve her own. That’s when it hit me: why not make our own pop-up book before I bring out Winnie-the-Pooh?
After trying a few different books and styles, we have fallen in love with Pop-Up Workshop For Kids by Antje Von Stemm. The book works with video tutorials available on Von Stemm’s website along with a bunch of templates at the back. The key feature which raises this book above all others is the use of children’s work within the book. The artwork clearly belongs to kids, making it relatable for children and removing the frustration of their own work competing with professional artists. The skills suit younger hands (and dexterity), ensuring kids are able to complete the task, most of the time on their own. If your child can cut a straight line, they can easily start with their own “Snapping Mouth” or “Zigzag concertina.” Believe me when I say, if my uncoordinated hands can do it, then there is a fair chance for everyone.
One extra benefit of this book is how you learn to possibly fix a damaged pop-up book. Von Stemm teaches the basic principles of making your own pop-up book, from simple cuts and folds to asymmetrical platforms with pull-tabs. There are also tips on making your own book covers or displays. Once you learn these, you will start to recognise the same elements in professional pop-up books. Which also means you can have a better idea on how to repair them, and give them a few more years of love with curious kids.
Not every child is going to be careful with pop-up books, no matter how enchanted they are. Even the best children’s pop-up books come with a risk. There is a fine line between interesting and intricate, with a lot of vulnerability in the latter. All I can say is the benefits of reading a layered pop-up book outweigh the risk of damage to the pages.
Here is a short list of the best pop-up books for kids, from classics to contemporary. We even have a few pop-up books for toddlers to start you off.
Pop-Up Books for Toddlers
My First Baby Signs by Phil Conigliaro and Tae Won Yu
The littlest of kids learn through mimicry and this book is perfect for that. The use of pull-tabs and moving parts brings the illustrations to life and teaches young kids how to use ‘baby sign-language’ to communicate. The tabs are fairly sturdy but easy enough to repair after any mishap.
Colors: My First Pop-Up! by Matthew Reinhardt and Ekaterina Trukhan
Colorful books are always a favourite with toddlers but I’ll be honest: I love the ‘red’ page where you lift the flap and feed the child all of the yummy strawberries!
Best Pop-Up Books for Elementary Kids
Cinderella by Vojtěch Kubašta
This is an absolute classic amongst children’s pop-up books. Originally published in 1969, Kubašta left a legacy with pop-up books based on his skills in creating moving 3D scenes from a 2D medium. While not the oldest pop-up book for children, this is considered the grandfather of all.
A Kwanzaa Celebration Pop-Up Book by Nancy Williams and Robert Sabuda
Children’s pop-up books are dominated by European influences. It’s hard to find pop-up books for kids featuring children of colour and diversity. This one is a rare find, with African American characters and a fun way to learn about Kwanzaa. It is a sweet story with great images. I wish there were more like this available.
Circus!: A Pop-Up Adventure by Meg Davenport and Lisa V Werenko
The pop-up features are so amazing, you will gasp with wonder — just like being at the circus itself! The top down view over the tight-rope walkers is held by red string and, of course, the safety net. The book from 1998 is now considered a classic, so if you see it in the wild, grab it.
If your kids are into manga, they are going to love this adventurous pop-up book! It’s the next best thing to travel in Japan, told in comic book style. The story follows a journalist and his cat who are separated after arriving in Tokyo, Japan. So many iconic sites are brought to life in with colourful layers of paper and art.
The Hunter Who Was King and Other African Tales adapted by Bernette Ford and George Ford
Bernette Ford pass away in 2021, leaving a legacy of work and advocacy as a great champion of children’s books by people of colour. This classic from 1993 shares three African folktales, each with their own style and character with pop-up features to support the story and not detract from it.
Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King (A Pop-Up Book) by Hamid Rahmanian and Simon Arizpe
This one is for the older kids but a treasured find nonetheless. It is a detailed and colorful retelling of the Persian story featuring the misguided Prince Zahhak. Battle scenes are brought to life with intricate paper engineering and attention to fine detail in each of the characters.
Flora: A Botanical Pop-Up Book by Yoojin Kim, Kathryn Selbert, and Nicole Yen
Yoojin Kim’s first pop-up book was the very popular Leaves: An Autumn Pop-Up Book, in collaboration with Janet Lawler and Lindsay Dale-Scott. Flora has the same artistic flair and amazing engineering but this time Kim has built the garden environment up and out of the book! Flora is a treat for any little gardeners, especially those who love to see the mini-world around the flowers.
Best Reference Pop-Up Books for STEAM Kids
The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstadt
The use of moving parts to help explain the world and weather is a great match for this book. I especially love the page that opens with the twister actually twisting! There are five different weather scenarios, each with detailed pop-up features and child-friendly explanation. It is so clear and concise, working with the imagery and not competing with it. Kids will want to sit and read this book (and have it read to them).
This Book is a Planetarium by Kelli Anderson
Don’t underestimate the cover; this book IS a planetarium! And a musical instrument, a geometric drawing generator, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, AND a speaker! Anderson has brought practicality to her pictures, using beautiful paper engineering to engage the kids with her art. All of the text is easy to follow, explaining the principles for kids to follow outside the book as well.
Listen to the Universe by Dr Mariela Massó Reid, Dr Dimitra Fimi, and Oliver Dean, Marathi Translation by Shivani Pethe
This book is more of a ‘lift-the-flap’ and ‘pull-the-tab’, but it is one of the best pop-up books for kids; especially for delivering complex ideas in an easy-to-understand manner. Listen to the Universe is a special book created for free distribution to the children of Hingoli district in India ahead of the development of a new gravitational wave observatory in India. The original version is in Marathi, the local language in the state of Maharashtra where the observatory will be located. The book itself is a great pop-up for kids to understand this new area of science happening right on their doorstep. Bonus points for being a free book to encourage kids to learn more! The book is part of a project with the University of Glasgow. You can learn more on the website here, including plans of an English translation for broader distribution.
Pop-Up Volcano! by Fleur Daugey, Bernard Duisit, and Tom Vaillant
Whether it is volcanoes from years ago or recent eruptions on the evening news, this is a topic perfect for children’s pop-up books! At 22 pages long, there is enough educational material to make for a great reference book in any personal library. This is more than science and popular history; the book also includes animals who live next to volcanoes and cultural references such as the Hawaiian goddess Pele.
The best pop-up books for kids are the ones they want to read and play with. Even when the pages tear or break, your kids are still gaining the benefits of interacting with a book. Even the keepsakes like Winnie-the-Pooh are better with a few smudgy marks. Enjoy!