An Interview With Pop-Up Book Creator Robert Sabuda as He Releases Believe: A Pop-Up Book of Possibilities

New York Times bestselling author Robert Sabuda is best known for his intricate pop-up book designs. Readers have treasured his elaborate creations for classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandand his original stories too.

His latest vision is Believe: A Pop-Up Book of Possibilitieswhose dreamy and stark white pop-ups inspire us to imagine life’s possibilities. Here, we chat with Sabuda about the process of creating 3D stories, the books and artists who have inspired him, and his love of storytelling.

Can you explain the process of making a single page in a pop-up book? What tools and materials do you use?

RS: Believe (no pun intended!) it or not, I still use very old school tools and materials to design my pop-ups. I use simple card stock, an exacto knife and tape and glue. A computer program is used later in the process for digital tracing of all the pop-up pieces. When I’m designing the actual pop-ups from the beginning, I’ll sometimes make 2-dimensional sketches of what I’m hoping to accomplish but there’s no guarantee that will work. So usually I simply start folding and cutting the card stock to see what kind of mechanisms will emerge.

Is there anything special about the printing and manufacturing of a pop-up book that’s different from more traditional books?

RS: Of course! All pop-up books are put together by hand, which is called hand assembly. No machines or robots are used to fold or glue each pop-up. Someone does all the work by hand. It’s surprisingly similar to what I do in my studio although the hand assemblers for the actual, finished book are usually much better at it than me!

What is the best thing about creating a story with 3D art?

RS: When I was a boy my mother was a dance teacher. Each year she would put on a recital and we would build and paint the sets and transform the simple stage into a magical world. I think that’s what I like so much about pop-up books, it’s as if an entire little world actually exists between the pages.

If you were to create an “artist statement” about your work, how would you describe it?

RS: That sounds so serious and official! I have to admit I really don’t look at my work in such a serious light. I just hope that as many other readers enjoy the delightful and surprising worlds I create between two pages as much as I do. How lucky am I to be able to do this every day?!

Where do you work? What does your office or studio space look like?

RS: My studio is located in Manhattan. It’s not very big but it’s full of all kinds of things that inspire me, like books and art supplies and little bags of nuts and dried cheese. I’m always hungry and am constantly eating!

There is an element of surprise and wonder in pop-up books. Are you someone who finds that element of surprise in everyday life?

RS: Yes, I hope I do. When people talk about “stopping to smell the roses” I’m the kind of person who will literally stop and smell roses. And since I live in New York City I’m constantly surprised each day by everything around me. I’ll accidentally turn down a wrong street and say to myself, “what a surprise that I’ve never walked down this street before!”

When were you first drawn to visual storytelling?

RS: I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t drawing. I’m sure before I could even speak I could hold a crayon to my imagination flow across the paper. My mother taught my siblings and I to read at a very young age, too. I’m sure that influenced my desire to tell stories with pictures.

What books sparked your imagination and wonder as a child?

RS: Of course I loved the crazy world and word play of Dr. Seuss, but Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series totally changed my view of what a book could be. Here were characters that struggled with the same hopes and fears as me! And through it all they remained good friends. I learned a lot from Frog and Toad.

Which children’s books spark your imagination today?

RS: Anything by Tomie dePaola! He’s my icon, hero and friend. He’s 84 and still as busy as ever creating wonderful books for children! His latest title, Quiet, is one of my favorites!

Believe: a Pop-Up Book of Possibilities is on B&N bookshelves now!

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