Friday, February 5, 2010

Drawn to Read: Engineering Illustrations with Robert Sabuda

Do cover illustrations call to you, "Pick me up. Read me. Don't I look awsome?!?" Of course they do. You are drawn to read. Illustrations are an amazing and vital part of reading, especially when it comes to picture books and graphic novels. Illustrations help tell the story and express thoughts that words may not acurately say. Illustrations help us see things from a differnt angle or in a differnt light. Sometimes in ways we never would have expected. It's always good to stretch our imaginations and feed it new material to consider. That is why I focus on illustrators at least once a week. This week's edition of "Drawn to Read" features Robert Sabuda.

I welcome your suggestions for future illustrators. I also welcome your comments on the illustrators about whom I choose to post. Actually, I expect your comments. Don't just be a lurker, take part in this conversation. Be a part of this community. You have good thoughts and opinions and I really do want to hear them.

Robert Sabuda: 3-D, Without the Glasses

Robert Sabuda has been described as an artist, an engineer, even a magician. His work in children's publishing has changed the industry — created a revolution in what can be expected from illustrations. Although he began his career as a traditional illustrator, and has published 14 books as such, it is his work with paper engineering, better known as pop-ups, that has taken the industry to new illustrative heights.

According to his website and several interivews, Sabuda began his art career, as soon as he could hold a crayon. He spent his childhood painting, drawing, gluing, cutting and like most kids, generally making a mess of his room. Sabuda claims his love of reading came from his mother who read to him and his siblings before bed everynight. Sabuda's ability and love of working with his hands came from his father, a mason, who Sabuda describes admirably as taking pride in his work. It seems everything in Sabuda's life guided him towards his eventual career as an illustrator. His teachers encouraged him to create the bulletin board displays, an awful dentist visit eventually introduced him to pop-up books (, and working in the mail room of Dial books exposed him to original art from talented illustrators, such as Barbara Cooney and James Marshall. Luckily, Sabuda not only stuck with it, he thrived.

After publihsing "A Christmas Alphabet" in 1994 Sabuda went on to publish 11 more pop-up books over the next five years, including "The 12 Days of Christmas," "Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-up," "ABC Disney Pop-up," and "The Moveable Mother Goose." But it was his next book that set the industry on it's head.

Commemorating it's 100th anniversary Sabuda publihsed L. Frank Baum's classic, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," with illustrations based on W. W. Denslow's original artwork. Although much of the text was abridged, Sabuda managed to keep the core of the tale in tact. He created seven complex double-page spreads, highlighted by a one-foot-tall spinning cyclone, an ornate Emerald City complete with green-tinted glasses for viewing, and the wizard's balloon gently flying over the fields of Oz. Included on each spread are sub-pages or booklets complete with text and small vignette pop-ups of their own. Sabuda brilliantly captures the wonder, excitement, and fantasy of Oz. No children's bookshelf is complete without a copy ready to pop-up.

Many parents and industry experts have voiced concerns over the years that Sabuda's pop-ups were to delicate for children to read. Sabuda has responded by saying that some pop-ups are delicate and generally, the more delicate a pop-up is the more fantastic it is. On his website Sabuda suggests that parents concerned by the fragile nature of a pop-up should use the opportunity to sit down and share the experience with their child. Show them how to turn the pages carefully and treat the book with respect — not as a toy.

Sabuda didn't rest on his laurels after the critial and commercial success of his "Oz" pop-up. He kept pushing himself to create more amazing illustrative creations. He teamed with another fantastic illustrator, Matthew Reinhart, to create a couple naturalist pop-up handbooks. In 2002 he tackled the Christmas classic, "The Night Before Christmas," complete with a flying sleigh and eight reindeer. Then in 2003 he returned to classic children's literature with "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." With artwork based on John Tenniel's timeless illustrations Sabuda followed a similar format to that of his "Oz" expedition creating six large and intricate pop-ups accompanied by smaller booklets and pop-ups. The six double page spreads include Alice's arms and legs dangling out of W. Rabbit's house, the Mad Tea Party, and a wonderfully depicted pile of cards coming down on Alice's head. Just as Alice is surpised by all the wonderous sites on her adventure so too will you be as you read along in Sabuda's vision of Wonderland.

Over the next couple years Sabuda returned to the subjects of Christmas ("Christmas Alphabet" Anniversary Edition) and winter ("Winter's Tale" and "Winter in White"). He also teamed up with Reinhart on three editions of "Encyclopedia Prehistorica" The first was Dinosaurs. It ws followed  by Sharks and Seamonsters and Mega Beasts. If your children are into dinosaurs you don't want to miss out on the large pop-ups of the T-Rex, Megalodon or Saber Tooth Tiger.

In 2007 Sabuda tackled the "Chronicles of Narnia." Creating a single large pop-up for each of the seven books, Sabuda breathes new life into the classic series with his intricate paper creations. Aslan's is definitely the highlight. Four of the spreads also include smaller booklets with added pop-ups. Although the artwork is engineered to perfection and creates a fitting feeling of awe when reading the Narnia tales, too much has to be removed from the text to make this book work as more than a conversation starter. It would be a very nice accompaniment when reading the unabridged "Chronicles of Narnia" with your children.

Sabuda  reteamed with Reinhart for a new Encyclopedia set, "Encyclopedia Mythologica," which includes editions for Fairies and Magical Creatures and the soon to be released, God's and Heroes. So when your children are screaming for more after Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief hits theaters this summer you can surprise them with a book of pop-ups.

Sabuda went back to the children's classics in 2008 with J. M. Barrie's, "Peter Pan." He really outdid himself in creating spread dominating pop-ups - billowing clouds high above the London skyline,  mermaids preening in the lagoon, Captain hook sliding down a hollow tree, and an imposing pirate ship (complete with a Jolly Roger.) No longer do you need to fly towards the second star to the right and straight on until morning. Sabuda's 3-D enchantments transport us with a simple turn of the page to Neverland — the realm of Lost Boys, fairies, and pirates.

If you are looking for a gift, a different look at a story or just a wonderful book for your children, you can be assured that if Robert Sabuda created the paper engineering (pop-ups) the illustrations will be inspiring. Thank you Robert Sabuda.

Also of interest:

Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorink's, "Mommy," a pop-up by Matthew Reinhart.
"The Jungle Book: a Pop-up Adventure," by Matthew Reinhart
Tomie DePaola's, "Brava, Strega Nona! A Heartwarming Pop-up Book" by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart
"Star Wars: A Pop-up Guide to the Galaxy," by Matthew Reinhart

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