‘Novelty books’ in the children’s books collection

A history of pop-up books, books with interchangeable figures and other novelty books for children, featuring many examples, mostly from the National Library of the Netherlands’ (KB) own collection. The focus is on older editions.

Novelty books are books that are more than just two flat covers with pages in between. The pages may fold out like a concertina or the illustrations may pop up when the reader opens the book. ‘Novelty books’ are usually quite fragile and tend to become damaged or worn out when used frequently (particularly if they are children’s books).

Early scientific flap books

Technical features such as lifting flaps, rotating flaps and folding pictures were introduced long before they were used in children’s books. For more than 700 years book designers have been trying to push back the boundaries of the two-dimensional book by adding flaps or rotating parts to enhance the text, often in scientific literature. Works by Apianus are among the earliest examples of rotating flap books that have managed to survive. Lifting flaps that revealed secret parts of the human body were used in anatomical illustrations as early as 1345. But it was not until the nineteenth century that movable flaps become a regular feature in children’s books.

The advent of the ‘harlequinades’

The London publisher Robert Sayer started producing turn-up books for entertainment purposes in 1765. The illustrations changed as the story unfolded. These publications consisted of a single sheet of paper folded into four and cut open to form two rows of flaps that could be opened and closed. The design was known as a ‘harlequinade’, named after the theatrical performances featuring the adventures of Harlequin which were often the subject of these publications.

Robert Sayer published fifteen books of this type. They proved to be extremely popular and were often copied by other publishers, including publishers outside England. Unfortunately, no Dutch examples seem to have survived.

Harlequinade: Mother Shipton, 1771
Harlequinade: Mother Shipton, 1771
Harlequinade: Mother Shipton, 1771
Harlequinade: Mother Shipton, 1771

Paper doll books

In the early nineteenth century, S. and J. Fuller from London produced as many as fifteen ‘paper doll books’ in five years. Each book includes a hand-coloured paper doll that can be dressed in clothes cut out from the book. The most famous of these books is The History of Little Fanny. Fanny is a lazy child who spends most of her time playing with dolls. She goes to the park and all her clothes are stolen. Children reading the book can follow the story by undressing the paper doll. Fanny can then be dressed in the cut-out outfit suitable to the specific turn in the story. At the end, Fanny is seen clutching a book instead of her worthless doll.

Ten years later, two similar books were published in the Netherlands. The first was called De weldadige Louize of het meisje in zesderlei gedaanten [Charitable Louize or the girl in the six guises] . Louize could be dressed in various outfits suitable to the storyline. There was also a version featuring a boy: De schalksche Willem in zesderlei gedaanten [Naughty Willem in six guises].

De weldadige Louize, of Het meisje in zesderlei gedaanten [1827]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1090 G 96

Books with interchangeable figures

The first books with interchangeable figures appeared at the start of the nineteenth century. The books comprised a series of cut-out figures which could be inserted into slits in the pictures. Fabel-spel voor de jeugd [Youth Fable Game] is an example of an early Dutch publication of this kind. The book contains twenty fables and a separate picture of a landscape with slits into which twenty miniature figures can be inserted. The fables are printed on a sheet at the back of the book, which can be unfolded so that children can see which figures belong to which fable. The KB has two copies of this book: from one copy the landscape is missing, from the the other the figures.

Fabel-spel voor de jeugd
Fabel-spel voor de jeugd

A. Sturm; vert. G. van Sandwijk, Fabel-spel voor de jeugd, of Twintig beweegbare fabelen van Gellert, [1820]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1088 C 17 / KW NOM R II 32

Fabel-spel voor de jeugd
Fabel-spel voor de jeugd

A. Sturm; vert. G. van Sandwijk, Fabel-spel voor de jeugd, of Twintig beweegbare fabelen van Gellert, [1820]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1088 C 17 / KW NOM R II 32

Fabel-spel voor de jeugd
Fabel-spel voor de jeugd

A. Sturm; vert. G. van Sandwijk, Fabel-spel voor de jeugd, of Twintig beweegbare fabelen van Gellert, [1820]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1088 C 17 / KW NOM R II 32

‘De nieuwe rijschool’ [The new riding school]

De nieuwe rijschool, published in 1856, is considered to be the first ever movable children’s book in the Netherlands. Although book historians knew about this book, nobody had ever actually seen it until ten years ago when a copy turned up unexpectedly at an auction. The KB was able to purchase it and Theo Gielen published an article on this extraordinary picture book in De Boekenwereld [The Book World], a Dutch magazine.

The book contains six illustrations of animals and their riders. Each animal consists of two parts: the back end is printed in the book and the front end is printed on a separate sheet to be inserted into a slit in the picture. The riders are also in two parts: a top and a bottom part, both fitted with little flaps. The loose components have been designed so that children can combine them to create countless comical creatures.

This is the first example of a book in which the playful act of inserting and combining the separate elements is more important than the text.

De nieuwe rijschool
De nieuwe rijschool

A. van der Hoop Jr'szoon, De nieuwe rijschool, [1856] Aanvraagnummer: KW 2281 A 136

De nieuwe rijschool
De nieuwe rijschool

A. van der Hoop Jr'szoon, De nieuwe rijschool, [1856] Aanvraagnummer: KW 2281 A 136

De nieuwe rijschool
De nieuwe rijschool

A. van der Hoop Jr'szoon, De nieuwe rijschool, [1856] Aanvraagnummer: KW 2281 A 136

Cosmorama voor de jeugd [Youth Cosmorama]

Insertable figures have a different purpose in the Cosmorama voor de jeugd. The main picture shows a kiosk with an open window. The story is about a little girl who changes the picture in the window in the kiosk, presenting different scenes to the reader as the story unfolds: a vase of flowers, a girl chasing butterflies, someone playing a mandolin. Children can participate by inserting one of the interchangeable cards behind the opening. The book contains a number of these stories, each with its own basic illustration and interchangeable cards.

Cosmorama voor de jeugd
Cosmorama voor de jeugd

Cosmorama voor de jeugd, [ca. 1875] Aanvraagnummer: KW 2296 C 33

Cosmorama voor de jeugd
Cosmorama voor de jeugd

Cosmorama voor de jeugd, [ca. 1875] Aanvraagnummer: KW 2296 C 33

‘Head books’

Let us go back in time briefly. Around 1840 the world of children’s novelty books began to change rapidly. Special children’s books were published in various European countries. They included so-called ‘head books’. Pictures of a head were printed on the inside of the back cover. A hole was made in all preceding pages, through which the head could be seen. The head was sometimes a 2D picture or even a 3D head made from papier-maché or clay. Due to many years of use, most of the 3D heads have survived in a damaged condition, giving them a somewhat sinister appearance. In the Netherlands, Gebroeders Belinfante in The Hague published four of these ‘head books’ in one year.

The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down
The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down

The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down, [1865]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1087 A 82

The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down
The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down

The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down, [1865]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1087 A 82

The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down

The jolly old man, who sings Down, derry down, [1865]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1087 A 82

Fabric books

In the 1860s, an entirely new type of children’s novelty book appeared: the fabric book. Publisher A. Tjaden from Deventer published Lina het vermiste kind [Lina and the missing child] and Rudolf en Suzanna [Rudolf and Suzanna]. The characters wore clothes made from fabric. Tiny pieces of fabric were carefully stuck on to the pictures to create a three-dimensional effect. Three of these books have survived in the Netherlands, all three produced according to an English design.

Rudolf en Susanna
Rudolf en Susanna

Rudolf en Susanna, of Beloonde ouderliefde, [ca.1865]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 6653

Rudolf en Susanna
Rudolf en Susanna

Rudolf en Susanna, of Beloonde ouderliefde, [ca.1865]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 6653

Early pop-up books

An early example of a pop-up book was published by Gebroeders Belinfante: Roodkapje [Little Red Riding Hood]. There are eight pages with lithographs. Each illustration comprises three lithographs, connected by a ribbon. The lithographs can be pulled upright so that they are standing in a row, adding perspective to the scene. The pop-up technique was invented by Dean & Son for the ‘New scenic books’ series, which included Roodkapje, Robinson Crusoe, Assepoester [Cinderella] and Aladdin.

Roodkapje, [1865]. Aanvraagnummer: KW 1087 A 36

An example of a book with tabs that does the name justice is De boerderij: nieuw beweegbaar prentenboek [The farm: a new moveable picture book]. The illustrations in this book include cut-out components, hinged at one point to allow them to be moved. Readers can pull a tab to move a particular part of the illustration, or even move two parts simultaneously. The complete digitized version on this website includes movable illustrations: the farmer sowing seed can move his arm, the pigs can nod their heads, the cats can swish their tails and farming tools such as the scythe can be moved up and down (the moving pictures are to be found in the Dutch-language guided tour of the book).

Dissolving picture books

Movable children’s books reached their peak in the 1870s and 1880s. Telkens wat anders [Every time something else] is an example of a dissolving picture book. Each illustration actually consists of two illustrations made from strips of paper which slide across each other. The reader pulls a cardboard tab and the scene slides to one side to reveal a different scene. Unfortunately, the copy owned by the KB is in poor condition, but it does show how the technique works. This picture book was based on Dean and Son’s New book of dissolving pictures.

Telkens wat anders
Telkens wat anders

Telkens wat anders, [1875]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 3368

Telkens wat anders
Telkens wat anders

Telkens wat anders, [1875]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 3368

Telkens wat anders
Telkens wat anders

Telkens wat anders, [1875]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 3368

‘Growing pages’

The pages in the book Asschepoester [Cinderella] vary in width, so that children see something new every time they turn the page while at the same time viewing part of the previous illustration through an opening. In this example, Assepoester’s front is shown on a narrow page, while her back and the stool can be seen on the next page. When the reader turns the narrow page, a fairy appears and the rest of the picture remains unchanged. The publisher advertises the book as a ‘magic book’.

Asschepoester
Asschepoester

S.J. Andriessen, Asschepoester, [1875]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 1139

Asschepoester
Asschepoester

S.J. Andriessen, Asschepoester, [1875]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 1139

Asschepoester
Asschepoester

S.J. Andriessen, Asschepoester, [1875]. Aanvraagnummer: KW Ki 1139

Lothar Meggendorfer: a master of movement

Lothar Meggendorfer was a German illustrator who became famous for his novelty book designs. He designed around 100 books using increasingly elaborate and ingenious techniques. His ‘transformation’ books are a prime example: readers pulled a tab to move a segment of the page. Some tabs would even move several interconnected segments. Meggendorfer often had a poem printed in the front of his books advising his readers to be cautious. The books were fragile and few of the originals have survived. Luckily they were so popular that facsimiles were made.

Bewegliche Schattenbilder
Bewegliche Schattenbilder

L. Meggendorfer, Bewegliche Schattenbilder: II Vorstellung, [1886]. Aanvraagnummer: KW BJ Z1434

Bewegliche Schattenbilder
Bewegliche Schattenbilder

L. Meggendorfer, Bewegliche Schattenbilder: II Vorstellung, [1886]. Aanvraagnummer: KW BJ Z1434

Wonderboeken voor ’t jonge Nederland [Wonder books for young Netherlands]

Publisher Van Egmond & Heuvelink produced three picture books in a series entitled Wonderboeken voor ’t jonge Nederland [Wonder Books for Young Netherlands]. The authors of the guide Lust en Leering commented: ‘The foldout picture books by Elise van Calcar are most definitely among the best children’s books made and published in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century.’ Until recently no copies were available in a Dutch public collection, but recently the KB recently managed to acquire all three volumes.

The books comprise four stories, each of which has one regular normal full-page illustration and one special illustration. The special illustration has tabs on three sides, all of which can be folded out. The same illustrations have been used in at least one Swedish and three English picture books, although the stories are completely different. The magazine De Boekenwereld published an article about these foldout picture books in Dutch.

Nooit uitgekeken
Nooit uitgekeken

Elise van Calcar, Nooit uitgekeken, 1873. Aanvraagnummer: KW GW A105978

Nooit uitgekeken
Nooit uitgekeken

Elise van Calcar, Nooit uitgekeken, 1873. Aanvraagnummer: KW GW A105978

Modern pop-up books

After the outbreak of World War I, novelty books for children went out of fashion. A new wave began around 1970, and pop-up books soon became all the rage.

Vojtech Kubasta created his picture books in the 1960s and 1970s. This Czech graphic artist had his own discernible style and his books were full of surprises. In addition to pop-ups, he also incorporated various other elements that could be moved by pulling or sliding tabs. Kubastas’ picture books were produced for the foreign market in Prague. His work has been translated into 24 languages and has sold more than 35 million copies worldwide.

Doornroosje
Doornroosje

Kubasta, Doornroosje, [1972]. Aanvraagnummer: KW GW A106919

Doornroosje
Doornroosje

Kubasta, Doornroosje, [1972]. Aanvraagnummer: KW GW A106919

Robert Sabuda is a renowned pop-up book producer from the turn of the century. This American paper engineer won the Movable Book Society’s prestigious Meggendorfer Prize on three occasions. Sabuda creates incredible depth in his pop-ups, designing them in a way that ensures they are safely refolded. He often fills the empty space on the edge of the pages with separate mini-pop-ups.

Robert Sabuda, Pop-up dinosauriërs, 2005. Aanvraagnummer: 4227074

‘A book to get your teeth into’

Some books are designed to represent a specific object that features in the story. Sam’s sandwich, for example, is designed to look like a sandwich. The pages fold out so that the ingredients protrude from the cover of the book. The front and back covers are both a centimetre thick and printed to look like a two slices of bread, so that once you finish the book, you are left holding a ‘real’ sandwich in your hand. The English author of this book, David Pelham, has produced several of these books. Nasty surprises are concealed among many of the food items, such as a dead goldfish in a chocolate sweet and a worm tucked in between slices of cucumber.

David Pelham, Sam's sandwich, 1990. Aanvraagnummer: KW BJ 50441

‘Carousels’ and ‘house books’

Research into novelty books for children

For many years, very little research was carried out into novelty books for children. Their appearance puts them somewhere between books and toys, neither one thing nor the other. Novelty books were often omitted from research into children’s literature. They were not really collected by libraries and were often difficult to find in the catalogues. In addition, there were no unambiguous terms for referring to a particular type of book.

Unequivocal terms thanks to the genrethesaurus

The Centraal Bestand Kinderboeken (Central Database Children’s Books or CBK) (Over het Centraal Bestand Kinderboeken, in Dutch) is the central catalogue of children’s book heritage in the Netherlands. It contains data on all the books owned by seventeen Dutch institutions.
The CBK contains descriptions of some 240,000 children’s books. To allow users to search the catalogue efficiently, the books must be described accurately and classified using common terms. To this end, libraries make use of a ‘genrethesaurus’ comprising more than 475 terms, dozens of which refer to novelty books. The SGKJ (Society for the History of Children’s and Youth Literature) website gives an illustrated overview (link is external) of novelty books with terms from the genrethesaurus (in Dutch).

More children’s books

If you would like to see more children’s novelty books from the KB’s collection, you are welcome to browse the Centraal Bestand Kinderboeken or come to the KB to see the books in the Special Collection reading room with your own eyes.

Source: P.J. Buijnsters and Leontine Buijnsters-Smets Lust en Leering: geschiedenis van het Nederlandse kinderboek in de negentiende eeuw. Zwolle: Waanders, 2001