Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 01 Nov 2017

Robert Sabuda

Book illustrator or paper engineer? Who cares? Robert Sabuda is king of pop-up books and they’re so magnificent and sophisticated that children and adults of all ages enjoy them. When I first encountered Sabuda’s work it was immediately obvious that this was art of quite a different order from the usual pop-up fare. I was an instant fan and I will buy anything with his name on it. Every time I think I’ve got a favourite and I convince myself that he’s reached the summit of his talent and can’t possibly outdo himself again, that’s exactly what he goes and does.

Born in 1965 in small town Michigan, he left school to study art at the Pratt Institute in New York but the roots of his interest in drawing and craft seems to go back as far as he can remember. On his own website he tells us:

With the ability to hold a crayon, came the discovery that I was an artist. I spent hours, days and weeks drawing, painting, cutting and gluing. My bedroom was a constant whirlwind of pencil shavings, drippy paint brushes and mounds of paper scraps.

He was turned on to the idea of children’s book illustration when he took an internship with Dial Books while he was still at college and was producing illustrations for a series of children’s readers by the middle of the 1980s. At this point he hadn’t started experimenting with pop-ups – an innovation that came along in 1994.

After leaving the Pratt Institute he touted his work around without too much success and eventually took a commercial job designing packaging for women’s underwear. Slowly he started to get a foot in the door and was eventually able to call himself a professional children’s book illustrator.

This gave him the chance to think back to his childhood years discovering different craft techniques and he remembered the thrill of making his first crude pop-ups and decided that making more sophisticated versions of these might be the most exciting way to go.

And, of course, he’s never looked back.

I’d be hard-pressed to choose which of the Sabuda pop-ups we own is my favourite. In my experience both children and adults seem to love his Alice in Wonderland and I think I can go along with that. Not only are the centre-piece pop-ups truly breath-taking in their ingenuity but he’s also developed fantastic ways of packing tons of storytelling and illustration onto relatively small spaces by the clever use of lift-up flaps and folded inserts.


He’s also not afraid to take risks – creating pop-ups that are exclusively white paper with no colour at all or which focus on non-fiction or non-fairy tale material. I’d recommend you check out Chanukah Lights and The White House.

Still only in his early fifties he’s hopefully got plenty of years ahead of him to break new territory and take the art of paper engineering to yet another level. I personally can’t wait to see where he goes next.


Terry Potter

November 2017