The 1932 book is shown opened to an ocean scene, popping up in the center are the characters standing in the mouth of a giant fish.
Harold B. Lentz, The 'Pop-Up' Pinocchio, 1932 Credit: Courtesy Newberry Library

The act of reading is rarely just a simple matter of decoding text, but as this diverting exhibition demonstrates, book designers have been augmenting blocks of words with fold-out extensions, rotating dials, opening doorways, and 3D elements for almost as long as there’s been a printing press. Composed of objects from the Newberry Library’s own collection, the show charts the many creative ways artists have contributed to books on art, cartography, fairy tales, life sciences, and more. The great pleasure for a viewer in 2023 is to notice how tangible and imperfect so many of these books are. We’re at a moment when bots are edging us out of authorship of any kind, but in these galleries the evidence of the human hand is everywhere. 

Ernst Nister, Always Happy Day-In, Day-Out: A Panorama Picture Book, 1890s
Courtesy Newberry Library

Highlights include a colorful 1932 pop-up version of Pinocchio, a bookmark from the Middle Ages comprised of string and a paper dial that allows a reader to note how far down the page they last left off, and a variety of mix-and-match illustrations that allow heads, torsos, and extremities to swap out like a very early version of FaceApp.

It may be quaint to admire outmoded technology that can only summon a globe via a lithograph-printed color disc grommeted awkwardly into the pages of an ancient tome, when putting on a VR helmet will simulate flight around the very same sphere. But what these humble illustrated papers allow is engagement of imagination and a chance at physical interactivity rather than the passive submission that is the only reaction to much of today’s multimedia technology. 

Juan González Urueña, Declination . . . of the points of longitude of the globe, 1740
Courtesy Newberry Library

The show has many facsimiles which allow visitors to flip, pull, and spin elements from these inventive old media. It’s definitely a nostalgia trip but one which causes us to reconsider our relationship with technology and imagine a future in which we might even have some agency in relation to it. 

“Pop-up Books Through the Ages”
Through 7/15: Tue-Thu 10 AM-7 PM, Fri 10-Sat 10 AM-5 PM, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton,, free

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