I have a highly developed scientific method in place that allows me to determine whether or not a children’s picture book title is going to be popular or not. Here is what I do:
1. I leave the book on top of my desk at work.
2. I wait.
3. If the book remains untouched, unexamined, and unattended for a day then it may be fine and dandy but it doesn’t have that instantaneous oomph. If, however, I find my co-workers and library clerks picking it up and cooing over it for long periods of time, THAT, my friend, is a book worth watching.
Option #3 was certainly the case the other day when I received a batch of books from Candlewick Press and I placed this book, Robert Crowther’s Pop-Up House of Inventions on top of the pile. Within minutes everyone in the joint found it extraordinary. From its tiny hidden details to its fabulous fascinating facts, a novelty book this may be, but it’s also going to win over a whole host of different kinds of readers. The only question left in my mind is where the heck we’re going to catalog this thing.
Turn the book in your hands. Hold it so that the spine is at the top and that when you open it you reveal the first scene properly. Immediately you are plunged into a fully stocked and operating kitchen. Every object has a tiny fact attached to it explaining when it was invented or at least conjured up. Multiple tiny flaps reveal even more facts and surprises. Lift up the rug and not only will you see a wad of chewing gum stuck to the floor but you’ll also learn when gum was invented and how it was first marketed as “Blibber-Blubber Bubble Gum”. Opening each door and lifting each flap the reader makes their way through other rooms in the house. And even if you look under something or behind it, you’re sure to see your curiosity rewarded with more facts, more secrets, and more objects. Finally, after walking through a living room, bathroom, bedroom, and garage, you come to a listing of "Some Inventions That Changed the Way We Live". Chronologically you can learn about inventions aiding in Food, Heat and Light, Plumbing, and Communication through each important historical era. Exhausting and intensive doesn’t quite do it justice.
Generally the bane of every children’s librarian’s life is the pop-up book. If you have made the appropriate sacrifices to the picture book gods then maybe, just maybe, a pop-up book will circulate five times unscathed. Under normal circumstances, however, even the heartiest Maisy title will fall victim to the too strong jabs and pulls of the tiniest little tot. This Pop-Up House of Inventions could cut one of two ways. It may end up horribly mangled right from the start with its delicate little pullout DVD drawer, its tiny washing machine, and its multiple miniscule flaps. I like to believe, however, that the pop-ups found here are so small and the text so mature that it will only be of interest to children ages seven and up. That isn’t to say that the occasional rug and cupboard door won’t get accidentally ripped off from time to time, but maybe the older children will be so awed by the book’s design that they’ll treat it like the delicate little masterpiece it is. Or am I just dreaming at this point?
I will note that while Crowther may include a fact or two that people will find contention with (though I did not locate any personally), he’s also not afraid to mention the most controversial claims from time to time. In the garage (“the word garage comes from the French garer, meaning ‘to park or to shelter’.”) you will see a baseball glove and mitt sitting on top of a barbecue grill. Says the fact, “The invention of modern baseball is often attributed to Abner Doubleday in 1839, but many dispute the accuracy of this claim.” Darn right they do. No other facts that I could locate contained such a caveat, but it’s nice to think that Mr. Crowther was paying attention all the same.
Because this book has an original publication date of 2000 (it was previously distributed by Walker Books) I was a bit worried that all the facts found here would be out of date. Not so. Clearly the book has been updated to meet with changing times. So while you will find such rote info as “First kaleidoscope, 1817” you will also learn about the “First MP3 player, 1998”. Or even more fascinating “Ed Sutt invented the hurricane and earthquake-resistant nail in 2006. It is thought to make houses twice as strong!” Clearly there are parts of this book that have been updated since the title’s original publication. Even the backmatter of “Some Inventions That Changed the Way We Live” includes facts about heating and lighting as well as communication that are 21st century-based (they’ve invented self-cleaning windows now?).
Now my husband was not pleased that this book was so clearly too scale. He said that he wished that there was less blank space in it and that the words were larger. It’s true that the words are tiny, where they appear. Not having a lot of space to work with, they often have to cram under workbenches, beneath magazines, or behind locked safes. This won’t be a problem for sharp-eyed youth, but if they’d like an older person to aid them in some of the reading, it may well prove a challenge to older eyes. I was more disappointed in the lack of documentation. Not having any source notes leaves the reader with all kinds of questions. At one point you lift up a corner of wallpaper and find the fact “The earliest known wallpaper had a black and white floral design, 1509, U.K." A black and white floral design appears under this corner, but there’s no way of knowing if it is the same pattern or not.
For all that it’s fun. Fun fun fun, no doubt, debate, or question. Whether you’re learning about how Thomas Crapper tested the modern cistern by flushing down apples or you’re revealing the naked man in the shower (don’t worry, he covers himself appropriately), this book’s a joy to read. Kids who go through it multiple times will even find that there are multiple tiny mice hiding both under the flaps and in the regular illustrations on every single page (even in the backmatter!). I don’t tend to keep a lot of the books I get for review, preferring instead to donate them to my library. But in this particular case the library’s going to have to find its own darn copy. Because when it comes to the Pop-Up House of Inventions this book isn’t leaving my sight. Highly recommended.
On shelves March 10th.