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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Robert Sabuda – winner of Sydney Taylor Book Award visits Practically Paradise

Artist Robert Sabuda joins us in Practically Paradise today. Robert Sabuda and Michael J. Rosen’s pop-up creation extraordinaire (AKA book) Chanukah Lights is the 2012 Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards, Younger Readers category. Have you had a chance to hold this book in your hands? If not, be sure to view this video

The Sydney Taylor Book Awards were announced at the mid-winter meeting of the School, Synagogue and Community Center Division of the Association

of Jewish Libraries.  The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All- of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Pasadena, California this June.

Candlewick Press, 2011. Ages: 4-8 (and up!) ISBN: 978-0763655334 Publisher’s description:

From a pop-up master and an acclaimed poet and author comes a glorious celebration of the true spirit of Chanukah.  Inspired by Michael J. Rosen’s reverent poem, Robert Sabuda’s striking pop-ups depict each night’s menorah in a different scene, using imagery such as desert tents, pushcart lanterns, olive trees, and a final panorama of skyscrapers. Sure to be a treasured family heirloom, this stunning collaboration showcases the spirit and resilience of a people in search of home.

In the press release Barbara Bietz, Chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, said: “From the shtetl to skyscrapers, the white pop-up scenes against a background of deep rainbow colors illuminate Jewish life for the eight nights of Chanukah. Together, children and adults will marvel at the stunning scenes that magically unfold with each turn of the page.”

More information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour can be found at  The People of the Books blog (the Association of Jewish Libraries blog).  Today, Michael Rosen is being interviewed by Liz Burns. In the interview with Michael Rosen, the comment is made that “in no uncertain terms Robert told me that he was not designing a pop-up of a family standing around candles, or opening presents.”

Diane:  Tell us what messages you did want to send families as they shared this book.  Historically you researched “place” for Chanukah Lights, what’s the backstory in your selection of scenes?

RS:   I’ve always loved history, so any book that uses history to excite, explore or educate makes me happy!  Hopefully the readers of Chanukah Lights, both young and grown-up will agree.  The selection of scenes was a fluid, thoughtful process that took place over a period of months with the author Michael J. Rosen.  I’ve known Michael for a long time and we are very attuned to each other’s creative processes.  He would suggest some “places” to explore and then I would expand on them.  I remember him mentioning Jews in search of new homes crossing the ocean and immediately realized that a “place” could be the ship carrying them.

Diane: Pop-ups are not the only technique you’ve used to illustrate. In 2007, I wrote about your illustrative techniques of stained glass in your version of Arthur and the Sword; however, you have been called the Prince of Pop-Up’s and the master of all Paper Engineers. Could you explain to readers how your design team works together to create the visual experience of your pop-ups?

RS:  Of course any book for young readers begins with the story or manuscript and it’s the same for a pop-up book.  But unlike a picture book, with a pop-up book I never sketch out what the pop-ups will look like.  I have to start designing them right away in 3-dimensions.  I dive right in!   Cutting and folding the paper to try and create a visually exciting experience.

Diane:  How many people do you involve in your research?

RS:  For a book like Chanukah Lights my main research came from the author Michael J. Rosen!   Since I’m not Jewish, Michael made me aware of the subtleties, complexities and joy of one of the world’s oldest religious faiths.  It was very important to him that the book be about the joy of a community spreading it’s wings and taking flight around the world and establishing roots.   The visual work is (usually) not too difficult for me, but I wanted to make sure that I got the historical essence right.

Diane: How do you decide what project interests you?

RS:  That is the $64,000 question!  Sometimes I have an idea that’s been percolating for a very long time and who knows if I’ll ever get around to it?  Then other times the stars seem to align, like with this book, and everything falls in place.  I know the author, the subject is exciting and the publisher is willing to try something new for a very traditional subject.

Diane: Each of your pop-up books has a page that moves uniquely and captures readers so dramatically, that they gasp with surprise and delight. The ship emerging from the pages of Chanukah Lights is one such page. Do you find yourself favoring one page over another while you are creating?

RS:  Not really.  Some pages just seem to naturally develop the way I envision them (since I have been doing this for a long time) but then others are very challenging.   I never really know which pop-ups will be easy to create and which ones will be troublesome!

Diane: Do you envision one such page first and develop the rest of your pages around this?

RS:  No, I tend to envision designing the book like it’s a movie.  I want to create a strong beginning, some powerful moments in the middle and then a big ending.  All within 8 pages!  My mother was a dance teacher when I was a boy so I think that has influenced my working process.  Sometimes I feel like the pages are a stage and it’s my job to create a fantastic show on it!

Diane: How much does the “wow” factor matter?

RS:  In a pop-up book the “wow” factor matters a lot.  I don’t have 32 pages, like in a picture book, to transport my reader to a new place.  I have to get it done a lot quicker with so few pages.  A pop-up book is really a book filled with magic.  The tricks don’t have to be big, but they do need to make you say “wow!”

Diane: Which page is your wow page in Chanukah Lights?

RS:  I don’t like to pick out individual pages in my books.  It’s almost like saying a parent saying they have a favorite child!  But there are times when I’m so happy that a pop-up I’ve worked on for a long time actually functions, to me that IS magic.  In Chanukah Lights that would be the ship which was extremely difficult to design.

Diane:  Years ago at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference, you shared about people in Ecuador (I believe) assembling your pop-up’s. I was impressed with the need for every pop-up page to close and the amount of testing or engineering of the design. We sat  in the hotel lounge (taking medicinal cognac for my sore throat) and chatting about your pop-up collection and the beauty and simplicity of a single white paper being folded and used for pop-ups. I shared how my youngest son created his own pop-up books and marionettes based upon the the way he saw your books move.

I still love your book Cookie Count and share it with my students. Your gingerbread house and the twirling cookies still excite me every year when I open to read and count. My students cannot afford to collect pop-up books, so I bring in my collection. Do you have any suggestions for librarians who want to share pop-up books with students?

RS:  When I first started making pop-up books librarians would come to my book signing and tell me how much they enjoyed my books but that they could not circulate them in their own collections.  It made me sad at the time but things have changed since then.  Many librarians started using my books at story time, especially Cookie Count, and decided that they would find a way to make them accessible to their readers.  Some keep them behind their desks for specific readers they know will enjoy them and some actually just circulate them knowing (thankfully) that if the book gets loved to tears they can justify getting a new one.

Diane: Interviews with Robert Sabuda can be found all over the internet.* If fact, there is so much openly shared, what new secrets can we uncover about your vision, creative drive, and hopes for the future?

RS:  Wow, my vision?  I’m just putting one creative foot in front of the other and hoping that each book works out!  I don’t have a grand plan, really.  I’m just so grateful to be able to create something I love and have it shared with the rest of the world.  I don’t think I could ever stop being a book maker even when I’m really old.

Diane:  What are you working on now?

RS:  I’ve just finished Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid which will be published in October 2012.   And I’m off to India in May (for the second time) for the India Book Festival!

I read in Hadassah Magazine that  “Chanukah Lights is created with 201 pieces of paper, 647 folds, and 392 dots of glue—in 187 minutes! ” AMAZING!

Thank you for participating. Chanukah Lights is a beautiful heirloom title and I’m happy that I can share in the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour to tell others about it.

Interviews and Internet Links:

These two questions were thought of after I’d emailed Robert again on Tuesday. I’ll update answers if I get a response. Thanks. Diane

Diane: Do you ever participate in SKYPE sessions to schools?

RS: Unfortunately my schedule only allows me to do conferences or large scale book events.

Diane:  The FAQ on the website mentions you are too busy to accept ideas of pop-up books. I wonder if you know of any Asian artists who might create a pop-up book conveying the movement and excitement of the Asian festivals like Dragon Boat Racing, Chinese New Year, Diwali, etc.? Have you ever experienced Chinese New Year and the lion dance? Unfortunately I can’t visualize a way to convey the smoke arising from the thousands of firecrackers, but it would be fun.

RS: As far as an Asian paper engineer goes, Sam Ida is your man!  You can easily do a quick google search on him.


  1. Diego Solas says:

    If you were working on the little mermaid can you show us some of pages of the book? either it’s not finished