Dennis Ashton on the ingenuity and effectiveness of three-dimensional information books. A children's book based on special effects can be viewed with the same suspicion as fast food. It attracts youngsters - but is it nutrition or junk? The books here seem to have transcended mere novelty and used effects to enhance the reading experience.
Jay Young's ideas have taken almost a decade to come to fruition. His ingenuity has combined pop-up entertainment with working scientific instrumentation. A finger-powered record player recites the first words recorded by Edison, "Mary had a little lamb". There are no batteries, no electricity, just card and plastic - so how does it work? The Most Amazing Pop-up Science Book has captured its young audience.
Seven structures in all assemble into working instruments as the pages are turned. Each model is the centrepiece around which a science topic is explored. The nature of the models means a concentration on aspects of physics including sound, magnetism, light and colour.
With care, a pyramid compass settles to point north and a pop-up camera projects images of bright sources. The periscope and kaleidoscope perform adequately but the magnifier is rather disappointing. Once equipped with a card dial a pop-up gnomon makes an effective sundial.
Support material develops the theme demonstrated in the models. The pages are packed with photographs and information which describe historical development and contemporary applications rather than explaining the effect. These crowded pages maintain the momentum created by the centrepiece.
Photographs feature sophisticated imagery including electron micrography and false colour pictures as well as illustrating modern day technology. Occasionally over-ambition leads to confusion. A tiny diagram, for example, attempts to explain day and night, lunar orbit and seasons of the year all at once.
Almost every device apart from pop-ups appears in the Kingfisher Kaleidoscope series. Textured covers and black laminated pages are preludes to all kinds of effect. Transparent overlays, fold-out and sectioned pages, 3-D images, mini-booklets and stickers create action and surprise. The books are highly visual, with illustration leading written material consisting mainly of short information bytes.
The Art of Painting traces the use of different materials rather than the development of artistic styles. A textured cave painting and piece of real papyrus begin the historical path to airbrush and acrylic paint. Fold-outs reveal a Bosch tryptych and change bare chapel walls into a magnificent Giotto fresco. The high quality colour which enriches all the books sees the faded Sistine chapel ceiling restored to vibrant glory.
Works of famous artists feature in the other books. In Fire, Friend or Enemy, paintings fold away to reveal the fuels used for lighting in different eras. The book goes on to explore the uses of fire from heating to explosives.
Making Music follows the development of wind, string and percussion instruments through the ages. Here paintings illustrate moods created by music. The most effective overlay converts an 18th-century composing room into a modern electronic studio.
The full range of devices is used in Reaching for the Stars. A planisphere and nocturnal introduce the constellations, which reappear in 3-D pages to give an impression of different star distances. Further cut-aways, fold-outs and mini-booklets deal with the solar system, structure of galaxies and the evolution of stars.
Each book is supplied with a sheet of peel-off stickers for children to complete the illustration. The adhesive binds instantly to the page, so accuracy is essential for a neat finish.
Although visual effect is the hallmark of these books, the written sections convey information with a tone and vocabulary range which will engage and extend the young reader.