By Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent PR + Publishing Co., for the Costco Connection — It was the pop-up adventures of Super Pickle that did it.
Illustrator Robert Sabuda, then 7, refused to cooperate with the dentist. Sabuda’s mom reached into a bin of children’s books to keep him from escaping from the office. Into his hands, she placed the first pop-up book the young man from a tiny town in rural Michigan had ever seen.
Not only did Sabuda relax enough to keep from biting the doc, but pop-up art is the style of illustration he came to master.
Thirty-one years later, Sabuda has sold more than 2 million pop-up books and made the New York Times bestseller list three times for his pop-up versions of The Night Before Christmas, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (Alice was named the New York Times Best Illustrated Book for 2003.)
“Getting on the New York Times bestsellers list was probably the coolest thing that has happened in my career,” says the 38-year-old, who creates his masterpieces in a spacious loft in Manhattan, where he’s surrounded by jars of colorful art supplies and shelves of antique toys.
It was here that he constructed his latest work, America the Beautiful. Inspired by the classic 1895 poem by Katharine Lee Bates, this visual feast also seems destined for greatness.
The adventure begins in San Francisco as Sabuda illustrates America’s beautiful, spacious skies with an expansive pop-up of the Golden Gate Bridge. Turn the page to “For amber waves of grain,” and up pops a farm on the Great Plains where wheat is swaying, a crow and cow pop out of a barn, and a windmill turns in the breeze. The giants of Mount Rushmore become the “purple mountain Majesties,” and an elaborate “fruited plain” pops up to illustrate Mesa Verde.
“God sheds his grace” on a giant riverboat that appears to float down the Mississippi; the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial “crown thy good with brotherhood;” and the “sea to shining sea” journey is completed in New York, where a giant statue of Lady Liberty proudly holds her torch up high.
The pop-ups are stark white and stand out against backgrounds drenched in rich colors. And waiting on the final spread is Sabuda’s signature mini-book within the book, where he’s created four more pop-ups (of the Twin Towers, the Liberty Bell, the space shuttle, and an American eagle) to illustrate the lesser-known stanzas of Bates’ epic.
How does Sabuda decide how to illustrate each passage in the filled studio in the books he selects?
“There are moments in the literature that I know need to be illustrated,” he says. “Luckily, the ideas come naturally.”
He admits that figuring out how to engineer those astonishingly intricate cut-paper creations takes some time after about a year of toying around with reams of card stock, scissors, tape, and ouchy paper cuts. Then it’s up to teams of skilled workers to meticulously assemble his masterpieces.
“Getting the tornado to spin in The Wizard of Oz-now, that was tricky,” Sabuda notes. “But the tough part is getting the illustrations to pop down again and again.” What’s next for this creative genius? “Me Cretaceous period,” he says. “I have loved dinosaurs since I was a little boy, so I’m going to work on a new series with my partner Robert Matthew Reinhart. We showed in a toy- the publisher one idea of a T. rex ripping the meat out of another dinosaur and worried they’d think it was too gruesome. But everyone loved it. After all, it’s realistic, and I think kids like that.”