There are tons of bad pop-up books out there, content to merely sprong, jut, accordion, or bulge. French paper engineer and children’s book author Marion Bataille does a different kind of pop-up. She has released a trilogy of books that explore the design of the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals through the astonishing transformative magic of paper engineering.
The first, released in 2006, is ABC3D. In many ways, this book is still her boldest, with every letter in the alphabet given its own spread. Some letters content themselves to merely pop-up in three dimensions, but others morph into other shapes. For example, as you spread open the page for “E,” its lowest arm silently withdraws, becoming an “F.” “S,” in the meantime, features hypnotic pinwheels that spin in the letter’s serpentine spiral.
“For ABC3D, I wanted to present letters in motion and show through movement how there was a visible dialogue between letters when they were put in alphabetic order,” Bataille tells Co.Design.
Published in 2010, Bataille’s follow-up to ABC3D is 10. Instead of being a linear progression through various numbers, this pop-up emphasizes the design relationships between pairs of numbers in Base-10. Each page couples a number with that same number counting backwards (n compared to 10-n); by just turning the page, you can see how the design of one transforms into the shape of the other. For example, obviously, the number 01 is a mirror image of 10, but the book also explores more secret symmetries: a 3 turning into an 8 just by closing or opening the character’s apertures, or a 4 turning into a 7 by simply cutting off the ascenders.
Bataille’s most recent book is a follow-up to 10 called Numéro. Like 10, the last in the trilogy focuses on numbers, but this time, Bataille has taken an approach that emphasizes how a number can unfold. The numbers you might see on an electric alarm clock inspire the design of each number. Bataille hopes that she can show a relationship between numbers and the way they are encoded digitally.
According to Bataille–who has been designing pop-up books off and on since 1986, although only publishing them for the last seven years–she is so drawn to this particular medium because of the unique role a reader plays in animating the pages.
“Pop-up books embrace a book’s physical presence,and show that books can be more than just containers full of words,” says Bataille. “Like a choreographed dance, pop-up books give a private performance to a reader, and likewise, it is the reader who brings a pop-up book to life.”