Reading Novelty Books – interactive 3D games?


Novelty Books today represent an impressive and developing market for many British Children's Publishers. Some Children's Publishers, aware of present competition, now request authors and illustrators to include more than one form of novelty within a picture book. Well-established series like Elmer, David McKee's colourful elephant, are now introducing novelties into their new books in order to keep up with this evolving market. Today's adult book-buying public in UK look for Novelty Books and many larger chain-book shops now have, within their children's departments, special sections or shelves devoted to Novelty Books and Pop-ups. 'UK children are thought to be the most sophisticated in Europe and the design of books must acknowledge this.' Jenny Morris - Children's Book Circle Newsletter April 2000


 Novelty Books – a new form of children's literature?

The outside cover of a Novelty Book may look the same as any other conventional children's picture book except, as in Jan Pienkowski's Pizza, the book may be bulging with paper sculptures and other novelties that take up space and prevent the pages from lying flat. Some book covers list the types of novelty or novelties included within the book as in Mark Birchall's Hen goes to Market - A Lift-the-Flap, Pull-the-tab Story! Novelties bring the book alive; for the child novelties seem to make the book explode in their hands into a captivating 3 Dimensional experience over which they have power and with which they can play.


Novelties may consist of flaps to be lifted either up or down, tabs to be pulled, rotating discs to be turned, layered paper sculptures to be unfolded, switches to be turned on and off, cut out paths to be glided along, silver paper mirrors to reflect a face or fabrics of different qualities to be touched and felt. The 3rd Dimension adds to the pictures extra fun, surprises and challenges. These make the book more immediately interactive in a different and more specific way as the child needs hands-on physical involvement in order to coordinate the novelties within the illustrations and also decode the story text.


Novelty Books are described as Moveable Books, Mechanical Books, Pop-ups and Toys. However game seems more appropriate as they involve structured play with a definite beginning and end and a structured participation. Games do not need an out come of winning or loosing; many games are a form of structured play which give the player or players an opportunity to learn and improve their own performance. It is possible that this is what a child feels as he whips through a familiar Novelty Book reciting the story aloud from memory as he lifts-up the flaps and unravels the paper sculptures. 'One of the characteristics of a well-told tale is that as we read it our awareness of the book in which it is written tends to fade away, but when the material fabric of the book has been doctored in such a way as to draw attention to itself, it is less easy to withdraw into that fictive, secondary world'. David Lewis


The beneficial and important role that physical involvement and play have in children's holistic development is well recorded, but what happens when this is combined in a Novelty Book is yet to be researched. Certainly through some Novelty Books children can experience play well beyond what real-life experience can offer at their age. In Gus Clarke's Let's Go Driving the child can imagine that he is turning on the engine and driving away in a real car. David Lewis explains Vygotsky's theory that forms of imaginative play, such as pretending a cardboard box is a car, arise first when children experience desires that cannot immediately be satisfied. They play these imaginative games following the rules: that is doing what adults do. Gus Clarke's Novelty Book Let's go driving sets the scene for an imaginative car experience without the child having to go further than opening the book. It appears that some Novelty Books can provide children with contained, portable, easy-to-access imaginative play experiences, the like of which a child may have difficulty in creating either at home or at school.


Novelty books are not a new idea. The first recorded Novelty Book was written for adults in the 13th Century. Novelty Books have been on book-shelves long enough to become classics. These include The Spot Books, Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar and books by Rod Campbell's like Dear Zoo. In the last few years the number and types of Novelty books published by UK Publishers has increased as have the variety of Novelty techniques. This may be in part due to the training now available in Art and Printing Colleges in UK, which include courses on paper engineering. The availability at affordable prices of skilled labour capable of manufacturing and assembling novelty books, often by hand, in countries like China, Singapore, Thailand, Columbia and Ecuador has also contributed to this increase.


The role of Novelty Books in the EFL classroom

  • To stimulate interest in looking at books and reading. However, some children may enjoy playing with the 3rd Dimension without bothering to read the text. This may occur where the text does not demand a choice, which has to be made by manipulating the Novelty.
  •  To help in picking-up language as language is learned more easily when there is physical involvement within an activity.
  • To help in predicting and anticipating - for example in lift-the-flap books.
  • In using language by retelling the story using the illustrations plus novelties as props.
  • In providing a holistic, positive game experience, which for reluctant readers might act as a bridge to later enjoyment of conventional REALpictureBOOKS. 
  • To contributing to a child's English language learning, and also home language development.

·        In giving opportunities to deepen imagination and creativity and help make sense of the world.

  • In learning to take good care of books as Novelty Books are more fragile and easily torn.


Presenting Novelty REALpictureBOOKs

Presentation has to be carefully prepared and structured otherwise children may not pick-up the text and the necessary language to talk about the pictures and novelties.


  • Books are exciting and instantly invite interaction, so it is important to prepared for children's reactions and plan the linguistic interaction you would like.
  • Books contain surprises and may be best presented as a type of 'theatre show' in which you use your voice to create suspense and surprise as you introduce the novelties.
  • Books need representation over several sessions so that children know the story language before the books are made available for individual or group book browsing.


In teaching English to very young children and children adults are working with the developing child, who is still discovering and making sense of his own inner world and the world around. This child has already picked-up one language with which he talks about his two worlds. English for him is only another language to be picked-up and used for communicating about these two worlds. Adults can contribute to children's development and at the same time help them pick-up relevant English, through enjoying some of the conventional REALpictureBOOKS, which are part of English children's culture. Since 3D Novelty picture Books are now accepted as part of English children's culture, Novelty Books should also have a place in children's English as a Foreign Language experiences. Children learning English should also have a chance to read and enjoy the fun of 3D Novelty Books in English.


Further Reading

The Wonderful World of Pop-up Books Sarah Harrington             Children's Book News Spring 2002

Pop—ups! A Guide to Novelty Books             BookTrust Publication 2002

Popping up all over: New Movable Books Books for Keeps            No.135 July 2002

Reading Contemporary Picture Books Author David Lewis Routeledge-Falmer ISBN 0-415-20887-4

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