Wed, Jun 05, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Taipei’s pop-up experiment

A private collector’s 20-year library of pop-up books opens to the public in Asia’s first such specialty store

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Designer Astor Lai holds his pop-up book, Our Plastic Ocean, open to a page showing the effect of marine plastic pollution on humans through food networks.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Like many people these days, Wen Tzu-hsiu (文自秀) reads books on a Kindle. But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a prolific collector of physical books.

Having amassed a library of classical Chinese texts and art books, Wen’s collection of pop-up books has grown the most in personal and professional significance.

“Pop-up books, aside from being books, combine the quintessence of aesthetics and craftsmanship,” Wen tells me at We Do Pop-up Lab (有度立體實驗室), Asia’s first pop-up book specialty store that opened in April.

The bright and airy space in Taipei’s Daan District (大安) displays titles from Wen’s personal collection accumulated over 20 years, and is open to anyone who wants to come in and view them.

“In the past usually we would hear parents say, ‘Aiya, don’t let my child touch pop-up books, they’ll get ruined!’” Wen says, when actually, “it’s in the process of looking at pop-up books that children learn to respect books.”


The wonderment of pop-up books has no age restrictions. When families visit We Do Pop-up Lab, children and adults alike ooh and aah over the magical transitions taking place on paper.

“Sometimes we hear ‘Wow!’ as soon as we open a book. When we get to hear that, I feel like it’s the best sound on earth,” Wen says.

Wen, a university lecturer and mother to a son of military conscription age, expresses girlish delight whenever she opens a pop-up book.

She gleefully demonstrates to me paper animations from her in-store collection, which includes not just children’s tales, but art books featuring detailed landscapes and still life, as well as titles released by brands like Hermes, Lego and the Game of Thrones television series.

Her enthusiasm is all-embracing. Among Wen’s prized possessions are a number of almost century-old pop-up books based on nursery rhymes, designed by American illustrator Geraldine Clyne. Lifting the yellowed pages, she pauses before opening one.

“Would you like to know what a really old book smells like?” she asks, holding it up to my nose.

The answer: sweet and vanilla-like, caused by a distinctive release of chemicals as paper, ink and adhesives age and break down. But the older the book, Wen says, the more brilliant the illustrations are likely to be, because there is a higher chance that they were hand-painted.

Wen’s first professional foray into pop-up books happened four years ago, when she took up an offer to set up the first pop-up book museum in Beijing.

After returning to Taiwan, she felt compelled to do something for pop-up books in her own country, and settled on We Do as an experimental space to try out new things in the medium and market.

While no Luddite, Wen says it is a pity that electronic devices have largely replaced books as a popular means of finding entertainment and information.

The book-lover holds faith in pop-up books because of their unique ability to inspire joy and engagement. Whereas computer programs and videos are usually controlled environments giving users a passive experience, pop-up books are a freestyle interaction that children can lead by themselves, she says.

For Astor Lai (賴冠傑), the pop-up book format was a way to distinguish his illustrations in Taiwan’s crowded publishing scene and seize the attention of young readers.

Although pop-up books do not contain a lot of text, they act “like a guide, leading you to develop an interest in the topic,” says Lai, who has designed two pop-up books to educate readers on the natural environment.

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