“With the ability to hold a crayon came the discovery that I was an artist,” says pop-up book master Robert Sabuda. “I spent hours, days and weeks drawing, painting, cutting and gluing. My bedroom was a constant whirlwind of pencil shavings, drippy paint brushes and mounds of paper scraps. My mother’s pleas of ‘When are you going to clean up this mess?’ went unanswered.”
Robert Sabuda says that reading was very important in his family and promoted at every opportunity. His mother had a local dancing school where Robert Sabuda says he, “Tap-danced away my spare time and first experienced the art of visual storytelling.”
At school, Robert Sabuda says his teachers asked him to create their bulletin boards because they knew how much he loved art. “This was the first time I discovered that paper could be used for more than just drawing and painting on,” he recalls. “I covered the bulletin boards with cut-paper collages. At home I started to fold and glue paper together to make little model houses. But the best discovery was when I folded together many pieces of paper, stapled them down the middle and created a book. I immediately began making books of all sizes filled with simple stories and happy pictures.”
Robert Sabuda’s passion for books took an unexpected twist after a trip to a new dentist. Scared and nervous, he says he noticed a wicker basket filled with books and he began to look at them while he waited. “I went to the basket and realized right away that these books were special,” he says. “I opened the first one and was shocked and delighted when something leapt right off the page. It was a pop-up book! I was so excited, I forgot all about the dentist.”
Shortly after that, Robert Sabuda says his mother brought home some old manila filing folders from work. He discovered that the folders were perfect for making pop-ups. After spending time examining the numerous pop-up books he was given as presents, he was soon able to make his own simple pop-ups. After graduating from high school, Robert Sabuda left Michigan and headed to New York City to study art at Pratt Institute. While at Pratt, he did an internship at Dial Books for Young Readers. “I learned everything about how a children’s book is created, but more importantly I fetched the mail,” he says. “I’m sure this may not seem very exciting but it is when the mail you’re opening is original artwork from Barbara Cooney, Thomas Locker, and James Marshall! I decided then and there that I would be a children’s book illustrator.”
After graduating from Pratt, Robert Sabuda says he went from one children’s publishing house to another, showing his work and trying to get an illustrating project. Finally, he began to receive very small jobs illustrating coloring books (based on popular movie characters like Rambo!). Eventually these jobs led to other book projects, and slowly he discovered that he was a children’s book illustrator. He began to write his own stories and illustrate those as well. He says, “Picture books were wonderful, but I always hoped that one day I could create a pop-up book, too. So I pulled out my old pop-up books and taught myself how to make even better ones as a grown up.”
Robert Sabuda is the creator of many breathtaking and best-selling pop-up books, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, America The Beautiful, and the Encyclopedia Prehistorica trilogy: Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs, Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters, and Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Mega-Beasts.