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Playing with the Book

Playing with the Book

Victorian Movable Picture Books and the Child Reader

by Hannah Field

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

248 pages, 178.00 x 229.00 mm

  • ISBN: 9781517901776
  • Published: July 2019



A beautifully illustrated exploration of how Victorian novelty picture books reshape the ways children read and interact with texts

The Victorian era saw an explosion of novelty picture books with flaps to lift and tabs to pull, pages that could fold out, pop-up scenes, and even mechanical toys mounted on pages. Analyzing books for young children published between 1835 and 1914, Playing with the Book studies how these elaborately designed works raise questions not just about what books should look like but also about what reading is, particularly in relation to children’s literature and child readers. 

Novelty books promised (or threatened) to make reading a physical as well as intellectual activity, requiring the child to pull a tab or lift a flap to continue the story. These books changed the relationship between pictures, words, and format in both productive and troubling ways. Hannah Field considers these aspects of children’s reading through case studies of different formats of novelty and movable books and intensive examination of editions that have survived from the nineteenth century. She discovers that children ripped, tore, and colored in their novelty books—despite these books’ explicit instructions against such behaviors.

Richly illustrated with images of these ingenious constructions, Playing with the Book argues that novelty books construct a process of reading that involves touch as well as sight, thus reconfiguring our understanding of the phenomenology of reading.