This Book is a Planetarium and other stories

Between the evocative possibilities of 'what ifs' & 'why nots', Kelli Anderson's This Book is a Planetarium makes an Arvind Guptaesque case for a humble paper. Here is a quick look on paper, paper folding and its myriad transformations. Storytelling on all things scientific has just turned multimodal & multisensorial.

Wikipedia entry on paper has only added industrial and construction processes as its newer uses apart from the usual suspects like writing, printing, packaging, and cleaning. In schools, we talk about paper in currency notes or paper in lab as sandpaper, litmus paper and filter paper. Paper as a medium to express something beyond writing, as in papier-mache & origami - is still not a common occurence and doesn't normally ring in our mindscapes.

Seen in this context, pop up books break that traditional mould. They have the text on the 2D paper surface & they also have characters or events of the story popping out (the extra dimension). They have come a long way since their origins in the 12th century & how! If you look at Encylopedia Mythologica you will see how beautifully the extra dimension accentuates the narrative. In Marion Bataille's ABC3D, she strips pop up book down to an enigmatic interplay of geometric design and tells the shape of the letters like no other.

Some pop up books have added texture & (electronic) sound producing devices to evoke the sense of sound & touch.

Let's take origami. Origami is always a process-oriented art. You do it. You are the creator. Vanessa Gould's Between the Folds is poetic tribute to the art of origami. She takes you through the fertile, creative terrains between the recreational Yoshizawa paper foldings to Eric Demaine's designs for exploring advance mathematics & beyond. For every inspired math teacher, there is Robert Lang whose TED talk has a legions of fans.


Pop up books are finished products of paper art. Here, you are the consumer. Almost always a happy one at that. Pop up books  have been a storyteller's eternal delight, even a geographer's. As is done in this TED Ed talk, the concept of continental drift & tectonic plates receives popped up interest thanks to the accompanying animation.

Pop up books stoke & satiate your sensorial aesthetics, usually the visual & tactile. Pop up books elevated the storytelling sessions even when the AR & VR glasses are poaching probably the last tribe of readers in the strictest traditional sense.

When it comes to science teaching, the humble paper almost always ate a humble pie. A paper plane to talk about projectile motion, a boat there for discussing buoyancy or at best a Mobius strip. In the aftermath of digital toys & eBook invasion, Manu Prakash's 50 cent microscope made out of simple paper folding did succeed in making paper powerful again, though.


A paper artist's magical hands were missing for quite a good time to tell stories of scientific concepts & scientific instruments. Tell she must as nonintrusively as possible to retain that sustained interest. Kelli's book (nay a series of paper gadgets!) proudly occupies that space and inspires other artists to match that ingenuity. You may say, it is pop up gadget version of Honey, I shrunk the kids!

She teasingly provides the germinating ideas and invites you to explore the concept. Express the concept. Entertain the concept. She invites you to remix the content of that popped up page and design your own (not always necessarily a classroom) narrative. She invites you to be the creator of your own stories, now peppered with fundamental scientific concepts.

With its six functional tools (a musical instrument, a decoder ring, a perpetual calendar, a speaker, a spiral graph & of course a planetarium), This Book is a Planetarium is a mighty mini hands-on lab is go-to book when it comes to exploring & entertaining the concepts of light, sound, space & time.

In her own words,

I was drawn to working with paper because it seems like it’s too humble a material to actually do anything. But in fact it can be bent to tap into these forces in the world that are otherwise hard to see.


The behind-the-scenes look at the making of the book tells you lot more of the mind that conjured this masterpiece on paper. Maria Popova puts is so well, "This Book Is a Planetarium is immeasurably delightful in its totality, an achievement of elaborate engineering that feels somehow as spare and precise as a poem".

Here's a merging of form, function, aesthetics, engineering & design pushing the art of storytelling to a different dimension - both figuratively & mathematically. Here's is the one for the curious, questioning, and awestruck child in you.

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