September 15, 2016


LEGO POP-UP: A Journey through the LEGO Universe. By Matthew Reinhart. Scholastic. $29.99.

     More a work of art than a book in any traditional sense, Matthew Reinhart’s marvelous pop-up treatment of LEGO blocks is a delight to examine, a wonder to unfold, and a puzzlement in terms of the audience at which it is aimed and the right thing to do with it after buying it. Because of its complexity and delicacy, this seems definitely not to be something for children – but children will want to marvel at it and to push and pull and construct and gawk at everything Reinhart has created, so maybe it is for children after all. Careful children. LEGO POP-UP is filled with tabs to pull; wheels to turn; small books, within the larger structure, that clip neatly into their designated places; and some utterly marvelous 3-D pop-up constructions that have to be seen to be believed. Even then, it is hard to believe all of them – one stands fully two feet high!

     The marvels are many here. A two-page spread devoted to minifigures explains how they came to be and how carefully they are structured: each consists of nine separate pieces and stands exactly four bricks tall, which is four centimeters or 1.5 inches. A little “Moments in Minifigure History” minibook, whose pages turn by pulling a tab beneath it, shows pre-minifigure LEGO figures, the first (1975) minifigure, the first modern-looking one (a police officer from 1978), and the advent in 1989 of multiple facial expressions. That is a lot to pack into a tiny book that is a small part of a large page. And in fact, everything here is packed full of information – and things to do. The same minifigure page, for instance, includes three turning wheels that reveal different heads, torsos and legs of minifigures, so kids (again, careful ones) can create many mixed minis.

     It is not the details and small elements of Reinhart’s book that will captivate kids and parents alike, though. It is the amazing fold-out structures that he has created. Opening the very first page, for instance, reveals a flashy race car. But at the back of the car, which is the top of the folded-open page, are the number 1 and the instruction, “Lift.” Do that and, lo and behold, the car becomes an amazing-looking, propeller-driven seaplane. And that is not all: restore the structure from plane to car and pull at the front, where there are the number 2 and the instruction, “Pull,” and up leaps a roaring T. rex! The transformation is so remarkable that even someone who studies the construction carefully will have trouble figuring out just how Reinhart did it – and how he thought of doing it, which is perhaps more to the point.

     There are five magnificent foldouts in LEGO POP-UP, and each reveals and explores a different element of the LEGO world. A new LEGO series called NINJAGO, introduced in 2011, may seem at first glance to be out of keeping with earlier LEGO designs; but Reinhart brings it into wonderful focus by showing the masked ninja warriors in a suitably dramatic pose in the large foldout – while producing, beneath them, riding-vehicle and battle-vehicle options that can be changed by pulling on tabs and thus learning the difference among the Ultra Dragon, the Destiny’s Bounty, and the break-apart Ultra Sonic Raider. Capping the entire book is the final 3D creation, the two-foot-tall one, which is in the shape of a skyscraper made up of smaller buildings and trucks and ships and a Ferris wheel and trains and people and even a penguin. No matter how often kids and adults have played with LEGO blocks – which date back to the 1950s, so several generations have been enjoying them – they will never have seen anything like this tower construction. Just examining it closely for its different elements will give families lots of ideas of new things to do with LEGO sets. And that, of course, is part of the point here: Reinhart’s book is a fabulous promotion for LEGO, likely to encourage purchasers to become even more involved in the LEGO world. But that is not all it is. It is a genuine work of art, a souvenir more than worthy of the fascinating, deceptively simple building-block toy it celebrates and commemorates. Yet that brings back the question: for whom is it intended? Tearing or damaging it would be a real shame; but so would failing to open it and gaze at it and pull and push and turn all its various interactive elements. It will be up to each family to decide just who gets access to LEGO POP-UP, for how long, and under what circumstances. It is certainly a keepsake – one that families will want to keep around for as long as anyone enjoys LEGO play.

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