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by Jackie Huang

Whether it’s a novelty book or a picture book, an interactive element (e.g., flip tabs, spinners, sliders, touch/feel textures, etc.) can give your book an extra level of engagement. But how do you decide if your book should have interactive elements?

Coming from a paper engineering background (i.e., I make pop-up cards), I really wanted to include some kind of interactive element in my first book. When you decide to include something interactive, there’s a special kind of dance that happens. 

Picky Panda comes out April 25 from Abrams Appleseed.

In a dance between two people, one leads and the other follows. This is the same with interactive books—either the story leads and the interactions follow, or the interactions lead and the story follows.

But I learned early on that the best kind of interactivity is one that ties in with the narrative—where the book doesn’t feel complete or wouldn’t be the same if it were published without that element. There’s still a leader and a follower, but the story and the interactions enhance one another.

My book, Picky Panda, has nine flip tabs throughout the book. Flip tabs are additional glued-on pieces of paper that flip left/right or up/down. 

My main character, Mr. Panda, is a persnickety panda who likes things just so. “For Mr. Panda, decisions were easy.” So in the beginning, I used the flip tabs to mimic his dichotomous thinking—“Everything was either – Yes or No.” (Flip. Flop.) “Good or Bad.” (Flip. Flop.) “Right or Wrong.” (Flip. Flop.)

Here, the story leads and the interactions follow. Flipping the tabs allows the reader to see Mr. Panda in one state or the other. There’s no middle. 

As the reader moves through the story, Mr. Panda attempts to find a space for a flower that he does not like or want in his house. “Mr. Panda tried and tried to find a place for it. No matter where he put the flower, it felt out of place.”

Now, the interactive element leads and the story follows. As the reader moves the flip tabs, they are actually moving the flower through the scene and seeing all the places Mr. Panda tries to place the flower. “Wrong.” “Wrong.” (Flip. Flop.) “Wrong.” “Wrong.” (Flip. Flop.) “Wrong.” “Wrong.” (Flip. Flop.) “Wrong.” “Wrong.” (Flip. Flop.)

© Abrams Appleseed

Finally, as Mr. Panda begins to have second thoughts about a decision, the flip tabs help slowly show his change of heart. Once again, the story leads while the flip tabs follow.

When creating Picky Panda, I used flip tabs from the very first draft. When figuring out where to place them, I kept asking myself, ‘Does this have to be a flip tab?’ If the answer was ‘no,’ the tab was cut out. The tab only stayed when it was integral to the story or when it further strengthened the story or vice versa.

Now, if I step back and remove all the flip tabs from the book, I ask, ‘Is this the same story?’ No. If everything were printed flat on the page, I don’t think it would be the same book. That’s how I know that the dance is in sync.

If you’re thinking about creating an interactive book, ask yourself, “Does this have to be interactive? Does this interactive element make sense with this particular story? Will the interactive elements enhance the story or vice versa?” If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track. Make sure that every interactive element is essential, then you’ll be on your way to composing a beautiful dance.

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© Hepburn Creative

Jackie Huang moved to Los Angeles after high school to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Shortly after graduating, she returned to school to study illustration at Art Center College of Design. There she found a new way of storytelling through her love of paper art and pop-ups. Whether it’s through an unusual story twist, or a pop-up unfolding, Jackie believes in the magic of transforming the ordinary into something extraordinary.

Images provided by Jackie Huang.