If you spent any time in American libraries growing up you probably remember a wide variety of posters urging you to open a book to “explore new worlds.” With her latest publication, “This Book is a Planetarium,” paper artist Kelli Anderson has transformed that trite little saying into a colorful reality. In addition to offering a working model of the heavens, this book also includes several fun and functional demonstrations of key scientific laws, all produced by expertly folding, engineering and designing with paper.
When I was shooting the video about her last pop-up masterpiece, ‘This Book is a Camera,” I recall thinking at the time that Kelli had a whole world of creativity just waiting to burst forth given the right circumstances. If anything, “This Book is a Planetarium” suggests that I may have actually underestimated her talents.
I say that because the pop-up inventions packed between these covers don’t just perform little miracles, they also teach us how our universe works. I particularly appreciate the explanation she gives in her own “behind the scenes” video for the book:
“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. There’s no piece of technology that makes the directional tendency of sound waves more evident than just rolling up a paper cone and speaking into it.”
Or as in the case of this book, crafting a speaker – complete with a multipart, multicolor stand – designed to amplify music played on your smartphone.
“By making something handheld like a book,” she adds, “I could both explain why light beams behave the way they do and also make that information touchable and visceral so people can get both a figurative and literal grasp on a few fundamental scientific principles.”
Inside we not only find the titular planetarium that casts the constellations upon your ceiling with the aid of your phone, as well as the aforementioned speaker, but also a:
- Set of removable spiralgraph tools that slot into a special drawing area – just slip in a piece of paper and relive your childhood
- Stringed instrument you can play with the removable pick provided
- Perpetual calendar that tells you what the day of the week will be on any date in the future
- Decoder ring that allows you to write secret messages.
What makes this book truly impressive is the fact that each one of these pop-up devices must be printed and finished very precisely as Kelli designed her mock-ups – if they’re so much as a millimeter off, they simply won’t work correctly.
After exploring the wonders of each page, we finally come to the back cover of the book, which playfully poses the question “What can paper do?” After spending some time with “This Book is a Planetarium,” my response is “What can’t it do?”