What's 8 feet tall and 14 feet wide, weighs more than 300 pounds, and can be found at an elementary school in Shakopee, Minnesota? No, it's not the world's scariest principal; what it is (according to art teacher Jane Smith), is potentially the world's biggest pop-up book.
"We're waiting to hear from Guinness before we decide what to do with the book," Smith said. "I'm hoping that once we hear from them, we'll find someone who will put the book on permanent display."
"I came up with the idea of a giant pop-up book last summer while taking a course in children's literature," Smith recalled. "As an art teacher, I thought it would be the most boring class." Instead, it turned out to be the most inspiring, providing Smith with both a great idea for her sixth-grade project and a way of fulfilling a dream of her own. "I've always wanted to write and illustrate a children's book," Smith said, "and this seemed like a good time to do it."
So Smith wrote her story -- about a brother and sister who discover that life is best when people appreciate their differences. Then she put an additional 100 "planning, research, and thinking hours" into creating the pop-up book. The preparatory work continued through the summer and into the fall, as Smith looked for sponsors for the book and for companies that would donate materials. "A couple of local companies donated the main pieces," Smith pointed out. "C. H. Carpenter Lumber donated wood for the frame of each page and for the book's cover, and Inland Container donated giant sheets of paper-thin cardboard for the individual pages." Smith also received a $1,000 grant from the Shakopee Endowment Foundation and funds from a small school fund-raiser. That additional money went toward paint, supplies, and other materials related to the project.
"We built the book in the art room," Smith said. "We wanted the book to be as big as we could possibly make it, but we needed to be able to get it out of the room once it was finished. Our ceilings are 8-1/2 feet tall, so we knew that the book could be only 8 feet tall. Our door frames, however, are only 7 feet tall -- which was a problem that students had to solve."
Initially, the students worked on the book only during class time; as the deadline got closer, however, they began to stay after school and come in before school to work on the book. Smith estimated that the students worked on the book for more than 1,000 kid-hours during the four and a half months it took to complete the project. "I have never had so many students coming into the art room during the day, staying after school, and coming in before school than I did this year," she said. "It was a good problem to have, though. They were so excited about what they were doing that they wanted to be in the art room all the time," she said.
The completed book has only six pages, but it weighs more than 300 pounds and is 14 feet wide when open. Two students are needed to turn the pages. And, yes, it really is a pop-up book. "The pop-out pieces really do come out off the page," Smith pointed out. "My favorite is the last page, with a giant frog popping out of the page.
In April, six custodians moved the completed book from the art room to the gym. There, students staged two performances for family and friends in which they acted out the roles of the book's characters. "We had to have two performances," Smith pointed out, "because our gym wasn't big enough to hold everyone who wanted to attend."
Both the giant book and the packed performances also were a giant success with the kids. Lacy, one of the play's dancing frogs, told Smith how much working on the book and being the lead frog dancer had meant to her. She said she had never really been excited about school or being a part of anything until this project, Smith recalled, and now she loves school and cannot wait to do similar projects.
(Photos courtesty of Sun Path School)