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Students Aim for World's Record With Giant Pop-Up Book!

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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.

Two students are needed to turn the pages of the giant pop-up book.
As of mid-June, art teacher Jane Smith was awaiting word from the record keepers at Guinness World Records to see whether the pop-up book created by students at Sun Path Elementary School in Shakopee, Minnesota, set a world's record. Editors at Guinness had told Smith they did not have a category for pop-up books but they would create one if the students completed the project.

"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."


The giant pop-up book isn't the only big project that Smith and Shakopee students worked on this year. "Earlier in the year," Smith said, "we made a flag that was 30 feet by 17 feet. The students drew their thoughts and feelings about the events of September 11 onto the white stripes on the flag. The flag took on a life of its own and touched so many hearts that it ended up in New York City; my principal and I presented it to NYC firefighters at a ceremony at Madison Square Garden. That experience also was a huge achievement for my students; it was a really great example to them of how art touches our lives in positive ways."
"Every year, because it's their last year here before they head off to junior high school, I try to do a really special art project involving all my sixth-grade students," Smith told Education World. "I have 12 classes of sixth graders, however, so the project has to be a really big one. This year, because of our district's focus on literacy, I decided to do something that would bring books to life for my students.

"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.


The Sun Path students began to get involved in the project in November, with a field trip to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis. There, they learned how to make several different kinds of pop-up books. They began creating their own book in December; beginning with creative brainstorming sessions. "We would brainstorm in each of my 12 sixth-grade classes," Smith said.

Students participated in whatever part of the process they felt most comfortable with.
To keep the process running smoothly, the kids were organized into committees. "I had a zillion committees," Smith noted. "Kids signed up for the process they felt most capable of doing. Members of the page committees decided what art would be on each page, based on the story line; the primer committees primed the pages with gesso (a plaster of Paris and glue mixture used as a surface for painting); the page drawers sketched the illustrations in pencil; page painters added color; frame builders built the frames; front cover designers designed the lettering for the book's cover; and so on.

"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.

Smith's favorite part of the book is the giant frog that pops out of the last page.
"I couldn't have completed the book, of course, without the support of family and friends," Smith added. "My husband, Ken, my daughter, Kalah, and my son, Kenny, all came in at different times to help. Friends also came in to help put the pages on the frame. The book is so big, that it took two to three adults to frame each 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.

Students put on a play in which they took on the roles of the book's characters.
"This was a milestone in my teaching career," Smith told Education World. "I felt as though I had tapped into something really special with my students. Not only did the students do things they never dreamed they could do but I also did things I had been dreaming of doing for a long time. We worked well together. This book has inspired me to complete other stories and attempt to get them published."

(Photos courtesty of Sun Path School)