22 Sep 2009

Gutenberg's Gift

You're going to think we're obsessed with pop-up books here in our peaceful home in the country. We're not. We'll, I do get slightly carried away with Vojtěch Kubašta, but since I only have two of his masterpieces, and these were only acquired in the past month or so, I don't think that that translates into a fully fledged obsession quite yet. Does it? Actually, my favourite pop-up master craftsman has to be Robert Sabuda. We gave Jemimah his The Wizard of Oz a couple of years back. That is one incredible paper engineering feat! Let me know if you'd like to have a look through it some time.

Gutenberg's Gift by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Bryan Leister was one of my finds from The Known World Bookshop that day in Ballarat. Remember?

The book relates, in rhyme, how Johannes Gutenberg contributed to the printing process by perfecting movable type and creating a Bible for his wife, Anna. That's Anna and Johannes above standing and looking in at the scribes copying the finely illuminated pages of a manuscript.

Here's Johannes carving Anna's name from blocks of wood.

And here's the printing press that he finally develops. His apprentice stands by as Johannes inspects the finished page.

On Christmas morn Anna finally receives her Bible.

The story is imaginary. Of Gutenberg the man we know little, not even his date of birth. In this story he has a wife, Anna, he is skilled in woodworking, and his Bible is produced within a single year. We don't know if this is the case. Certainly Anna is fictional.

This doesn't matter though. It certainly affected neither our enjoyment of the book nor its use as an adjunct to the real story as read in Virgil Hillyer's A Child's History of the World. We have enjoyed Gutenberg's Gift very much.

Children's author and poet Nancy Willard received the Newbery Medal in 1982 for her book A Visit to William Blake's Inn. Her words in Gutenberg's Gift are a delight to read aloud. The illustrations by Bryan Leister and the paper engineering by Bruce Foster are, as you have seen, exceptional.

Of course, like almost all the books I review on A Peaceful Day, Gutenberg's Gift is...yep, you guessed it...out of print. Abe has second-hand copies here though, and copies are available through Amazon here. Happy hunting!


  1. Oh that's beautiful Jeanne! What a lovely addition to a study of the Middle Ages! We are about to study Martin Luther next in SOTW, just in time for Reformation Day! Our church is planning a Reformation Day Celebration.

  2. Your blog is good for our minds.... but bad for our budget! hehehe Seriously, I've added so many wonderful books to our Amazon cart because of the great book reviews you give. Thanks!


  3. Thanks! Logan loves to read A child's history of the world over and over so he will certainly love this book! Keep the great reviews coming! You rock!

  4. What a beautiful book. I must admit that I'm a big fan of picture books and pop-up books. I'm always amazed at the cleverness of how they are made.

  5. Hello, Jeanne!

    I just wanted to say Hi from Houston, Texas. I'm Bruce Foster, the paper engineer for Gutenberg's Gift. Thank you so much for the nice words! This was one of my first pop up books so it's especially gratifying to hear that it is still being appreciated!

    I want to invite you and all your friends to visit MY website at http://www.paperpops.com to see more about pop up books.

    One of these days, I would LOVE to visit your beautiful country. Will let you know if I get the chance!


    Bruce Foster

  6. I just bought this book this morning for $1.91 at a thrift shop. I'll probably be blogging about it--OK if I borrow your photos? I'll credit you.

    Norma in Columbus, Ohio

  7. $1.91! Wow, Norma! What a good score! Feel free to use my pics if you blog about it. Thanks for asking.


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