Monsters, genies, rabbits, and skeletons are among the images concealed in Hide & Eek!: A Hold-Up-to-the-Light Mystery Book, the debut picture book from Knock Knock, a Venice, Calif., company that creates design-driven gifts, books, and stationery products. A flashlight or another light source positioned behind the wordless pages renders otherwise hidden objects visible, thanks to a paper technology concept developed by hat-trick, a London-based design studio, and Knock Knock. Rebecca Sutherland is the illustrator of the paper-over-board, Wire-O bound volume, which was released in August.

Knock Knock was founded in 2002 by Jen Bilik, who worked for several New York publishers before moving to Los Angeles to “do my own thing and ponder how I might make my elusive mark.” Born out of her desire “to play with paper and wit,” Knock Knock has published a number of novelty books for adults, including Excuses & Lies for All Occasions and The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You, as well as themed journals, notepads, and flash cards for kids. But Hide & Eek! marks a departure for the company. “Until now, we haven’t done any straight, more traditional children’s books, so this is a first for us, and it’s very exciting,” said Bilik.

Illustrator Rebecca Sutherland, who is married to hat-trick cofounder and creative director Jim Sutherland, explained that Hide & Eek had a serendipitous start. “The inspiration for creating a ‘hold-up-to-the-light’ book was seeing a few old Victorian tricks that came in a box of conundrums my husband and I bought on a day trip to a gallery,” she said. “The idea of creating a book from this delightful trickery grew gradually. The initial concepts were shelved for a few years as we both became busy with our own commercial work.”

In another bit of serendipity, Bilik met Jim Sutherland and Gareth Howat (also a cofounder and creative director of hat-trick) at the Design Indaba conference in Capetown in 2011. “We buddied up over the course of a week, and realized, while watching each other’s presentations, that we had similar sensibilities – we were birds of a feather,” Bilik said. “We started talking about doing book projects together.”

A Collaboration Gets Underway

Hide & Eek! was one of the first collaborations between the two companies. “Production of the book grew rapidly as we worked on our initial concepts and put new ideas in,” said Rebecca Sutherland. “We then shuffled it all and edited as we went along. Many Skype conference calls were made, and a lot of laughing was done during them.”

Designing and producing Hide & Eek’s paper technology, which involves two pages – one printed with the shadow image – that feel like a single page when glued together, was somewhat tricky. “The initial design of the book was going to carry the ‘reveal’ image on the reverse of the page,” Rebecca Sutherland explained. “It took a number of consultations with the printer to resolve the real surprise element of duplexing the pages. Also the Wire-O binding was key to the ability to separate the pages enough to look at them with a flashlight behind. The printer sent quite a few proofs that had to be tested with flashlights in cupboards.”

Hide & Eek!’s light-activated, hidden-picture concept apparently appealed to buyers in a variety of marketplaces. “The response has been phenomenal,” said Bilik. “We’ve always sold our products well into the gift market as well as to bookstores, and this book has had a strong sell-in to independents. We’ve also had sales to retailers we didn’t expect, among them Urban Outfitters.”

Knock Knock, which employs 35 staffers, releases between 100 and 120 products a year, including new items and additions to its lines of desk accessories, notepads, journals, and sticky notes, many featuring quotes and quips.

Bilik anticipates that her company’s book offerings will expand in the future. “We’d like to come out with a sequel to Hide & Eek!, and for the first time we’re working with outside authors and book creators,” she said. “Up to now, we’ve created everything in-house, including our books. We come up with the concept and do the researching and writing, sometimes with the help of freelancers. But now we’re looking for people who share our sensibility who have great ideas either for children’s or adult books.”

And why the name Knock Knock? “After I came to terms with the fact that the labor-of-love book I’d been trying to write wasn’t going to happen, I decided to start this company, and was wondering what I’d call it,” she said. “As I sat in my house and looked around the room, my eyes landed on my open door, where I’d glued the words ‘Knock Knock’ on the outside and ‘Who’s There?’ on the inside. And I said, ‘Kaboom!’ I really liked that the name Knock Knock has humor to it, suggests a call-and-response quality, and has a bit of a surrealistic touch. I never even considered another name.”

Hide & Eek!: A Hold-Up-to-the-Light Mystery Book by hat-trick design, illus. by Rebecca Sutherland. Knock Knock, $22 Aug. ISBN 978-160106528-5