Robert Sabuda has come a long way from shoplifting oil paints at age 15 from an art supply store in his Michigan hometown. Thirty-five years later, the noted artist and paper engineer is treading the corridors of power with readers in his latest book, The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation’s Home (Scholastic/Orchard, Jan.). The White House is Sabuda’s 26th pop-up book since 1994, when The Christmas Alphabet was released and launched his career. Now, with the 2016 presidential election gearing up, The White House may appeal to parents wanting some visuals when explaining to young children who will lead our country into the future, and where he or she will live and work while doing so. PW spoke with Sabuda about how he decided which rooms to feature out of the 132 rooms total in the White House, how a poem by an obscure 19th-century poet inspired him to create, and, finally, whether he did field research by visiting the historic building currently inhabited by the Obama family.
Is there a backstory to how this project came about and its timing?
I’ve always been interested in both history and architecture, and the White House seemed like a great subject to explore. I’m also descended from a very long line of carpenters. I probably would have been a carpenter myself if I wasn’t making children’s books, so am really fascinated with the actual process of construction, which is fitting since the White House is one of the first great buildings in the U.S.
How did you decide upon the specific rooms in the White House to highlight as pop-ups?
In an ideal world I would have explored all the rooms in the White House, but I think that book would be too heavy to fit on a bookshelf! So I settled on rooms and locations that personify the idea, office, and person that is the President of the United States. Including Lincoln’s bedroom, which is important to Americans because of that president’s great legacy. The Oval Office has come to symbolize the struggles, triumphs, losses, and great responsibilities of the person who sits at the wooden desk. I wanted to show rooms and places that make the President seem more human, more of a person than a figurehead.
How much did the poem “Inauguration Day” by Richard Watson Gilder inspire you? Is this the first time you’ve used a poem as the text to accompany your pop-up art?
How lucky was I to find that poem?! I have to admit that I’m a bit of a teary-eyed, patriotic citizen, so when I read Richard Watson Gilder’s poem I knew I had struck gold. His words remind us how lucky we are to endow a public servant with leading the nation. The poem was a tremendous inspiration, as was Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful.” which I’ve also made into a pop-up book [America the Beautiful: A Pop-Up Book, Little Simon, 2004].
Did you visit the White House while conceptualizing The White House? If so, anything you want to dish about your visit there, i.e. did you visit with POTUS or FLOTUS or even catch a glimpse?
Ha! I’d been to the White House many times when I was younger and, as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s much more difficult to go inside now. I can’t say I ever caught sight of the great man or lady, but you can practically feel their presence with every turn of a corner in that magnificent place!
The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation’s Home. Scholastic/Orchard, $29.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-545-54089-6