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Best pop-up books of 2012 for pre-K and elementary-school kids

Pop-up books 2012: The very best of them are a toy, a book and a wonderful piece of art rolled into one.

 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Cinderella: A Three-Dimensional Fairy-Tale Theater by Jane Ray
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Cinderella: A Three-Dimensional Fairy-Tale Theater by Jane Ray
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Cinderella: A Three-Dimensional Fairy-Tale Theater by Jane Ray
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin / Book: Tate)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin / Book: Tate
Hide and Seek by David A. Carter
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin / Book: Tate)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin / Book: Tate
Hide and Seek by David A. Carter
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin / Book: Tate)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin / Book: Tate
Hide and Seek by David A. Carter
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
My Little Blue Robot by Stephen T. Johnson
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
My Little Blue Robot by Stephen T. Johnson
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
My Little Blue Robot by Stephen T. Johnson
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
My Pop-Up World Atlas by Anita Ganeri and Stephen Waterhouse
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
My Pop-Up World Atlas by Anita Ganeri and Stephen Waterhouse
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
My Pop-Up World Atlas by Anita Ganeri and Stephen Waterhouse
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
One Spotted Giraffe: A Counting Pop-up Book by Petr HorĂ¡?ek
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
One Spotted Giraffe: A Counting Pop-up Book by Petr HorĂ¡?ek
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Playbook Farm by Corina Fletcher and Britta Teckentrup
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Playbook Farm by Corina Fletcher and Britta Teckentrup
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Playbook Farm by Corina Fletcher and Britta Teckentrup
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Playbook Farm by Corina Fletcher and Britta Teckentrup
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure by Matthew Reinhart
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure by Matthew Reinhart
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure by Matthew Reinhart
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites
 (Photograph: Jessica Lin)
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Photograph: Jessica Lin
The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites

Pop-up books, whose hidden magic is lying in wait for a child to discover it, capture the delights of reading intuitively and viscerally—well, the best of them do, anyway. We've gathered together our favorite pop-up books of 2012, from a mini pop-up "theater" to a 3-D atlas and a Star Wars extravaganza, to give you an easy way to ignite your kids' imagination—and gift ideas for any time of year. Plus, Greenlight Bookstore, the shop we voted the best newbie bookstore for city families, is offering Time Out Kids readers an exclusive, online-only discount for the purchase of any of the following books through December 31, 2012. Go to greenlightbookstore.com and enter TONYPOP to receive 20 percent off.

Best pop-up books

Cinderella: A Three-Dimensional Fairy Tale Theater by Jane Ray

At first glance, this book doesn't seem to have any words at all. Flip the pages and all you'll see are intricate, three-layered images that give the 3-D concept a new meaning. But the narrative of the tale of Cinderella is there; it's just hidden behind curtains to the right and left of the theater's 3-D stage. Not only do the pages tell a story that never grows old but they also teach kids about the art of stage design, props, scenery and stage direction included.

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The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites

This charming, cleverly designed little book by lets early readers learn for themselves what some otherwise abstract sets of opposites mean by interacting with the "happy little yellow box" via pull-tabs and other hands-on mechanics. On one spread, a light (the yellow box) shines in the window of a house in the foreground, then turns off in that house and lights up another house in the distance when a tab is pulled, illustrating the difference between near and far.

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Hide and Seek by David A. Carter

The latest pop-up book by artist David A. Carter, originally published by the Tate Museum in London, is a cross between an intricate, modernist piece of art and an I Spy book. The book contains five sculptures, each of which is accompanied by clues for what to look for. So instead of the pop-up illustrating a story, it is the main narrative, and the thing the words point to. Some pages have extra pop-ups hidden behind little doors for curious readers to unfurl themselves.

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My Little Blue Robot by Stephen T. Johnson

What if everything you needed to make a toy was contained in the toy's instruction manual? That's just what's going on with this ingenious book by Stephen T. Johnson, author of My Little Red Toolbox: All the parts you'll need to build a cool robot, including bolts and a screwdriver, are embedded in the pages of this book, which tells kids just what to do the parts on that particular page. Slowly but surely, the little blue robot springs to life with the help of its proud builder.

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My Pop-Up World Atlas by Anita Ganeri and Stephen Waterhouse

Let's face it: Geography is not always the most compelling grade-school subject. Continents, oceans and polar caps are, on a regular globe, like so many weird-shaped puzzle pieces. That's why this book could be a winner both at home and in schools. It separates continents into different pages, adding fun pop-up elements, like the Toronto's CN Tower, Old Faithful and Mt. McKinley for North America, that tell many stories. More fun facts hidden behind flaps, turn-wheels, and pull-tab elements make it as interactive an atlas as you're ever likely to find.

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One Spotted Giraffe by Petr Horacek

This visually pleasing counting book presents toddlers with beautifully drawn, whimsical creatures who'll no doubt teach them the difference between "three speedy cheetahs" and "nine leaping lemurs." Each spread presents a certain number of animals, like "eight furry pandas," and hides a numeral, decorated like the animals on the page, under a flap, all set to pop up and reinforce the joys of counting.

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Playbook Farm by Cornia Fletcher and Britta Teckentrup

Animal lovers will go bah-bah for this farm-themed book, whose pop-up pages can be turned like an ordinary book or pulled out of the box in which it's stored to become an instant pastoral play mat. Tucked inside the envelope built into the front flap are farmers, farm animals and equipment with which rural-leaning tykes can act out a scene of their making.

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Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure

Got a Star Wars fan in the house? Now you've got yourself the perfect book for him or her too. Each spread has an obvious pop-up element, but with a bit of investigation the reader uncovers layers upon layers of other 3-D surprises, such as that expound on the history of Gungans, Wookiees and the three "battle beasts" that squared off against Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Senator Padmé Amidala. Best of all is the pop-up light saber on the last page, which lights up spectacularly.

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