Books sure are changing these days, aren’t they? In the past, you needed to head to the library or the bookstore to browse through physical books on the shelves to find a new adventure to check out or buy.

With today’s modern technology, though, your next great read is just a few clicks away. Thanks to tablet computers and smartphones, combined with e-book technology, you can browse for new books in a web browser. When you find something you like, all you need to do is click, pay online, and download your book to start reading it instantly.

All that technology is great, but some people still like to hold a book in their hands and feel the pages turn beneath their fingers. This is especially true with movable books, such as pop-up books.

There’s really no electronic substitute for enjoying a physical book that’s also a work of art in and of itself. And that’s certainly true of the subject of today’s Wonder of the Day: the tunnel book.

Be sure to watch today’s video if you’ve never seen a tunnel book. They’re so cool! In the same category of movable books, such as pop-up books, tunnel books represent a unique meshing of storytelling with three-dimensional art.

Tunnel books are made up of a series of pages that are held together by folded strips of paper on each side. In fact, the sides of a tunnel book might make you think of an accordion. The overall effect of a tunnel book is to create the illusion of depth and perspective.

Tunnel books are “read” through a hole in the cover. Each page features openings that allow the reader to see through the entire book to the back cover. The images on each page work together to form a three-dimensional scene inside the book that helps to tell the story.

Tunnel books date all the way back to the mid-18th century, when they were originally called “peep shows.” The concept of tunnel books was inspired by theatrical stage sets. If you’ve ever witnessed a live play with movable set pieces, it’s easy to see how they inspired tunnel books.

The name “tunnel book” probably came from the fact that many of these types of books were created to celebrate the building of the tunnel under the Thames River in London in the mid-19th century. Throughout history, tunnel books have often been used to commemorate certain events. They’ve also often been sold as souvenirs at tourist attractions.

Tunnel books are alive and well today. Artist Carol Barton creates modern tunnel books that are very popular. Other artists have taken tunnel books to the next level by turning their accordion sides and front and back covers into canvases for additional artwork.

24 Join the Discussion

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  1. THOUGHT How long does it take to make the tunnel book with such detail? How do you make the box, too?

    CONNECTION: On one T.V. show, one box of tunnel books sold for about half a million.

    WWOTD: The depth of the hole is 6 miles.

    PREDICTION: I think tomorrow’s Wonder is going to be about transportation with varieties of cars.

  2. THOUGHT:I thought the video was very nice.
    CONNECTION: I’ve seen a flip up book.
    WWOTD: depth extent inward downward.
    PREDICTION: I think it is going to be about related wonders.

  3. THOUGHT: I liked the story.
    CONNECTION: I like books.
    WWOTD: What is the depth of the ocean?
    PREDICTION: points

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Tam, Andrea, and the gang from Mrs. Liles Class! You all may be interested in creating your own tunnel books. Check out the “Try It Out” section for this Wonder. There is a link to How to Make a Tunnel Book. Enjoy, Wonder Friends!

  4. Thought: What is a tunnel book anyway?

    Connection: My brother likes tunnel books?

    Prediction: Is it about lines and arrays?

    WWOTD: Sometimes I wanna explore the depths of the ocean.

  5. THOUGHT: I Loved The Video These Books Were Amazing!!!
    CONNECTION: I Have Seem A Book Kind Of Like That.
    PREDICTION:I Think Tomorrow’s Wonder Will Be About Letters.
    WWOTD: The Oceans Depth Is 100,000,000,000 Feet.

  6. Thought: Who makes a book with so many details?
    Connection: How does a book sell so much?
    WWOTD: depth – what is the depth of the ocean?
    prediction: I predict tomorrow’s will be a good day.

  7. THOUGHT: I liked the video a lot and it’s been a while since I’d seen a tunnel book.

    CONNECTION: I used to read tunnel books when I was very little.

    PREDICTION: I predict that tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about going to a place.

    WWOTD: depth

    EX: What is the depth of the ocean?

    • WONDERful connections from Christopher, Tiffany, Danessa, and Keith! We are so glad that you enjoyed today’s video! Check back with us tomorrow to find out if your Wonder Predictions were right! Keep WONDERing! :-)

    • WONDERful question from Miss Komarchuk’s Class! We don’t think tunnel books are kept in tunnels; however, according to today’s Wonder, “the name ‘tunnel book’ probably came from the fact that many of these types of books were created to celebrate the building of the tunnel under the Thames River in London in the mid-19th century.” Cool fact, huh? Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friends! :-)

  8. prediction: I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about sharks.
    wwotd: My desk has depth.
    question: I didn’t understand the video that much.
    connection: I’ve tried to make one of these before.

  9. THOUGHT: At first I was questioning is it going to be boring, but it wasn’t.

    CONNECTION: My dad has never heard of those either.

    PREDICTION: I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about ray’s.

    EXAMPLE: What is the depth of the ocean.

    WWOTD: Depth means” inward or downword”.

  10. THOUGHT: I don’t know much about tunnel books.

    CONNECTION: I have an iPod.

    PREDICTION: I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about cars.

    WWOTD: What is the depth of the ocean?

  11. THOUGHT: In my opinion, I really didn’t understand what the video meant.:)
    CONNECTION: I use to read tunnel books a lot when I was a baby.:)
    PREDICTIONS: I think it is test scores.:)
    WWOTD: A hole depth can be 1-100 miles.:)

  12. THOUGHT: I thought that the passage was more informative, and the video was like an “example”.
    CONNECTION: I connected because I’ve looked at (read) a tunnel book before, but it didn’t look like the one in the video.
    WWOTD: depth-the extent inward or downward
    PREDICTION: I predict that the next wonder will be about lines and line segments.

  13. THOUGHT: Those are really cool books and do they need batteries? And I wonder how much they are?

    CONNECTION: I have never ever seen a tunnel book before and I wonder who makes them? And I have read a regular book, but not a tunnel book.

    WWOTD: What is the depth of the ocean?

    PREDICTION: I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about airplanes and how they fly and what is inside of them.

  14. Thought: I think that tunnel books look very interesting.

    Connection: I read online books and regular books almost everyday.

    WWOTD: In football there is a depth chart to order the players amount of playing time.

    Prediction: I predict that tomorrow will be about cars and ways people go places.

    • What WONDERful readers we have WONDERing with us in Wonderopolis, today! Great insight and connections to today’s Wonder from Janiya, Erick, Kaylen, and Jeremiah! Keep WONDERing with us Wonder Friends! :-)

  15. We are still WONDERing:

    – Who got the inspiration to do the tunnel book?
    – What year was the first tunnel book made?

    • WONDERful questions from Ms. Tesa’s Class! According to today’s Wonder, “the name ‘tunnel book’ probably came from the fact that many of these types of books were created to celebrate the building of the tunnel under the Thames River in London in the mid-19th century.” Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friends! :-)

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us, Halley! According to the Wonder, “tunnel books represent a unique meshing of storytelling with three-dimensional art. Tunnel books are made up of a series of pages that are held together by folded strips of paper on each side. Tunnel books are “read” through a hole in the cover. Each page features openings that allow the reader to see through the entire book to the back cover.” Cool, huh? Next time you are at the library, be sure to check out a tunnel book, Halley! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a tunnel book?
  • How long have tunnel books been around?
  • What inspired tunnel books?

Wonder Gallery

Alice_tunnel_book_front customAlice tunnel book top view custombeccaportfolio086 custombook open customcurtain customVimeo Video

Try It Out

Aren’t tunnel books super cool? Keep learning about them by exploring one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Want to see what a tunnel book looks like? Jump online to check out a Tunnel Book Exhibit featuring photographs of several different tunnel books. Which ones do you find most interesting? Which one would you most like to read? Why?
  • What kinds of stories would lend themselves well to a tunnel book? Give it some thought and then brainstorm some ideas for tunnel book stories. Maybe your story could take place in a tunnel! Or perhaps your tunnel book story could be set on a distant planet. Your imagination is your only limit. Be as wildly creative as you want to be. Think of some ideas and then choose one to work into an outline of a story. Feel free to come up with basic characters, a setting, and even the major plot points of your story. If you want to write out a complete story, go for it!
  • Up for a challenge? You guessed it…it’s time to make your own tunnel book! Turn the story idea you came up with in the activity above into a real tunnel book. We know you’ll need help along the way, though. In addition to getting plenty of help from an adult, here are some websites you can take a look at to help guide you as you create your own work of readable art:

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to check out the History on Stage Pop-Up Lesson lesson plan, which was developed in support of the exhibition Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn. It introduces students to the variety of mechanisms included in movable books and encourages them to build their own pop-up in support of a social studies lesson. Making pop-ups subtly reinforces students’ understanding of mechanical movement and helps budding architects, designers, and engineers begin to envision objects three-dimensionally.

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