The project originated as a concept from Dr. Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. While using materials from Penn State’s Special Collections, she suggested that it would make an interesting collaboration to have someone figure out a way to animate the originals in order to allow them to be manipulated in a virtual environment. An early example of movement that strongly stimulated our interest was developed by our Penn State colleague David Stong through the use of Flash software and photos provided by Dr. Reid-Walsh. We were intrigued by the possibilities and wanted to develop other ways to create movement.

A successful grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) yielded a Startup Grant that would cover the costs of some images from partner institutions and some other expenses of the researcher. As the plan for the undertaking developed through numerous meetings, the project team began to visualize not just a site that was primarily images, both static and moving, but the gradual evolution of an entire web portal that would make use of the primary investigator’s expertise in describing and assessing these objects in their historical context, would stimulate other scholars to share their expertise via commenting, and perhaps would even lead to the discovery of other unique objects in this category that had not yet been documented.

Project Goals

For the faculty researcher, the goals included:

  • Creating a research and teaching archive comprising examples of early narrative media for and by children around the theme of transformation.
  • Providing access to little known examples of early narrative media so they can be analyzed
  • Initiating a web-based community of researchers among isolated scholars
  • Due to the “playful” nature of the project, a larger aim is to educate teachers, students and the general public to consider these artifacts as examples of interactivity from earlier centuries

For the University Libraries, the goals included:

Collection Development:

  • Greater exposure, more discoverability and wider access for scholars to rare and valuable materials from the Libraries’ Special Collections, and from the collections of potential partners
  • Preservation and conservation of unique materials: creating a process that might allow efficient production of virtual facsimiles that replicate the user experience of opening and manipulating a metamorphic book by hand
  • Support for a faculty member’s creative research ideas that contribute to the value of our collections

Contributions to Technology:

  • Seize the opportunity offered to press for and generate experimentation with different techniques for simulating movement in a virtual environment (recognizing that we had a large learning curve and that not every experimental “solution” would lead to a successful installation based on our criteria)
  • Develop techniques/software that will allow most users/browsers to see and manipulate the results (able to be screened by current browser capability)
  • Create methodology and processes that could be readily reproduced in a production environment with technology available in the Libraries
  • Develop an accomplished staff in the Libraries who have the skills to bring creative uses of technology to bear on this and future projects, both from the technology and project management perspectives
  • Potentially share technology approaches with other institutions wishing to explore ways of displaying more complex types of digital objects

Development of Components

This Learning As Play site was developed using the Penn State University WordPress installation. An alternate site was developed using the library’s current content management system, Adobe CQ.

The website currently consists of background scholarly content from Dr. Reid-Walsh and images from Penn State, the British Library, and the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. A searchable database of the “Metamorphosis” resources Dr. Reid-Walsh collected in the course of her research, and later edited into a union catalog by Mark Mattson, has been created by Libraries developers in cooperation with Publishing & Curation Services. There is a webform for sharing information, suggesting edits, and adding to the knowledgebase of metamorphic picture books. Dr. Reid-Walsh communicates about her research via a scholarly blog on a WordPress installation hosted at Penn State.

The Union Catalog of Early Movable Books

The ambitious goal of creating a searchable online union catalog of known 17th, 18th, and 19th century metamorphic picture books began with the collection and organization of the lists and notes of Dr. Reid-Walsh. The original data was found in multiple institutional lists and catalog holdings and both hand-written lists and Microsoft Word file lists compiled by Dr. Reid-Walsh along with her notes on individual items and editions.

The searchable database is a web application using the scripting language Adobe ColdFusion, the open source database MySQL, and HTML 5. When the user submits the form, ColdFusion passes the criteria to the database. MySQL searches for matches to the criteria entered, and uses HTML 5 to display and format the results on the screen. ColdFusion is used to validate the information entered into the form and secures the application from possible hacker attacks such as SQL Injection, Cross-site scripting, etc. The database tables were normalized to allow for future expansion of the system and consistency of information. The search form of the application allows a user to enter search criteria into nine possible fields and get records that match those criteria. Future plans include converting the database to PHP.

Play with Virtual Movable Books

Metamorphic pictures are generally made on a long sheet of paper that is folded twice horizontally so that the top and bottom meet in the middle and create two flaps, and then folded and cut vertically to create a number of panels. Lifting the top flap and then lowering the bottom flap creates three different scenes for each panel.

The current animated site includes two versions of metamorphic picture books, one in English (1814) and one in German (1833, with transcriptions provided by Mark Mattson and a translation of the German by Juliane Schicker. Movement is powered by Unity gaming software, for which a plugin is needed. For assistance with the moving objects, we approached the Interdisciplinary Digital Studio, an undergraduate digital art and design (Bachelor of Design) degree program at Penn State. We began a formal partnership with them. They recommended undergraduate students who could assist with the technology since we were eligible for an undergraduate internship underwritten by the library to give students an opportunity for real world experiences.

The software chosen for the project was Unity Technologies’ Unity 3D Game Development System and our development partner, faculty member Carlos Rosas, notes that “serious games or applied games (ie: a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.) is a an important area for new media art and digital design curriculum and Professor Matt Kenyon, Professor Darla Lindberg and I had implemented these applied gaming concepts and strategies throughout several courses in the iDS curriculum. The flapbook project and resulting collaboration presented a unique opportunity to have advanced students (in iDS, Photography, etc.) participate in an interdisciplinary and collaborative design project that would ultimately lead towards the development of an interactive “game based” framework for creating and publishing web viewable (virtual) moveable books.” The most recent intern also began experimenting with the 3D functionality of CSS3/HTML5 as an alternative way to animate the objects.

Image Gallery

Images include samples of early movable books from the collections of Penn State, the British Library, and the Cotsen Children’s Library. Transcriptions and translations have been provided for some items for the convenience of researchers.

Dr. Reid-Walsh and Sandra Stelts, Rare Books Curator, chose additional flapbook examples in order to purchase images to include in the site from other institutions who were participants (Princeton and the British Library,) including a child-made example, and made arrangements to have Tiff images made for addition to the collection. Some of these are still in process.


In Early Childhood Learning:

In February of 2014, a small group of researchers from The Pennsylvania State University made two visits to an elementary after school program to find an answer to the question: After more than 300 years from the first known child-made flap book, do children continue to find the simple design appealing? The process for these classroom activities is described in this section of the website.

In a University Context:

Carlos Rosas is also using the concepts in his teaching and creative research. He states, “one of the more interesting connections I found as an educator and new media artist and designer was how effectively the simple “game play” and basic animation (flip book) based narratives that appear in the original Children’s Metamorphic Picturebooks translate/morph and engage the viewer— I am very interested in exploring this with my students as it is a very simple, elegant and functional framework for basic narrative investigations into linear/non-linear game space. In my own creative practice and research, I have developed several variants and iterations of flapbooks concepts derived from the basic framework developed. One of these was recently exhibited and cataloged in Artspace’s Scan2Go project. The Metamorphosis Project: Flipping the Grid is an ongoing series of virtually published interactive vignettes that explores some of my interests and research that seeks to open a critical space to reconsider notions of non-place1 and contemporaneity in a pervasive hertzian landscape.”

“Metamorphosis: Flipping the Grid,” Interactive 3D Metamorphosis iOS/Android Book Project, Scan2Go, Curated by Gail Rubini, Conrad Gleber and Matt Rappaport, Philadelphia, PA, January- December, 2012.

Scan2Go @ v1B3 Project Site

Scan2Go was a project of ARTspace presented at CAA’s 100th Annual Conference, held in Los Angeles, February 22 through 25 2012. This year long project was the first project in a series of three that included AR2View (2013) and Art2Make (2014). Scan2Go (2012) used QR codes to link artworks and websites from the catalog to the viewer on their cell phone.

Most recently, students enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Digital Studio Spring 2014 AA310 Creative Collaboration Studio Course with Carlos Rosas are continuing to work with the Libraries and use the metamorphic picture book images as part of their assignments as future developers.


Many individuals participated in the project as developers, content creators, supporters, and content reviewers, and we hope we have managed to give our grateful acknowledgement to everyone on our Partners and Contributors pages, including the National Endowment for the Humanities Start-Up Grant program.

Permissions for Image Re-Use

Each owning institutions sets its use permissions and parameters

Penn State University Libraries Special Collections

Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University

The British Library retains the copyright for all of its images.

Header Image

Penn State University
Special Collections Library.

Adam Und Eva: Und Der Baum Des Erkenntnisses Gutes Und Böses. s.l.: s.n., [ca. 1820].