Early in the history of bookmaking the printed book was distinguished in size by the number of times the original large sheet of paper on which the type was printed had been folded, i.e., folio, quarto, octavo, and duodecimo. With the advent of machine-made paper, these sizes were standardized. The standard octavo, according to the American Library Association, is between 20 cm and 25 cm in height.
Books apparently did not come into existence until long after writing, e.g., inscription, was widespread. Fragmentary early papyri represent literature in ancient Egypt and may possibly be considered as books, although it is customary to speak of the Book of the Dead as the first of the Egyptian papyrus books. The cuneiform tablets gathered into the great Assyrian library of Assurbanipal represented an enormous collection of works, but the book as we know it may be said to be derived from the Egyptian writings on papyrus.
The vast literature of the Greeks, collected in the greatest library of the ancient world, in Alexandria, was generally written on large sheets of papyrus, which were glued together and rolled up. The rolls varied greatly in size; many were about 1 ft (30 cm) wide and about 30 ft (9 m) long when unrolled. In the Hellenistic era large works were divided into tomes [Gr.,=cutting] that were stored together in cylinders and labeled.
The method of having the leaves held together in quires (24 or 25 sheets) in the fashion of the modern book seems not to have originated until about the 2d cent. A.D. From at least the early part of the 2d cent. B.C. the more permanent vellum (a type of fine parchment first used in the Middle East) was also used for writing books, and this grew to be very popular in the Middle Ages when books were copied by monks in the scriptoria of monasteries. In the scriptoria the art of illumination flourished, making artistic masterpieces of many medieval liturgical volumes.
The production of books in great quantity had to await the mechanical processes of printing from movable type. Printing was invented in China, where the first book printed by means of woodblocks is thought to date from the 9th cent. Korea developed movable metal type during the 13th cent. In the West movable metal type was developed by Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, and to a very large extent the history of the book is henceforth the history of printing.
Book production developed very rapidly, the craft becoming enormously sophisticated by the 16th cent. Italian printers set the standards of format and quality retained in Europe until the 19th cent. Great printing houses also arose in France and the Netherlands and, after a general decline in the 17th cent., in England and the United States. The 19th cent. witnessed machine replacement of all the old manual processes. By the end of the century printing quality had been so debased that a revolution, led by William Morris during the arts and crafts movement in England, was necessary to restore the concept of beauty to bookmaking.
In recent years computer technology has revolutionized book production and the printing and distribution of comparatively inexpensive softcover books, or paperbacks, has expanded. During the latter part of the 20th cent. the standing of the book as an information source was challenged by other media including television, computers, and on-line databases. In addition, the very definition of a book as a collection of printed sheets of paper has also been challenged, as books recorded on audio tape and CD-ROM have become increasingly common and electronic book readers (small computers designed to display pages of books on their screens) have been introduced that can store hundreds of books in digital form.
For a brief and excellent bibliography, see H. Lehmann-Haupt, One Hundred Books about Bookmaking (1949). See also F. G. Kenyon, Books and Readers in Ancient Greece and Rome (2d ed. 1951); E. Chiera, They Wrote on Clay (1958); F. L. Schick, The Paperbound Book in America (1959); H. D. Vervliet, ed., The Book through Five Thousand Years (1972); W. Morris, The Ideal Book (reprints of essays and lectures on the book arts, ed. by W. S. Petersen, 1982); N. Howard, The Book: The Life Story of a Technology (2005).
Animalia is an alphabet book and contains twenty-six illustrations, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each illustration features an animal from the animal kingdom (A is for alligator, B is for butterfly, etc.) along with a short poem utilizing the letter of the page for many of the words. The illustrations contain dozens of small objects that the curious reader can try to identify. As an additional challenge, the author has hidden a picture of himself as a child in every picture. In 1987, Animalia won the title of Honour Book in the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards. In 1996, a tenth anniversary edition was released.
Base also published a colouring book version for children to do their own colouring.
A television series was also created, based on the book, which airs in the United States, Australia, Canada and the UK.