It’s not an easy job looking for a special present for a Disney Parks fan. With so many bits of merchandise out there – ranging from apparel to Funko Pop!s, pins, puzzles and beyond – it can be an arduous task to surreptitiously discover what somebody owns, what they might want, and what they have no interest in.
However, if that Disney Parks fan also happens to be a reader, your job becomes just a little easier. You can stroll on over to their bookshelf and make note of what they already have. And if they don’t already own some of the books below, then they’ll certainly want them, because these are the must-own Disney Parks books that any Disney fan will love!
Which also means you can use this as a shopping guide for yourself, naturally!
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Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, by Neal Gabler
Journalist and film critic Neal Gabler’s 2006 biography of Walt Disney is the gold standard when it comes to the life and times of the man who created Disneyland.
At almost a thousand pages, this hefty tome is a comprehensive look at Walt’s life from birth to death, constantly contextualizing his career, beliefs, and accomplishments within the framework of the United States’ own development over the course of the 20th century.
Unlike biographies produced by the Walt Disney Company that are purely celebratory and those written by critics with an axe to grind that cast Walt as some kind of dark prince, Gabler’s take is extremely humanist and doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad, and everything in between. Readers walk away with a deeper understanding of what drove Walt to create his media empire, culminating in the conceptualization, planning, opening, and development of Disneyland.
Perhaps most importantly, Gabler focuses quite a bit on Walt’s partnership with his brother Roy, showcasing how that relationship is what kept Walt grounded and allowed him to succeed throughout his life, even as his creative impulses pulled him in multiple directions.
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If you want the deepest insights available into the mind of the man who invented the concept of the modern theme park, then Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination is your go-to book.
Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show, by John Hench with Peggy Van Pelt
Easily one of the most influential and important Imagineers of all time, John Hench was a key figure in the development of Walt Disney World (especially the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT) and Tokyo Disneyland. Honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom as the “Dean of Design” for the “Walter E. Disney Graduate School of Design & Master Planning,” Hench not only contributed to the attractions that Walt created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair but also designed Cinderella Castle at both the Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland as well as spearheading the evolving vision of Tomorrowland defined by his design for Space Mountain.
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All of which is to say, if there’s one man whose book about designing for theme parks you should pay attention to, it’s John Hench. And Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show does not disappoint. In addition to behind-the-scenes information on how the magic gets made at the Disney Parks, Hench also has valuable insights for aspiring designers and, of course, copious amounts of gorgeous illustrations and sketches.
Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America, by Stephen M. Fjellman
In addition to the many celebratory books about the Disney Parks – both produced by Disney itself and by fan historians of the Parks – there’s a large body of literature that comes from a more analytical, scholarly perspective. While many scholars are often quite critical of the Parks and their blending of illusion and reality for capitalist purposes, Stephen M. Fjellman’s 1992 book Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America provides an analytical perspective that is balanced and even-handed in its approach.
It’s also extremely comprehensive, covering topics that include the history of Walt Disney World, its relationship with the Orlando area and corporate America, and an extremely detailed look at virtually every single contemporary attraction in the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.
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This book isn’t for everybody – it’s a scholarly text with an eye towards the deeper meanings of Walt Disney World, drawing on a lot of academic theory to make its arguments. But for anybody wanting deep thinking on what the Disney Parks are all about, Vinyl Leaves is the book to get.
Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real, by The Imagineers
Do you know somebody who wants to be an Imagineer? Then this 1996 book (and its 2010 follow-up, Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real) written by the Imagineers themselves is an absolute must-read, and a modern Disney classic!
Though we’ve been blessed in recent years with greater insights about how Imagineering works its magic – thanks to a multitude of books, Disney+’s The Imagineering Story, and the online “Imagineering in a Box” course – back when this book came out it was the first of its kind.
This gorgeously illustrated coffee-table book features tons of information on how Disney Imagineers do their work, focusing both on the creation and design process and on the development of specific attractions. As the original “textbook” for those wanting to get into theme park design, this book still stands strong as a groundbreaking work without which any Disney Parks fan’s collection is incomplete!
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The Kingdom Keepers Series, by Ridley Pearson
For a Disney Parks fan with a taste that leans towards fiction more than anything else, you can’t go wrong with Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series of Young Adult science fiction adventure novels.
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The Kingdom Keepers book series follows the adventures of five Orlando-area teens picked to become the models for innovative new holographic guides debuting at the Magic Kingdom. However, unbeknownst to them, a team of Imagineers have created an even more impressive technology that allows the kids to inhabit those holograms when they sleep. Much more than just tour guides, the teens have been recruited to help rescue Walt Disney World – and, as the series goes on, both Micky Mouse and the entirety of the Walt Disney Company – from the dark magic of a team of Disney villains headed up by none other than Maleficent.
Though not as well written as some other YA series (the later books get a little too bogged down with side tangents that don’t go anywhere), the Kingdom Keepers books are a pure shot of Disney Parks joy that let readers vicariously live out the secret dream we all have of getting to run around the Parks at night!