Designed for Children II – Pushing the Envelope

What is a Children’s Book? I’ve shared some beautiful examples of children’s books by famous graphic designers, and recently I stumbled across a couple more that really push the envelope of what a reading experience designed for children can be.

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The Book with No Pictures

From the Vanity Fair article:

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures comes by its title honestly; the book is one filled with only words, in different fonts and colors and sizes. Funny, creative, and smart, the book, which forces the reader to say a slew of ridiculous words, is guaranteed to get a laugh out of any kid you know

I love so much about this. I love the idea of showing children the power of words, and the sense of exploration in where words can take them. And I love the idea of highlighting that power, and making the words themselves the hero, rather than any accompanying images. It hits home at an early age the power of communication, and that old adage that the pen is more powerful than the sword.

And making the words, as the star of the show, hilarious and delightful and fun and playful and imaginative and silly, just hits home how much fun reading can be—the best lesson there is!

Novak, known for his career as a comedian, started this project because he says he loves reading to children, and getting a laugh out of them. Starting perhaps with the idea that a comedian has to play to his audience, Novak wanted to explore how a children’s book could feel like it was on the child’s side. As he said in an interview with The Atlantic:

“If the adult had to say silly things, I knew the kid would feel very powerful and would feel that books are very powerful. Working backwards, I realized that if there were no pictures, it would be an even more delightful trick: The kid is taking a grown-up style book and using it against the grown-up.”

This idea that books are powerful reminds me of that Carl Sagan quote, which I wrote about before, and love so much:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” —Carl Sagan

Anyone that can teach children that books are works of magic is doing something right in my book!

 

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Little Nemo in Slumberland

The other book I wanted to share with you is an old classic: Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay. Recently some friends purchased the large format (10×13) Vol 1 of the Complete Collection of this classic comic strip originally published from 1905 to 1911. It is, admittedly, a little early for their newborn to enjoy it, but they are eagerly awaiting the age they can crack it open and enjoy these stories with their son.

From the Amazon product description:

Winsor McCay’s beautiful dreamscapes appeared in the New York Herald between 1905 and 1911, and the comic strip “Little Nemo” is considered by some to be the best, most brilliant comic strip ever published. Six-year-old Nemo (Latin for no one) falls asleep in his bed and is transported to the fantastical Slumberland—at the request of King Morpheus—where he encounters all kinds of strange creatures. At the end of each trip he wakes up, unsure of what was real and what was a dream. The exquisitely detailed, art-nouveau-style colored panels in this edition are reproduced from rare, vintage file-copy pages. Alongside George Herriman’s bizarre Krazy Kat, McCay’s work helped to create the grammar of comic art. This Little Nemo collection—an entertaining romp into Slumberland—also provides a lovely glimpse into the origins of an art form.

Often listed in the same category as Calvin and Hobbes (my personal all-time-favorite), Little Nemo is no vapid child’s tale with the same old tired stories. The images are fantastic, truly works of art, and the creative plotlines are an almost magical-realism style exploration of the realm of imagination and dreams. Its more mature approach to fantastical stories helps it appeal to both adults and children, and its role in defining and establishing the comic genre gives it a historic and cultural significance.

And it’s kind of just fun to read from a 10×13 book! It’s a good example of the format of the physical object itself giving a playfulness and importance to the content.

Both of these books are superlative examples of what a children’s book can be, and would be a fun addition to any child’s library!

 

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Designed for Children

I’ve written a number of posts on design for adult and young adult books, but I’ve yet to feature any books for younger audiences. However, I recently discovered that a few famous graphic designers have made their own children’s picture books, which approach youthful subjects with really beautiful composition and color. One of the most notable authors is probably Paul Rand, who illustrated books written by his wife Ann Rand.

Ann & Paul Rand

Paul Rand is perhaps best known for his logos for ABC, UPS and IBM, and some of his advertisements and posters. While Rand spent most of his life designing for adult audiences, his aesthetic has a simple, colorful, bold look that works really well in children’s books.

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The Rands’ children’s books include the three I’m sharing below, Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words, I Know a Lot of Things, and Little 1. The books have different topics and slightly different visual styles, but are all recognizably Paul Rand’s aesthetic. The text of the books also has a lot of fun word play, from the number puns in Little 1 to playfully illustrated homophones in Sparkle and Spin.

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Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words

This is probably my favorite of the bunch, as it talks about the power and importance of the written language. Despite the simple text, you can tell that the author is very aware of the significance of the written word in our society, and the playful typographic layouts demonstrate a masterful grasp of letterforms and type. Aesthetically, the book design uses a bright, limited color palette and large blocks and shapes of color to fill the pages. And you’ve got to love a children’s book that breaks out the word “tintinnabulate”! Continue reading Designed for Children