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.

Processed with VSCOcam with 6 preset

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!

 

Little_Nemo_1906-07-22_last_two_panels

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!

 

What Should a Book Cover Be?

Obviously, a book cover needs to provide structure and protection for the book. But what is the purpose of the design, and what does the design have to say about the story within it? The artwork on the cover could be anything, really.

Book Cover Template

The cover could have people on it, such as the protagonist, or an abstract figure, or crowd of people who belong in the world of the story. It could have an object that relates to the title or the storyline. It could convey a sense of the story through typography only, choosing a typeface and way of setting the type that conveys the time period or mood of the story. It could depict an environment or building from the story. Or it could have an abstract image or pattern that conveys the mood and general atmosphere of the book, or the cultural setting and traditions.

With so many possibilities out there, the question that we sometimes forget to ask is not what can a book cover be, but what should it be?

Continue reading What Should a Book Cover Be?

Reading the Web

Reading on the web can be annoying. Websites are often crowded with additional features, graphics, ads, navigation, alternative content, links, and who knows what all else. Every little thing pulls at your attention, drawing your eyes away from the text you are trying to read.

This is the polar opposite of reading a book. In a book, you get the text, perhaps a page number and chapter title in the corner, and that’s it. Even reading modern ebooks, for example on the kindle, you usually still just get text and some information tucked in at the bottom about how far through the book you are.

So what’s up with the web? Why can’t web designers control their impulse to put anything and everything on the page next to the text? The answer is, they’re starting to, and we can see this in both the NYTimes redesign and Medium, the latest venture of Twitter cofounder Evan Williams.

NYTimes.com Redesign

The NYTimes.com previous site design was just as bad as anyone in terms of loading up the page with distracting extras. Below is a screenshot, where I’ve highlighted which part of the screen is actually taken up by the article (including the article’s picture):

Old NYTimes Design

Compare that to the new NYTimes.com design, where they’ve recognized how much better of an experience it is when the screen isn’t completely cluttered:

NYTimes Redesign6Because they still need to make money from ad revenue, there is an ad at the top. But notice how I could say “an ad”—there’s just one. And there are still links to share the content online and go to other sections, but they’re kept to strictly defined areas that don’t compete visually with the article. Typographically, the article title now grabs your attention as the most important text on the page, and the social media icons are now all the same color so they’re less visually distracting. And now look at what happens when you start reading the article:

Continue reading Reading the Web

At My Reading

Last night, for the first time, I was invited to read my poetry to an audience.

The Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies emailed me a couple weeks ago saying that they had selected my poem to be published in the special literary edition of their journal.  The email came as a complete surprise – the creative writing email list sounds out dozen of publication opportunities, and if I have material that fits the specifications I submit it, but I had totally forgotten that I had submitted anything to the Asian American Studies Journal.

The reading was held in one of the dining rooms in the Faculty Club.  I’ve always heard good things about how nice the Faculty Club is, and I am so pleased to have experienced it myself before I graduate in a couple weeks.  A very nice dinner was served, and I sat at a table towards the front with about ten other people I had never met before.  For the most part we made polite table conversation, but I had an interesting discussion about New York and graffiti among other things with Shimon Tanaka who was seated to my left.  Shimon is a teacher in the Creative Writing department, and one of the three featured readers of the night.  In addition to being very friendly and great to talk to, his reading from a short story he’d written about two Japanese boys was one of the best of the night.  The readings varied in style, genre, and quality, but over all I had a good time, and I got to read two of my poems – “The Apsara,” which was featured in the journal, and “Kept Close.”  I’ve included the text of the “The Apsara” below, or you can read both poems on my website rwright.me.

***

The Apsara

Hewn free from the sandstone block, I danced into air
And my feet, commanded by the god-king of a Cambodian empire,
Pointed themselves, anklet-enclosed, in the shape of a prayer.

Slowly, sinuously, my arm rose above my head, my fingers flared
And arched towards my sister dancing by my side, part of thousands in our choir
Hewn free from the sandstone block; we danced into air.

Today, in shades of gray, lichen and rain stains twist across my hair
Entwining my jeweled headdress with the passing time, dappling the three rising spires
Crowning my brow, delicately-balanced, in the shape of a prayer.

Hindu at conception, I now dance for the Buddha, for I shall do what the god-king declares.
Attended by the pious few draped in vivid orange who worship here, divinely inspired,
We still, hewn free from the sandstone block, dance into air.

Hundreds now trek daily to capture my frozen image within a camera, and stare
At the detailed girdles kissing our hips and our silver skin, much admired,
Baring itself, polished by fingertips, in the shape of a prayer.

Unable to leave this temple of Angkor, my movements shall forever belong to the Khmer
But I am proud to uphold their hopes and heavenly appeals as I turn and twist and never tire:
Hewn free from the sandstone block, I shall forever dance into air
Arching myself, bound and beloved, in the shape of a prayer.