Graphic design can be a serious business. But sometimes a creative professional will break from their usual kind of work and have some fun with children’s books. Below you will find a collection of this kind of creative diversion by well-known designers. Some wrote, some illustrated, and some designed them – but all seemed to have a blast with this playful medium!
I recently wrote an article on the legendary designer Saul Bass (1920–1996) and his movie posters and title sequences, but few know that he illustrated a children’s book as well. Henri’s Walk to Paris, written by Leonore Klein and illustrated by Saul Bass, is the story of a young boy who lives in Reboul, France, who dreams of going to Paris. One day, after reading a book about Paris, he decides to pack a lunch and head for the city. This lovely classic, originally released in 1962 and reissued in 2012, is richly illustrated with full page, colorful images that present the story in the most charming way.
Milton Glaser is one of the most celebrated of American graphic designers. He is known for creating the world-famous “I Heart NY” logo, and the founder of New York Magazine, but not many know that he also dipped his toe into children’s books. He partnered with his wife, Shirley Glaser, to write and design several highly whimsical children’s books.
The Alphazeds, released in 2003, is a beautifully designed, enchanting book for children of all ages, which (re)introduces readers to the alphabet. It all starts with an empty room which begins filling up with some extraordinary-looking letters. As each letter appears on the scene, it boldly announces its personality: A is angry all the time; B couldn’t be more bashful; and K comes in kicking everyone else out of the way. Will the rambunctious letters ever be able to coexist long enough to work together? Charming and utterly original, The Alphazeds cleverly teaches the alphabet and new words to children, while also introducing them to the art of typography in a fresh and enjoyable way.
The Big Race, released in 2005, was written by Shirley Glaser and illustrated by Milton Glaser. This inventively designed children’s book is a modernized version of Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare. When Harry Hare and Tommy Tortoise decide to have a race, Harry takes off like the wind. In this version, Harry passes some world-famous sights, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Parthenon, and more. In this clever format, though, the end is also the beginning, as the book turns over to keep the story continuing again and again.
If Apples Had Teeth by Milton and Shirley Glaser is a book about language, play, and the relationship between words and images. If Apples Had Teeth, originally released in 1960 (and currently hard to find), is graphic, smart, silly, and surreal all at the same time. Language and thought come to life as counterfactuals, and possibilities are conjured and proposed. The heart of the book beats with newness, reminding us that art, poetry, and story are all about creating something that doesn’t yet exist in the world.
Paul Rand, one of the most influential graphic designers of the twentieth century, took a break from the seriousness of his day-to-day work designing iconic logos and teaching at Yale University to collaborate with his wife Ann (who, herself, trained as an architect under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) on four children’s books.
I know a lot of things, written by Ann and illustrated by Paul (Rand), is a celebration of all the new and intriguing knowledge children delight in possessing. Written from the simplicity of a child’s perspective, the plain-but-powerful text voices impart childhood knowledge such as “I know when I look in the mirror, what I see is me” and that “dogs go bowwow and that is how they talk.” This 2009 reissue of the original childhood classic from 1956, is destined to please a new generation.
Little 1, illustrated and designed by Paul Rand with text by Ann Rand, was originally published in 1961 and rereleased in 2006. This exuberant picture book is filled with clever wordplay, and not only tells the engaging story of Little 1 and his quest for a friend, but makes learning numbers and simple addition positively fun.
Listen! Listen! was written by the Rands in 1970 for their daughter, Catherine, to explain the interplay of sound and color. Paul’s distinctive paper-cut illustrations of bold shapes and bursts of color beautifully complement Ann’s rhythmic text, encouraging children to listen and repeat noises they hear every day: the “blop” of a raindrop, the “wham!” of a shutting door, the whisper of the wind in the trees, and the “crunch crunch” of buttered toast.
Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words is also by the Rands. Through harmony and rhythm, resonance and pitch, Ann Rand inspires readers to listen to the tuneful play of her text as it sings off each page. Illustrated with Paul Rand’s colorful, witty artwork, Sparkle and Spin is a children’s classic that reveals to young readers the power and music in the words they use every day. Originally issued in 1957 and reissued in 2006.
One of the founders (and current principals) of the iconic Push Pin Studios, Chwast is a highly influential graphic designer and illustrator whose distinctive style changed the game. In his long career, he illustrated several children’s books.
Mr. Merlin and the Turtle by Seymour Chwast in 1996 put together this clever lift-the-flap volume in which young readers are invited to help Mr. Merlin perform magic tricks by turning interactive foldout pages that transform his pet turtle into a monkey, camel, and elephant. Chwast employs pen and ink and color film to produce a densely saturated, almost animated effect. The pictures have appeal because of the simple, childlike art reminiscent of Colorforms™ (for those of us who remember that toy!). Shapes are bright and distinctly outlined, and each one is given plenty of space on every double-page spread. Flaps and foldout pages reveal the animals in their new incarnations.
Moon Ride was written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Seymour Chwast in 2000. This book describes a young boy’s fantasy journey that begins with the proposition: “If the moon wakes you up in the middle of the night and offers you a ride, say yes.” And so begins a night of surprising travel, seated on the back of the full moon. The simple, quietly humorous text offers sound advice to any child about to set off on a trip. And the soft pastel drawings add a dreamlike quality to the story of this lucky young boy who is whisked from his bed for a night ride through the city that never sleeps.
The Brownstone, written by the noted graphic designer Paula Scher (and wife of Seymour Chwast) and illustrated by Stan Mack, was originally released in 1973 and rereleased in 2016. This charming book tells how living in harmony with your neighbors isn’t always easy, but it’s doubly difficult if you’re a bear living in a New York City brownstone, getting ready to hibernate, and the kangaroos’ tap dancing upstairs and Miss Cat’s piano playing reverberate through the walls and floors. This warm and funny story, slightly revised from the 1972 original, teaches that you can learn to respect and live with others who are different from you. Comic bookish city humor, with each move plotted out in Stan Mack’s cartoon cutaways of the building.
GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design is a fantastic book by award-winning book cover designer Chip Kidd, and is the only non-fiction title in the group. It is a stunning introduction to the ways in which a designer communicates his or her ideas to the world. It’s written and designed just for those curious kids, not to mention their savvy parents, who want to learn the secret of how to make things dynamic and interesting. Read more about this book in my write-up here.Tags