Jill & Dragon


by Lesley Barnes (Tate, 2015)

You’ve got to see this book. And you’ve got to stick around for some extras from Lesley Barnes, its author and illustrator.

It begins on the endpapers.

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Once upon a time there lived a terrible dragon.

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And then on the title page, we can guess that we’ve just seen a snippet of this girl’s book. You can tell she’s a book lover by that throne of books she’s sitting atop. (Keep an eye on Dog throughout the pages. He’s not too sure about all of this.)

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By the time the story starts, we’re already in the middle of it.

We’re already sympathetic to this big, pink, dragon who’s dripping with knights and the letters from his story. But Jill, sweet Jill, with patterned pants equally as eye-catching as Dragon’s, ropes him up and invites him out of his story and into hers.

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It’s the tea party that changes everything.


It’s that tea party that makes room for an exquisite gatefold and a happy ending.

It’s a meta tale that’s dazzling and dreamy and unexpected and just plain wonderful. What Lesley Barnes accomplishes with this color palette and style is nothing short of design time travel.

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(The previous three pictures provided by Lesley. Many thanks!)

I asked Lesley about her inspirations for this story, and she’s graciously given us this sneak peek behind the scenes.

As for what inspired her style for this book? These.

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Even better, these guys.


That’s Frank and Pumpkin, Lesley’s dogs. On the left is Frank, who inspired Dragon’s look, and Pumpkin, who inspired Dog’s. Jill & Dragon is even dedicated to this duo!

One of my favorite things about books is when other art is inspired by its own. Like this fabulous Dog brooch, exquisitely crafted by Lesley’s friend, Jennifer Loiselle. 


And how about this creation by the Felt Mistress herself, Louise Evans? Incredible.

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Untame your inspiration along with this trio. Use your talents wisely.


Cat Says Meow (and a giveaway!)

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt by Michael Arndt (Chronicle Books, 2014)

This book won me over when I saw it last year, and it’s one that is fun to peek into again and again. And how is that the case with something so simple, but so sophisticated? So spare, but so complex? That’s the best truth of design.

Here’s what’s happening. Each spread shows an animal and its sound. And each animal is mostly made up of the letters of that sound.

It’s a fun puzzle to unlock. The portraits are bold and saturated in color, often different than we’d see them in the wild.

But here they are, wild anyway.

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I do love an animal book that goes beyond the usual suspects, don’t you? A mosquito! Not my favorite friend by any means, but he looks good and menacing here.

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This small volume is a perfect primer on both typography and onomatopoeia.

And it’s got killer endpapers.

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A portion of  proceeds from Cat Says Meow goes to support animal rescue organizations, including the ones from where Michael’s dog (Clooney!) and cat (Aiden!) were rescued.

And for more type fun, play this kerning game and see how your eye stacks up to a designer’s. Or this one on letter forms, which is a bezier curve bonanza.

Would you like a signed copy? And these one of a kind bookmarks and vinyl stickers! You do, yes. Leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter before midnight on March 8st, PST. Good luck!

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All images are © 2014 Michael Arndt. Thanks to the artist for sharing them (and an awesome giveaway!) here. And be sure to check out his Instagram if you love all things type, animal, and lovely. It’s a great one!


100 Bears

100Bears by Magoli Bardos by Magali Bardos

published 2014 by Flying Eye Books 100Bears by Magoli Bardos Let me introduce you to Flying Eye Books, if you aren’t already pals with them. Their books are fairly new to me, but are consistently striking and interesting and a different sort of fare than some more commercial offerings. 

Case in point: this post by Danielle Davis over at This Picture Book Life (you know her, right? Her posts are a work of art and always a celebration of the picture book form. I’m lucky to know her in real life, not just on the internet.) and this look at their current season (and an interview!) by Travis Jonker 100Bears by Magoli Bardos 100 Bears is a counting book with some actual narrative to it. The pace starts off sweetly but then 9 gunshots and an escape leads to a madhouse of 23 knocked over chairs and 37 or 38 bits of confetti. Such trouble a few bears can get into! Some teensy text flaws swim around in that lost-in-translation sea, but there is some real satisfaction in a circular counting story with 100 moving parts. The smile you’ll get from the first and last pages alone is one of the true joys of story. 100Bears by Magoli Bardos A design technique shown off so spectacularly here is spot color. That’s when a single color is printed at a time, and so the process gets layered (and tricky!) by rolling down the building blocks of a print on the same lithograph. You won’t see gradients or blended color, just blocks of hue. (Here’s a little more about the process, from author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli.)

And why does the cover catch your eye? It’s more than a circus style balancing act of big old bears and their blocky numbers. It’s that complementary color scheme. Blue and orange. With a splash of pink for some oh, yes.

And so what is this thing? I’m not too sure, and I don’t really care! It’s like a coffee table book for the sippy cup set. Enjoy it, for sure. 100Bears by Magoli Bardos P.S. – Crazy for spot color? Stay tuned and hear again from the master himself, Greg Pizzoli. Coming up soon on Design of the Picture Book!

Who Needs Donuts?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty By Mark Alan Stamaty

Published 1973 by Dial Press, reprinted 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

At first glance, the answer to this book’s title is pretty clear. Because, everybody. Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty But do you know this book? When I mention it to someone, I either hear about their favorite jelly donut (the one with strawberry), or they lose their sprinkles over the magnificence of this screwy tale.

The simplicity of the setup:

Sam lived with his family in a nice house.

He had a big yard and lots of friends.

But he wanted donuts, not just a few but hundreds and thousands and millions — more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.

Finally one day he hopped on his tricycle and rode away to a big city to look for donuts.

The scattered spectacle of the scene, a commotion in black and white. On those initial pages alone:

A bird in swim trunks

A roof-mowing man

A chimney blowing ribbons

A man in the window reading a newspaper with the headline, Person Opens Picture Book Tries to Read the Fineprint

Two donuts

And a cinematic, get-ready-for-your-close-up page turn. (Be sure to look closely in the blades of grass.) Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty There’s almost a calm in the chaos. It’s regular and rhythmic and pandemonium and patterned all at once. Perfect for a story that’s a little bit bonkers and a whole lot of comfort.

So. Then what? Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty The relative calm of Sam’s neighborhood yields to an even madder and mayhem-ier sight.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Then Mr. Bikferd and his wagon of donuts shows up.

And a Sad Old Woman. And Pretzel Annie.

Sam continues to collect donuts. Stocks and piles of donuts. Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty A wagon breaks. A repairman helps. A love story. Abandonment.

(A fried orange vendor. A bathing zebra. Rollerskates. A Sad Old Woman.)

Who needs donuts when you’ve got love? Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty When Sam rides home, the words that began his story are on the sidewalk. I get the shivers about that.

The starts of stories are carved in concrete.


P.S. – These pictures remind me a little of what I’m seeing for Steve Light’s new book, Have You Seen My Dragon? Check out this review where Betsy Bird notices the same, and this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, because it’s always a treat. I also think of the hours I’d spend as a kid studying each square centimeter of The Ultimate Alphabet. Like Waldo, but weirder.

Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

by Paul Thurlby

{published 2013, by Templar}

You know you have a book problem when you forget what lives in your piles. I bought this book when it pubbed back in March, and that tiger’s binocular’d glare stared me down the other day. I snatched it from the pile with the furious preying eyes of the creatures bound in this book.

(Dramatic? Sorry. You must not have heard Carmina Burana playing in the background of my opening monologue. Do you hear it now?!) In the early days of this blog (almost two years ago!), I wrote about Paul Thurlby’s AlphabetI made lame jokes about Thanksgiving (‘if you’re stuffed, feast your eyes on this!’), so as you can see my wit and humor hasn’t improved much since.

Good thing Paul Thurlby has.  And that statement is a stretch as commentary on his genius, but I do think I might like this one even more than his last. This is a mashup of pictures and words in the most clever of ways. Each page shows us an animal bursting with personality. Look at that rat! (Reminds me of these rodents a little bit!) And each is captioned with a quirky fact which explains just what the heck is happening in the illustration. Here, it’s:

Keeping their skin moist by showering is important for elephants’ health.


Rats spend a third of their lives washing themselves.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, while resting one half of their brain at a time.

Lions hunt at night, thanks to their ability to see well in the dark. Because the factoids lean toward kooky, the pictures’ silliness both shine and remain surprising. When I talked about Paul Thurlby before, I mentioned unity. Still holds. Still a package wrapped up in perfect pictures and words. But what I am most drawn to in his work are his textures.  The grid, the distressed edges, the scratches, tape, and imperfections – all of those design decisions add a layer of warmth and grit to a bunch of terrifying but desperately adorable creatures.

Watch out for giraffes if you’re on stilts and run across them in the wild. They have 21-inch tongues!


What Happens When . . .

by Delphine Chedru

{published 2013 (in English), by Tate Publishing}

I’ve been thinking a lot about visual storytelling lately. Well, I pretty much am always thinking about visual storytelling. And that’s why I was so tickled and touched by this book. Thanks to Rebecca at Sturdy for Common Things for introducing me to this lovely find!

I bought it because of that cover. I didn’t know I’d open page after page of wow. Instantly, I was drawn to the simplicity of each layout. A spare white page on the left, graced only with one line of text. And on the right, a richly colored illustration to match the text. On this very first spread, you get a clear sense of Delphine Chedru’s suggested shapes and mastery of negative space. It’s graphic and bold and beautiful.

So what does the text say?

What happens when my balloon floats up, out of the zoo . . . ?

And then, this: Rather than turning the page, you unfold it. The text is still there to remind you of the story that gurgled up out of that wonder. Do you see your red balloon? The pages that follow are just as curious, and just as surprising. It’s impossible to not create a scenario for each posed question, and then be awed by the illustrator’s solution.  And to my bucket when I leave it behind on the beach . . . ? What you might not be able to see in that picture is a WANTED sign for the shark, and a tiny red fish with a sheriff’s hat leading his capture, all with that bucket that you left on the beach. Adore.

And wouldn’t it be fun to create your own pages like this? Or respond to these pictures in writing? Isn’t all creativity answering ‘What if?’ What happens when my left sock slips behind the radiator . . . ?

Well? What happens to Teddy when I leave him behind . . . ?

That bird on the boing-boing horse is just too much. Makes me laugh every time.

And then, a big, huge, monster question: What happens to stories once a book is closed . . . ?
This last page doesn’t unfold. This answer is up to you.

I am so under the spell of this weighty book with the lighthearted illustrations. I’m not sure how to answer that last question, and sitting with the ‘What if?’ is both challenging and satisfying, isn’t it?breakerWant more Delphine Chedru? Me too. I found this book trailer, and although I can’t understand the words, I can read the pictures. So charmed.


Sweet and Shorts: Sassy Board Books {giveaway!}

Baby_Loves_Colors Baby_Sees Baby's_World Who_Says

illustrated by Dave Aikins

{published 2013, by Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers}


Here’s a fabulous Friday celebration! If you have little ones, you might be familiar with Sassy toys. They are designed to foster learning and engage the growing brain of our teensiest family members. And they are adorable!

So just look how spectacular their first leap into books is! This bundle of four is bright and begs to be touched (and gnawed on.) Beyond these eye-grabbing covers, the insides are a stunning display of rhythm, repetition, and pattern. Perfect for high-contrast-loving little brains!

This set debuts at the end of this month, but thanks to the kind tuxedoes at Penguin Young Readers Group, I have TWO sets of these board books for YOU! Sneak peek and nanny-nanny-boo-boo to the rest of the moms on the block. (Just kidding about that last part. But seriously, these are super books.)

To enter, just leave a comment on this post before midnight on Thursday, August 29th. Good luck!


Color + Colors

I have no children. I have board books. Is this weird? Maybe. But these in particular are little graphic design studies. I will not literally try to chew them, but they are definitely droolworthy.

Do you know Alexander Girard? He was a midcentury designer, specializing in color and textiles. I’m crazy about the Nativity set at that link. And while most people have heard of Herman Miller, Girard was the designer that sizzled up their furniture line with his palettes. He said this, which made me fall in love a little: “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure color.” 

He did it anyway.

So this little book is a huge celebration of his style, color, and desire to make you faint and fall in it.

How about Charley Harper? He took a vibrant love of color from the natural world, and distilled that into his pictures. I adore that on first glance, whimsy and delight dances around, but a longer gaze reveals storytelling ingenuity. He said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see feathers, fur, scapulars, or tail coverts—none of that. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior, and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

And this tiny treasure explodes with his search for endless possibilities. And it’s lovely.

Was I right about that whole droolworthy thing? I know.


Leo Geo And His Miraculous Journey Through The Center Of The Earth

Hello and happy 2013 and welcome back to this little corner of the internet!

And a huge hello to those of you who hopped on board over the last couple weeks! It’s nice to have you.

Here’s an awesome and odd little book to kick off the new year:


by Jon Chad


I promise not to use bad puns like, “This book rocks!” or “Perfect for kids who don’t take science for granite!”

Much like another favorite, Sky High, Leo Geo uses size and scale in such an unusual way. Telling a story about a journey through the center of the earth calls for a different visual method than the standards we are used to.


So flip it 90 degrees and read top to bottom. Of course! Its width (or lack thereof!) perfectly frames the skinny tunnels and canals through which our ‘surface man’ drills.

And just when you get to the center, flip it 180 degrees and read bottom to top as you emerge with him to the other side of the world.


Throughout the entire journey, Leo Geo narrates his trip with a good healthy dose of science. You’ll get reminders of the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, what  makes up the continental and oceanic crusts, and how many miles you would have to travel before reaching the core.

Even though his voice is conversational and funny, every once in a while you might run into a Quadclops or find a magic dagger. I love that this book becomes a spectacular combination of nonfiction and comic book.


By using only black and white, the reader gets to fill in the blanks and let their imagination run wild. The contrast between the whites of the tunnels and the black hash marks of piles and piles of fossils provide a very satisfying balance. The art is so intricate that I imagine a young reader (or an old one!) could pore over these pages for hours.


So yeah. This book rocks.


Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth

written by Emily Haynes, pictures by Sanjay Patel

{Please, please, please…if you live in San Francisco, GO SEE THEM at the Cartoon Art Musuem on October 4th. Please! For me.}

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is based on a legend in Hindu mythology, but this version has jawbreakers! And a mouse pal! And SPECTACULAR illustrations!

Spectacular is really an understatement. I don’t think I know a word that can contain how spectacfantasterrificawesome these pictures are.

Endpapers that look like blueprints and sketches set the tone for a fresh story, enhanced so beautifully by shape and line.

From the title page on, this book will knock you out graphically. You will see stars (shape!) and vibrating birdies (movement!) flitting around your brain.

Ok. Let me back up a minute. Do you know Darshana Khiani? You should. She reviews books on her blog and always shares gems. And SHE is a gem. We met at the LA SCBWI conference in 2011, but what we didn’t know is that we would bump into each other over and over again online this year and become fast friends. So cool. Darshana emailed me a couple of weeks ago and told me I had to stop, drop, and roll myself to this book ASAP.

I love that she thought I would love it. I love that she was right. And I love that she suggested doing a joint review on it today.

That’s right! More book bang for your buck! So be sure to head over to her place for more of Ganesha and Mr. Mouse.

So much hops off the pages of Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth that my brain hurts to know where to begin. From the title page up a few pictures, to the repeated circles on the illustration above, shape dominates the pages. It’s a smorgasbord of circles, squares, and triangles.

Oh, this page. After every handful of illustrations, your eyes land on a picture like this one. The bright colors quiet for a moment, and these particular pages are striking in their stark contrast. White text, white graphic elements, and one bold, rich color. There’s something about pacing here, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that happens, but aesthetically, the balance is just outstanding.

A story about a sweet tooth begs for a decadent color palette, and these hues are just plain tasty and delightful.

Get this book. (Listen to Darshana, even if you think I am bonkers. She has good taste.)