The Mischievians

TheMischieviansCoverby William Joyce

published 2013, by Simon and Schuster

(I love that upside down A. I suppose that sucker is called The Letter Flipper Upside Downer. The Fontfiender. Or something.)

Impeccably designed with nods at its book-ness, the cover is distressed and worn like it’s been studied and loved and needed. It’s a book that knows it’s a book, so it looks especially, book-y.* Right?

But let’s start with this. You might know some of these guys:

breaker This is the latest offering from William Joyce and Moonbot Studios, a dazzling storytelling team. (Remember that book-loving Morris Lessmore?) But this one is mayhem and wordplay and maddening and glorious. You wouldn’t expect anything less, right? Mischievians1 The story starts on the endpapers where some kids are at their wit’s end and a spindly green arm yanks away a vowel. Awful. Naturally, their parents are blaming them. Wouldn’t you? But no. The peculiar looking Dr. Zooper sucks them into his laboratory, and introduces them to the encyclopedia that explains everything. Darn those Funny Bones. Did you know they find your ow-ding-ow-oh-oh so hysterical that they hide out until the giggles subside? Thanks to this encyclopedia of mischief-makers, I know that’s why they only show up a few times a year. They’re out there somewhere, chortling and waiting, plotting and howling. Jerks. Mischievians2 The Mischievians. Mischievians3 When the kids are zooped back up the chute, they have a monumental task. Document! Top Secret! Report and resist!

I don’t think it will take them too long. breaker How about you?

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I have two copies to zoop over to you! Just leave a comment here by midnight PST on December 31. Maybe even tell me which mischief-maker is driving you most nuts? Is it the Remotetoter? The Stinker? The Lintbellian? You have my sympathies and my snickering.

Sorry about it.


*Other book-y looking books I love:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the original design!) by Newt Scamander (and J.K. Rowling)

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival 

The ridiculously brilliant Battle Bunny, by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett (That post from Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a smorgasbord of awesome.)

And, of course, Greg Heffley’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. (With a huge nod to Jeff Kinney, obviously.)

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!


Sparkle and Spin


By Ann and Paul Rand

{originally published 1957 by Harcourt, Brace, and World. Reprinted 2006 by Chronicle Books.} Sometimes pictures are just that: eye-catching and whimsical, without being packed with meaning or message. That spirit dances across the page in Sparkle and Spin, written by Ann Rand and illustrated by her husband Paul.

Paul Rand is an iconic American graphic designer. A problem solver. A storyteller. A communicator.

He said this about design:

“Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold.” breaker His biographer, Steven Heller, said this:

“Paul Rand did not set out to create classic children’s books, he simply wanted to make pictures that were playful. Like the alchemist of old, he transformed unlikely abstract forms into icons that inspired children and adults and laid the foundation for two books that have indeed become children’s classics.”

Maybe he didn’t intend to be a creator of legendary books for kids, but his love for beautiful work shines in this one. That’s the magic of Sparkle and Spin: harmony, wit, and playfulness. And Ann’s words are a delightful match to Paul’s pictures. There’s a rhythm, song, and honor to these words that represent the joy of learning. Harmony, captured perfectly.

In graphic design, harmony is the magic that happens when all of the individual elements complement one another. It’s when small parts of pretty make up a more lovely whole. breaker iceCreamHere’s a detail I really love. This bold, graphic ice cream cone comes at the beginning, and with the inscription: To all children who like ice cream. And at The End, that scoop’s been slurped, chomped, and devoured. That’s what the experience of this book is. Tasty.

The book sparkles and spins. You’ll see what I mean.


Henri’s Walk To Paris

So Saul Bass {1920-1996} illustrated this. You know him, even if you think you don’t.

Recognize any of these?

Saul Bass undoubtedly has a powerful legacy of corporate logo design, but he is also considered the father of the title sequence. I can’t say that I was well aware of him before I was a motion graphics designer, but as an animator, I am very influenced by his strong use of line and his bold color palettes.

{You can see a roundup of his title sequences at Art of the Title.}

And that’s fancy and whatnot, but then he created this sparkling kids’ book.

Henri is just a little French garçon who dreams of Paris, but lives in Reboul. He packs up some cheese, a carrot, and a piece of bread and walks himself there. But {SPOILER ALERT!} he doesn’t make it. A little bird disrupts his navigation, and he ends up right back in Reboul. But Henri? Thinks he made it, and thinks Paris is quite like home. And we love him for that.

In graphic design, unity is the quality that ties individual elements into a beautiful whole. Me talking about Saul Bass is like a dirty sock puppet oozing with glue and googly eyes having an opinion on Jim Henson. He’s a master craftsman, and so let me just show you some moments I love.

Check out these consecutive spreads. The typographic element that reflects the title IS Henri. And from one page to another, there he goes, walking off to Paris. This graphic drives your eye forward and invites you to dive into this book. And of course it tiptoes left to right. It’s how we read, and it simply signifies forward motion. Smart is an understatement.

He doesn’t clutter this illustration with a window sill, curtains, or many details of the room inside. It doesn’t matter. The story is outside. This is a brilliant use of negative space.

Henri’s tiny house, contrasted with the vast world beyond. And color…green and red are direct opposites on the color wheel, so the tiny pop of red is a perfect choice to offset the mass of green.

Soothing pattern repeats in those thousands of trees and the zoo full of animals.

A reminder of the cover, a peek into Henri’s walk. And below, a shift in perspective and point of view.

So Henri leaves home and returns again. Likewise, Saul Bass’ pictures ramp up to the climax of the story, and repeat again as Henri heads home. That same window repeats, that same wide shot of the tiny white house sits still again, only with different text for a different time in the story. It’s a detail that’s hard to show in pictures, but on an overall visual read of the story…it’s magnificent.

Henri’s Walk To Paris in reprint is a gift I didn’t even know I was was on my wish list. It’s joining this monster on my coffee table-slash-corner of my desk.

Me Want Pet

Me love Tammi Sauer.

Me love Bob Shea.

You love book now.

Cave Boy had lots of things.



A club.

But no pet.

“Me sad,” said Cave Boy. “Want pet.”

Me love colors. Desaturated. Dusty. Me feel like part of family.

Me love lines. Animated. Anxious. Me love boldness.

Me love endpapers. Me draw bad. Bob Shea draw like caveman.

Me want read again. Again. Again. OOGA!

The Loud Book

words by Deborah Underwood, pictures by Renata Liwska

A fun companion to The Quiet Book, The Loud Book celebrates all things NOISY.

Such a straightforward book calls for fairly straightforward type layout.

Belly Flop Loud

Thunderstorm Loud

Candy Wrapper Loud

Spilling Your Marbles In The Library Loud

And so on.

Enter: the title page.

And the copyright page.

Words spring out like sound waves; their layout amplifies the information.

Even the jacket flap gets in on this typography party:

Onomatopeia in bold and distinguished from the rest of the party.

So as a reader, you’ve seen and experienced the cover, the jacket flap, the title and copyright pages, all with nods to INCREASED VOLUME.

And now you’re ready to read.

I will even SHHH for you. Carry on.


by French illustrator, Blexbolex.

I wonder if I could get away with going by one name. CARTER.

Ehh. Doesn’t quite sound as cool.

Seasons is a true treasure of a book. While it is a bit hefty for a traditional picture book, it is certainly more than the concept book it appears to be at first glance.

Four spreads representing the seasons open the book, and what follows is an investigation into objects, people, and feelings that occur in each.

This seed and small shoot in the spring becomes a full grown flower in summer. A plum later turns into a wrinkled prune. A house with a red roof makes multiple ‘Where’s Waldo‘ style appearances. These subtle nods to the continuity and circular notion of time are very satisfying to discover.

Unity in design occurs when individual parts of a design complement the whole. In Seasons, despite the season, each element is framed on the lower part of the page, and headed by a blocky pink font at the top. Regardless of season, the color palette has the same vibrant yet muted feel which looks extravagantly rich over the creamy matte page.

Texture as a design element aids in creating unity. The same rough and somewhat sullied texture exists on each illustration. Those textures are a great complement to the soft, almost worn-in-like-your-favorite-t-shirt pages.

Maybe it’s easier to spot unity in a book driven by the comfort and repetition of the seasons, but Blexoblex is NO DESIGN JOKER and achieves this to absolute perfection. This would be a fun addition to a classroom or a home library. Or of course, the ever popular coffee table. You won’t want to keep it on a shelf, that’s for sure.

The House In The Night

Written by Susan Marie Swanson + Illustrated by Beth Krommes, and winner of the 2009 Caldecott Medal

Here is the key to the house.

In the house burns a light.

This book is just plain stunning. No other words will describe it as well. The words are sparse and poetic, and the scratchboard patterns of the illustrations echo the rhythmic beat of those words.

And check this out, Krommes’ storyboard for the book:

 source.  {a great read on an illustrator’s creative process.}

Two different elements create contrast. In The House  in the Night, Krommes’ black and white engravings are punctuated only by the yellow light. Maintaining this throughout the book is unifying and beautiful, but also a really lovely use of contrast. The warmth of the house, of the bird, of the sun, of the little girls’ imagination glow even brighter due to contrast. Wouldn’t that warmth be dulled if it was competing with warm grays and other colors against the black and white?

The answer? YES!

Pretty is an understatement, right? Stunning.

PS: A HAPPY BIRTHDAY shout to my sister, Sallie! Where I got words and pictures, she got math and music. I love her. And Sallie…I got a guppy.

Once Upon a Twice

{Just a couple days left in my BOOK TRAILER GIVEAWAY! Check out my guest post at Julie Hedlund’s blog for the details. Comments are over on the Book Trailer page.}

by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Barry Moser.

Once Upon a Twice has often been compared to the nonsensical verse of Lewis Carrol’s Jabberwocky. Quite a comparison, and wholly deserved. Denise Doyen’s words are crafted so deftly, with a mix of sound and true words and ones that are delightful to read, such as ‘whispercroons’, ‘riskarascal’, and ‘scritchscrambles.’ Despite the creative and imaginative language, the story rolls off the tongue without the slightest hitch. It’s fun to read aloud, and it’s fun to hear.

Once upon a twice,
In the middle of the nice,
The moon was on the rice
And the Mice were scoutaprowl…

The swamp at night is a dark and dangerous place, but Jam Boy refuses to heed his elders’ warnings. Although he is stubborn and careless, he is strong, smart, and brave. Any young reader, or heck, any reader will identify with Jam Boy’s braggart ways and will cheer for his story’s ending.

Color drives this story in a very beautiful and subtle way. The darkness of the swamp is lit ominously with the golden moon. But even in the darkness, the tones are warm and rich rather than dark and cold. Each turn of the page plunges you more into the story, more into Jam Boy’s world, and more into the eery swamp. The monochromatic night envelops you as you read, and the colors of that world create a lovely unity and mood to the book as a whole.

I might say this is one of my all time favorites. That’s a really tough thing to say, but the marriage of art and words here is utterly gorgeous. Refined, and yet at the same time, kind of hilarious. Nonsense words matched with illustrations that have somewhat of a serious quality? This book nods at everything I love about picture books.

I dare you not to smile during this rousing read aloud by an adorable kindergartener:

And just in case you are extra smitten with Jam Boy, you can buy Barry Moser’s original watercolors here! My budget is forcing me to stick to the book, but if you looking to support an artist and have a small piece of storytelling genius on your wall, there’s your spot.

{PS: If you need more Once Upon a Twice, this interview with Denise Doyen is DELIGHTFUL.  And it’s on one of my most favorite spots to linger on the intertubez, so pull up a chair and stay a while. You’ll be glad you did. AND you’ll get to see full res spreads from this book rather than iPhone pics from the trunk of my car. Seriously.}

Bruno Munari’s Zoo

{Bruno Munari’s Zoo, originally printed in 1963}

Every single day people find this blog by searching Bruno Munari. You people have stellar taste. How about a look at this one?

This book is interesting and mysterious before the words of the story even begin.

Flamingos know they are beautiful and strange, and play at symmetry.

Your little one will love the trip to the zoo, and you will be drawn into Munari’s concise and clever language. But don’t miss his other intricate details. Flamingos ‘play at symmetry’ in the picture as well; the spread is balanced symmetrically down the vertical axis.

Each animal has a role in the zoo community, and each one is unique. How about the protective elephant? The zebra in striped pajamas? Or the camel with an extra seat for you?

Bruno Munari’s excellent command of color punctuates his quirky descriptions. A desaturated, moody color palette would obviously not tell the animals’ stories as successfully as bold, bright, and splashy colors.

{The owls’ eyeballs are a HOOT, huh?}

A peek underneath the cover flap reveals surprise runaways. I like to think they are breaking in to the zoo to frolic with their animal buddies. Why? Flip through Zoo’s pages…you won’t find a spread not graced by their flutters. I promise…check back through the pictures on this very post!

Bruno Munari was original, refreshing, and engaging. He created stunning works of art for children and anyone else that enjoys pretty pictures.