Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure


by Matt Luckhurst

{published 2012, Abrams Books for Young Readers}

Matt Luckhurst’s playground home on the web is a whimsy-thrill for your eyeballs. I particularly love this page of Paul Bunyan goodies, including the trailer:

breaker I think you can see what I mean before I even want to tell you about it. THAT TYPE.

Rewind.DPB_TypographyI read a fantastic interview last week on the KidLit Artists blog – did you see it? Illustrator Lisa Anchin interviewed Martha Rago, a creative director at Harper Collins. That piece is here, and you should totally go read it and then come back here.

Martha Rago said this, and it’s been bouncing around in my brain for a while now, and I love it:

Once I learned how to look at a font in a careful way, and how to use it, I was completely taken with type and design.  It was an emotional connection at the time, without any intellectual analysis as to why I liked type and design so much. But now, when I think about it, I see typography is a kind of 2-dimensional sculpture. A font is so carefully constructed, and each  form relates in a different way to the space surrounding it – letter to letter, word to word.

This book popped right into my head. It’s exactly that – a two-dimensional sculpture, both art itself and the words that carry the story. See what I mean:

 Matt Luckhurst’s retelling of Paul Bunyan is larger than larger than life. The exaggeration is exaggerated and the hyperbole is, well, you know. It’s a winky nod to the traditional oral tale, and twists truths with outlandish moxie.

Doesn’t it make sense? The words that originally told this story weren’t written. And then they were. And now, in a picture book, those words are the pictures?

You’ll love it.


P.S. – I’m tickled by that yellow and gray graphic I made once upon a time, and how it looks like it says ‘granny’ in the bar at the top. The irony that a graphic on type has that kind of gaffe is not lost on me!

Bembo’s Zoo

I’m way late to the party for Bembo’s Zoo, but thankfully they still have some noisemakers and punch and room for more before the fire marshall shuts ‘er down. Not only is the book itself an experience, but check it out here as well. The animations add the dynamic of visual interest, and might be your only place to enjoy Bembo’s Zoo, as it is currently out of print. I tracked down a gently used version, but saw new copies online for $235! When you hit the lottery, be sure to add this book to your library.

Designed by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, a master of typography and brilliant graphic design, Bembo’s Zoo whacks the alphabet piñata, and the result is some serious eye candy. (Groan. I know. I couldn’t resist.) {Side note: He’s also the cover designer for Little Bee, which is making the book club rounds these days. I have no idea what the book is about, but wow-is that cover pretty!}

But truly, this concept kicks the typical ABC book up a notch. deVicq de Cumptich arms himself with the classic font Bembo Roman and only using the letters in an animal’s name, recreates the animal with Bembo letterforms. And be sure to check out his self portrait on the dust jacket. The marriage of type and picture just explodes in happy bliss in this book. Adults with a keen eye may enjoy the level of sophistication a tad more than a child, but as Marla Frazee taught me, kids are experts at reading pictures, and they will surely enjoy deconstructing this puzzle.

{Seriously, I just can’t stop with the elephants. Obsessed.)


So it goes like this:

The sand crab shimmies along with his pinchers made up of Cs and Rs.

And like this:

The king of the jungle lurks in darkness, framed by his mane made of Ls.

Why did he choose Bembo and not Comic Sans? Adobe’s font store describes Bembo as “a fine text face because of its well-proportioned letterforms, functional serifs, and lack of peculiarities.” Because Bembo is so well built, his illustrations have added whimsy from the serifs, but never feel too cluttered or chaotic in their layout. He chose the best tool to tell the story, the best solution for the problem. THIS is what separates an exceptional design from a mediocre one. Similary, his limited color palette of a deep greens, oranges, black, and pale yellow represents a restraint that oozes with beautiful, and intentional, design choice.

It’s this MASSIVE design lesson wrapped in a concise picture book that makes my heart skip a beat. And celebrating a book that marries letters and pictures in such a unique way seems like a fitting way to kick off my own Picture Book Month celebration! It’s why I’m here, and what I love, and I’m glad you are joining me for the party.

One Boy

Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I would imagine books with holes in them are tricky in homes where small children live and rule the kingdom. Even I can’t resist grabbing the page to poke right through it. The design of this book just begged me to pick it up and read it. And carry it to the checkout counter. And ultimately holler about it to anyone who will listen.

See? I can’t even start talking about this book without getting ahead of myself.


Concept books seem simple, yet when done well, they are deceptively complex. Laura Vaccaro Seeger is the ultimate champion of the concept book, and has a Caldecott Medal to prove it. I was about to say that concept books are books that illustrate a specific concept. Well, duh. That’s the world’s most terribly written sentence. Ever. Didn’t I learn not to define a word by using that same word?! I love how Ishta Mercurio describes the concept book on her blog. She clears up the misconception that a concept book has no plot. Sure, there are non-fiction concept books such as simple counting books that have no narrative story, but the really strong ones weave a story throughout.

One Boy is a wordplay puzzle masquerading as a counting book, and still includes a surprising twist at the end of a well paced plot. Intrigued? Good.


Layout in graphic design terms refers to the arrangement and style of elements on a page. I could easily look at the saturated colors, and how Laura Vaccaro Seeger boldly uses them in One Boy. Or the simple and strong use of typography, punctuating each succinct page. But I think the general idea of layout is a good one here, because it so successfully solves all the design challenges of this book. This is such a solid example of design both communicating and furthering the story. Without the die cut layout, revealing words within words AND a swiftly moving story would have been much more difficult.

One Boy asks you to imagine, explore, predict, and wonder. And play. And think. And do it all over again. And that is a lot of beauty in a book with 48 pages and 54 words.

{Very cool breakdown of Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s process for creating a concept book here. For insomniacs and anyone who relates to my obsession and curiosity.}