Little Blue and Little Yellow

Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni is one of those books that just feels good to hold and read and experience. It’s the story that launched his incredible career in childrens’ books, and remains today a masterpiece. Its birth was unusual and special. Leo Lionni was riding the train with his young grandchildren, and to entertain them, he tore colored pages from a LIFE magazine and created Little Blue and Little Yellow characters on the surface of his briefcase. Upon arriving home, he created a little physical book, and the very next night a friend, an editor, decided on the spot to publish it. Little Blue and Little Yellow launched Lionni’s career in picture books as well as his signature paper collage style.

I’m thankful for that train ride and restless grandchildren.

ELEMENT OF DESIGN: WHITE SPACE

Something you hear often as a designer is ‘fill that space up, it’s kinda empty’ or ‘just make the text bigger’ or ‘can’t you add more stuff to the frame?’ An untrained eye often sees white space as empty, while a designer’s intent may be just that: to preserve the space. White space functions as breathing room in an image, a resting place for the eyes, or to highlight the shape or form that is occupying the space. White space is deliberate as opposed to empty or ‘accidental leftovers.’

For white space to be especially beautiful and functional, it has to coexist in harmony with the other elements of composition. In Little Blue and Little Yellow, the little friends are highlighted as independent but loyal friends by their position on the page, their separation from the typography layout, and their home in the midst of white space. It is their story, and their home on the page draws your eye right into their world.

These pages are clearly not empty. They are full of wonder and delight and an engaging story told with simple but striking graphic elements.

Can you really look at that spread and not feel something? All of a sudden, the white space that was so comforting and warm highlights Little Blue and Little Yellow’s sadness and confusion.

But. SPOILER ALERT: There’s a happy ending.