Iggy Peck, Architect

Iggy Peck, Architect is my new favorite-must-be-on-top-of-the-book-pile picture book. I’m four years late to the Iggy Peck party, but better late than never, right? Maybe they saved me some leftovers. Written in lilting and whimsical rhyme by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by the quirky and grin-inducing David Roberts, Iggy Peck is now up there on my favorite character list. Ramona Quimby is at the top of that list, and I think she and Iggy would be mischievous rascally pals.

I discovered that the book designer is Chad Beckerman, the Art Director at Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books. He has an fascinating blog, Mishaps and Adventures, where he blogs about his book design process. There is a section devoted to the evolution of a book cover, where he takes you through the process from beginning to end, and it is so very interesting. I would like to have coffee with Chad Beckerman. I would ask him a million billion questions and be hopped up on the high test fuel. Or tea, and I would daintily hold out my pinky finger and try to be quieter. Maybe I would even listen to him instead of spewing out my own book design obsessions.

Maybe. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Young Iggy Peck is an architect and has been since he was two,

When he built a great tower – in only an hour-

With nothing but diapers and glue.

On the illustration to accompany this first page? Iggy’s round and rosy booty cheeks. Always good for a chuckle, even at 33 years old. Iggy’s poor parents have no idea how to contain his artistic expressions, and allow him to play and dream and construct all of the dreamlike things he can. When Iggy hits second grade and meets his nemesis teacher, Miss Lila Greer, she stifles his love for architecture. Why? Poor Miss Greer had a slightly unfortunate experience at a tall, tall building when she was younger. {Being stuck in an elevator with a French circus troupe did nothing to comfort her from this.} But on a class field trip to Blue River Pass, a footbridge collapses, and Iggy Peck and his architecture skills are needed (and wanted) to save the day.


Element of design: CONCEPT

Concept is a big and amorphous design notion to describe. It is the look and feel, the overall direction, and the abstract point hanging out behind the main point. Concept is related to unity. In visual arts, concept is conveyed to the viewer through mood and meaning. Every graphic element throughout a piece conveys SOMETHING. That something is the concept. In Iggy Peck, Architect, every small detail of the illustration and design presents just a little more of Iggy’s love for architecture and order.

The crane lifting the word Iggy right up over the word Peck.

Architecture tools as skyscrapers on the title page. Grid lines, reminiscent of blueprints.

Typography as structure on the title page.

Even Iggy’s parents are structural and statuesque.

And though shorter, so are his classmates. Note Iggy in the background, standing on his chair. (See…BFFs with Ramona. Easily.)

A dejected Iggy, surrounded by imposing white space, after he was told to squash his architecture dreams by Miss Greer.

The texture of the creek makes it feel rigid and strong, just how Iggy likes, while retaining its watery look.

The typography collapses on the page to reflect the action of the footbridge collapsing. Smart. Clever. Fun.

Spoiler Alert. Miss Greer walking to safety on Iggy’s bridge, reimagined as one of the greatest engineered bridges rather than the sticks and stones and underpants that they really used. Perhaps this is what Iggy sees in his architecture, perhaps it is what Miss Greer sees as her valiant rescue. I like to think they both see the same.

Dear Iggy Peck, surrounded by his heroes. And quite happy about it.

The Red Book

The Red Book is a 2004 Caldecott Honor book by Barbara Lehman. Despite being an incredible honor, I picked this image of the cover unmarred by the regal silver medal. It is so bare and yet so rich, which is exactly what you can expect to find inside.

Plus, how adorable is she all bundled up and ready to run? Don’t you want to know why she has such a hop in her skip in her jump?

The Red Book is entirely told in pictures. Wordless books are such a unique platform from which to tell a story. I find that my impatient and anxious self slows down immensely in order to breathe in the life of each and every page. Each page alone is a work of art, and when connected together, they take you, the picture-reader, on a journey. A little girl finds a red book buried in the snow while journeying to school, and upon close inspection, realizes she is seeing a boy far far away…reading a red book…about HER. Prepare to get your Inception on in a sweet and childlike way when you read this book. {Spoiler Alert: Leo DiCaprio does NOT appear in The Red Book. You can leave your totem in your pocket.}

Element of design: Color

This is an obvious choice, right? I mean the book is called THE RED BOOK after all. So…duh. But let me back up for a minute because one of the things I love most about the design of this book is the window motif. The geometric skyline on the title page shows a cluster of buildings with an endless pattern of windows. Each illustration is also contained in a pane, leaving white space surrounding it. It’s really designed brilliantly to enhance the wordless-book-in-a-wordless-book concept.

But, color. The Red Book. It’s visible on nearly every page, and clearly the unifying subject throughout. Let’s go back to Psychology 101. {Or not really. That means sophomore year at William and Mary, when I had enormous eyebrows and way too many Dunkin’ Donuts.} The infamous psychologist Carl Jung said, “colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious.” While that may be a tad too heavy for your morning-coffee-blog-reading-routine, let’s just consider color psychology for a moment. Understanding even a little of this branch of color theory is helpful as a designer. The question to consider is whether colors affect our emotions as a result of their cultural or societal meaning, or whether there is a direct and more intrinsic link. Say what? This: traditionally, red is associated with danger, anger, passion, power…STRONG feelings. Similarly, color diagnostic tests have been used since the 1940s to determine how personal color preferences affect an individual’s personality traits. Crazy, right? People who choose red as their favorite color are most likely defiant and aggressive, but warm and exciting.

So do the blah-blah-blah-important-words-about-color-psychology even matter? Maybe. Probably, even. What if this was The Blue Book? Or The Black Book? You might have very different feelings towards it. But, red! Bright, warm, inviting red!

I want to crawl inside that book.

Black and White

Two Caldecotts in a row? Why not?! I am no one to argue with the people who pick the best of the best. There’s just one thing I dislike about David Macauley’s book: It’s too tall. In my library days {Go Lions}, my shelves were too short for it to fit correctly. With the spine facing up towards the top of the shelf, it always got lost in the stacks. Kids passed right by the magic. Solution: permanent residence on top of the shelf. You know, where all the brand-new-shiny books are staged and beg you to grab them and take them home? I replaced the mylar protection {nerdy librarian speak} many, many times. I guess my kids just had good taste.


Who doesn’t love a deal? Four stories for the price of one? Wait a minute, are those people waiting for this train? Wait a minute, is that a cow or that guy? Wait a minute, how do they know how to make newspaper hats, too?

Wait a minute, why are these pictures colliding?

Element of design: Negative Space

David Macauley’s nonlinear storytelling must rely on design to communicate, because his visuals are as necessary as his words. So many principles of graphic design are at play in the layout of this book. I particularly love the complex lines that both constrain and connect the four quadrants. {The gutter serves as one of the lines. So cool.}

Black and White jostles your reading experience and forces you to examine both what is there and what is not there. Just like negative space.

Negative space refers to the area around an explicit form in an image. Often, the space left behind is just as important to the image and becomes the main compositional element. The play between positive and negative space allows the eye to both rest and travel in a picture.

Surely you have seen images like these:

What are we ‘supposed’ to see? Are multiple interpretations of an image ok in art? If we are confused and intrigued and surprised, kudos to the designer.

The vase or the face? The robber or the holstein?

Good question.

Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)

Welcome!  Since my intention here is to celebrate the design of the picture book, I thought I would start with a favorite.  Molly Leach, who is married to illustrator Lane Smith, is the designer of my all time favorite, The Stinky Cheese Man.  She designed this quirky and sweet story written by Florence Parry Heide, and illustrated by Lane Smith.

Princess Hyacinth floated.  Unless she was attached to something, or weighted down, she just floated — up, up, up.

The King and Queen sew weights into her gowns and pebbles into her socks so that she stays put on the ground.  But when she isn’t royally dressed in her heavy, heavy crown, up she floats.  And she’s slightly bored because of all the time she spends tethered to the ground.  She outwits a ballon man and flies high in the sky, but she floats up a bit too far.  Can she be rescued?  And if so, will she be tethered to the ground forever?

Element of design: LINE SPACING

Unequal spacing between lines creates a dynamic layout.   What would otherwise be evenly spaced out lines can be static and oftentimes boring.  Consciously spacing lines in interesting ways can add action and further support the story.

This story is perfect for utilizing line spacing.  Princess Hyacinth floats up, and up, and up.  The way the lines are laid out on the page add to the feeling of floating up.

This spread is so beautiful and successful because the layout of the text perfectly matches the illustration of Princess Hyacinth floating high above the King and Queen.

Even though Princess Hyacinth is floating up, the text is at the very bottom of the page.  She is just as tiny as a balloon, and the sky is so expansive.  We are able to feel the scale and how high she is because of the layout of the text on the page.  The details of line spacing in this book add to the visuals of this story.  Princess Hyacinth doesn’t float in an orderly or structured manner, so the words to describe her shouldn’t either.  The spatial relationships of the words to the pictures adds so much beauty and interest.

I’ll leave you with this interview with Lane Smith and Molly Leach.  Such top notch creatives, and so inspiring!