Abe Lincoln’s Dream

abeLincolnsDream_coverby Lane Smith

published 2012, by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Check out this trailer. It sets up the book’s mood and pace with flawless grace.

breaker Lane Smith has done something really special here. It’s an evocative look at a legacy. A look back and a look forward. Steps taken and hope to go.

I love that a curly haired girl with brown skin is his host. Perhaps that was an obvious choice, but I think she’s more than an art direction. Her today is because of his past.

She is his recurring dream that he just can’t shake.DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream1This is history and beauty, wrapped up in the whimsy that only Lane Smith can do. His textures add life to an already rich history. They are layers, individual parts to a whole life and a whole story.

Roses and lightning and cherry blossom branches frame panels of their journey. Different type for her thoughts and his. Different times, balanced and bridged. Lane Smith’s art is restrained and curious and playful all at once.  DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream2  I can’t think of another storyteller who could handle this story with greater elegance. Art that both delights and informs, and words that are both playful and serious in tone. A masterpiece!


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.


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.}

Bee & Bird

Bee & Bird by the delightful Craig Frazier is a surprising and grin-inducing read. Every time. And each time may be a different read for you depending on the perspective you take and the story you see.


You should be.

Bee & Bird is a bright and bold wordless picture book. Each illustration is a tightly framed snippet of a larger action. Page by page, your job is to fill in the blanks, to predict, to wonder, and to enjoy.


Unity refers to the whole of a design being more important and cohesive than any of its individual parts. Each separate element (or illustration) stands alone satisfactorily and beautifully, but the experience as a whole is extra special. The similarly toned colors, the lines and shapes in backgrounds and textures, and the different perspectives {note the boundary-pushing use of scale and size} on each page all contribute to the unity of Bee & Bird’s design.

Graphically, these pictures are loud and striking  -a perfect accompaniment to the unexpected journey of this bee and bird. So, so crisp and inviting and full of oomph. {A very technical graphic design term; do not argue with this teacher!}

And they holler out to the reader {YOU!} to come on over, pull up a chair, and get involved on this trip.


Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet

Still in a food coma? Feast your eyes on this instead.

Paul Thurlby is a British illustrator with a bold, retro, and textural graphic style. And I can’t get enough. Check out his Flickr page for more goodies.

This is an ABC book with panache and wonder. Unfold the dust jacket for a poster of all 26 letters. Your eyeballs might go a little crazy, but it’s worth it. Too much style to fit into a bound book.


Unity refers to the overall cohesive look of a design. Individual elements can succeed alone and also contribute to the overall visual style. In Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet, the grid element, the texture, the illustrated typography, and the saturated color palette all remain consistent throughout, which yields pleasing unity. And ultimately, a book that is un-put-down-able. Seriously, try putting it down. Any book that begins ‘A for Awesome’ can stay on my bookshelf forever.

QUICKSAND! I mean, really. Brilliant.

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.