Behind the Scenes with Tom Lichtenheld

ThisIsAMooseRemember Moose and his motley crew? He’s hard to forget with that superhuman (supermoosian?) determination and antlers tuned toward mischief. Let me turn the reigns over to Tom Lichtenheld himself, so he can give you a look at his process, sketches, and creative problem solving. It’s a fascinating look at how an illustrator responds to an author’s manuscript, and a glimpse at the evolution of a picture book.

Welcome back, Tom!breakerThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldWhen I receive a manuscript and like it, the first thing I do is start doodling. That initial moment of inspiration only comes once, so I try to capture the first images that pop into my head.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThen I start refining and exploring options.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThe director was initially a raccoon, but a duck felt more manic.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldI spent a lot of time on film sets during my career in advertising, so I know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldNo, giraffe don’t live in the woods, but I like to draw them, so a giraffe it is.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldLots of gags get left on the cutting-room floor, but it’s all part of the process.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldBoom!This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldAn idea revealing that the movie was actually made, which makes no sense.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst crack at a title page. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld(click to enlarge)

First version of the opening scene. The narrator was a monkey, and part of the scene. We quickly realized that the director had to be “off-camera” until the end.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst version of the spread where Director Duck realizes none of the animals are playing by the rules. I liked the simplicity of having only his eyes move, but it was a bit too subtle, so I changed it to his entire head looking from side to side.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld(click to enlarge)

The Moosenest 

Turning this marvelously manic manuscript into a logical sequence of pictures required complete immersion, so I made a foamcore enclosure around my desk, with only Moose material within my sight lines, and dubbed it The Moosenest. It sounds like a joke, but there’s a point in sketching out a book where you need to have the entire book suspended in your mind at once, so you can mentally move the pieces around without losing sight of any elements. It’s challenging, but one of my favorite parts of the process and I don’t think I could have done it for This Is A Moose without The Moosenest.

breakerA marvelously manic manuscript with mayhem in the pictures. Thanks for letting us in to The Moosenest, Tom!

(I love that moose-like alien. I’m glad he got his day here.)
















The Baby Tree

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackallby Sophie Blackall

published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books, at Penguin KidsThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallAbout a year ago, I heard Sophie Blackall give a keynote at SCBWI Western Washington. She wears great tights and shoes and is a total riot. She had this effervescent spirit that had the whole room in stitches. It felt like watching one of her illustrations bounce right off the page and into the room.

See, I’m a big fan. Ivy and Bean are soul sisters. I gushed about The Crows of Pearblossom and The Mighty Lalouche over at Design Mom, and still stand by this tweet from the end of 2013.

Her work has sprinkles of fairy dust or something in it – something enchanting and mysterious and compelling and darn beautiful.

And this, her latest offering, is both calming and humorous, sweet and sassy. It’s a bound and beautiful answer to the dreaded where do babies come from?

breakerShe’s so in tune with the vast (and sometimes creepy!) imagination of a youngster, and look at how that plays out in this art. Real life is a spot illustration, surrounded by white space and unknowns. But the what if bleeds to the edge of the page, filling every millimeter with color and wonder and possibility. Not only is it stunning to see, it’s intentional storytelling.The Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallHat tip, always, to Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for the interview that revealed that delicious tidbit. Check out her interview (and more art!) with Sophie here.

Sophie works in Brooklyn with other illustrators Brian Floca, Ed Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier. Can you even imagine spending an hour in that studio, soaking it all up and trying not to faint and fall in it? Dream field trip, for sure. Their kinship and support of one another has always been so apparent. Look here, and here, and here to see what I mean.

But also, look inside The Baby Tree for a glimpse at their love and support of one another. What’s our pajama-clad wonderer reading with Mom and Dad, all cozied up in bed? I won’t spoil it for you, cause it was a gasp-moment for me. If you’ll bust without knowing, check out Danielle’s post over at This Picture Book Life about allusions in picture books. (And stay there a while even once you see what I’m talking about, cause how brilliant is that?!)

You’d like a copy, right? Penguin has two to give away to you! (And you!) Just leave a comment on this post by Monday at noon PST, June 2nd. I’ll pick two, and have the stork deliver The Baby Tree right to your doorstep. Good luck!


Review copy provided by the publisher, all thoughts and love my own.


Chloe, Instead

When I saw this trailer for Chloe, Instead by Micah Player, forget about it. I had to have this book.


So when my friends Alethea and Aly held a massive and amazing story time event called Picture This!, AND Micah Player was there, well, then…duh. So what if I was a little taller than most of the participants?!

Micah hosted a table with a really fun and graphic craft. Think glue sticks, patterned papers in squares and triangles, construction paper, and Sharpies. I made this masterpiece while chatting with him about libraries and graphic design and trailers and his awesome kids:

(Yeah, I don’t know how those shapes exploded from a closed box, but just go with it.)

His two boys were the inspiration for this tale of adjusting to a new sibling. Molly likes crayons and books, but for coloring and reading. Her whirlwind of a sister Chloe on the other hand…how about for eating and ripping to shreds. Chloe is nothing like Molly expected, (or even wanted) but just  maybe that’s ok.

The cover itself is a striking use of line. I love those blocky bold stripes.

And, because we all know I love a good endpaper:

More lines, diagonal this time.

Micah’s use of color is so brilliant and fresh, and where one color meets another, a strong line emerges. These choices are visually interesting, sure, but they also serve to guide your eye through the illustrations.

Sometimes these lines represent physical objects, like this bookshelf:

(I would love to read The Daydream Sunbeam by the way. Good choice, Molly.)

And sometimes line divides moments in time and space, like two very different emotions on Molly on this spread:

Can’t you tell she is growing and changing, just in one spread, with one word?

Sometimes line is just a strong graphic element on the page, like the diagonal line of the background here:

I love how the same line marks shadow from light on Molly’s face. And notice how it’s not directly through the center of the page? That opens up the space in which Chloe can dance and just be Chloe. She’s not boxed in by such a strong, dynamic line.

And line to create a balanced layout:

I especially love the flapping arms on this page. If that’s not a static line to imply motion, I’m not sure what it is.

Chloe, Instead is sharp, sassy fun. It’s well designed, both in its clever words and pictures. If you have ever had a little brother or sister, you will surely identify with Molly and hold this book dear.

The King’s 6th Finger

How about that cover? How about that King? How in the world did that SIXTH finger sprout on his hand? Why is he so distressed? His eyes are full of shock and despair! His tiny crown covers 5 lonely strands of hair! He has a 5 o’clock shadow! Squiggles! Hand drawn typography! Rich color! It’s a perfect square!

Yes, I judge a book by its cover.

And its endpapers. A repeating pattern of 5s, subtly indicating our green king’s obsession with the number 5.

An extra endpaper! His kingdom, his castle: FIVE turrets.

The King’s 6th Finger is written by Jolby and Rachel Roethke Coddington. Jolby is the collaboration of illustrators Josh Kenyon and Colby Nichols. Clearly, they are the Brangelina of illustration. Seriously, if you google eye candy, the interwebz will magically take you to their website. Their work is clean, clever, and strong, and I dare you not to get lost in their archives. And just like I said with Amy Martin’s Symphony City, a The King’s 6th Finger print might be in my future.

There once was a simple king named Mortimer

Who had an obsessive compulsive disorder-er

I’ve already mentioned their gorgeous use of color and strong typography, but the layouts of these pages are remarkable. Line can be used to create shapes, but in these spreads, line is used to separate art from text, and to separate scenes from one another. The content and story in each spread is beautifully balanced, led by the lines created by the various blocks.

Can you see the Rule of Thirds at play here? The blue space on the right hand side occupies the bottom two-thirds of the page. Even though the upper third is split evenly in half, your eye is still appropriately directed around the page. The left hand page is also a perfect example of the Rule of Thirds as an appealing layout. The top third holds the text, and the bottom two thirds holds the picture. Our surprisingly short King, cradled in the hand of the beast, is perfectly placed at a dynamic crash point, where two imaginary horizontal and vertical lines intersect. Bold graphics placed intentionally, this is a great example of a layout that just plain works.

Lines create space for text, and space for pictures. The square shape of the book makes the rectangles inside have even more oomph and strength and appeal. And blue and orange on opposite pages? Perfect, as they are complementary colors on the color wheel, and instantly pack a strong visual punch.

Again, the lines on this page are implied by the separation of art from text. The 8 perfect squares remaining mimic the square shape of the book, which creates a really nice feeling of balance. This design choice is also a nice nod to the King himself as his greatest quirk (and problem) is his need for evenness and balance. {See, I wasn’t lying about Jolby being the Brangelina of Illustration…their design choices are top notch and definitely not accidental!}

By the end of the story, our King has changed his tune on the number 5. The endpapers at the back of the book are similar to the ones at the front, although this time, they don’t reflect an endless sea of 5s…

Curious how that happens? Check it out.

Pomelo Begins To Grow

December is pulling a disappearing act. Please slow down, December. I haven’t had enough eggnog yet.

Still looking for a few books to slide under the tree? This one, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud and written by Ramona Badescu, is so pretty that you won’t even need wrapping paper.

As Pomelo went on his way one morning, he passed an ant, some potatoes, a pebble, a bunch of strawberries and his favorite dandelion.

Curiously enough, his dandelion seemed surprisingly small.

If the name Pomelo isn’t enough to instantly entice you to read, how about his elephant-ness? Yes? With a long, skinny, tape-measure trunk? He’s adorable. And growing.

Pomelo is quite worried about whether he will grow evenly all over. Or if he will turn big and gray and wrinkly.

And whether or not he will still just be a plain old kid.

The illustrations float a delicate line between restrained and fantastical, but each spread is equally inviting. Perhaps they even forgive an egregious grammar error? {Because Pomelo Begins To Grow was originally written in French, some of the wording may have been lost in translation. Hopefully this gets fixed on the next edition? It’s so lovely, that it would be a shame to not perfect it.}


Size refers to the bigness and smallness of various objects. {Duh.} But in design, elements of equal size create confusion on a page, because your eye jumps around awkwardly and is not not sure where to land. Pairing items of different sizes within a composition yields a more dynamic piece. The pages of Pomelo Begins To Grow play with size differences in a quirky manner, a design choice that makes sense due to the growth and the quest of our hero.


The greatest moment for size doesn’t even happen in the story. Behold: the endpapers.

{Insert sweet Pomelo’s story here.}

Very clever and very much why I love how design frames picture books. These endpapers summarize an already snappy story visually and quickly. A one-two punch of pretty.


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.


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.

Bruno Munari’s ABC

If I believed in ripping out book pages {gasp} and destroying the portable bundled art {shock}, and had children of my own {awe…aww//get it?!}, I would demolish the living daylights out of this book and plaster the walls with the pictures.

<Collecting myself. I am a composed and responsible adult. I am a composed and responsible adult. I am a composed and responsible adult.>

See…that black cat’s yellow eyes look slightly afraid of me. Keep calm and just read my book like a normal person, lady.

This is Bruno Munari’s ABC, a masterpiece from 1960. 1960! According to the dust jacket copy, Bruno Munari was an artist, graphic designer, art director and children’s book creator and “exhibited with the second Futurist movement.” The what? Futurism’s origins were in Italy in the early 20th century, and the art themes that emerged celebrated modern technology. Futurism largely influenced the Art Deco movement, of which there are glimpses even in this ‘simple’ picture book.

Bruno Munari’s body of work is a perfect example of the art of the picture book being legitimate and renowned. They may not hang in The Louvre, or the Met, or the Getty, or even on my own walls {hmmph}, but they are truly relevant works of art.


Fakeout. Typography is not so much an element of design; rather, it is a discipline all its own. Not to mention typography comes with an entire lexicon of unfamiliar descriptors. For example:

from this crazy beautiful book: THE TYPOGRAPHIC DESK REFERENCE

Mind boggling and overwhelming? Yes. Wheeze-inducing and squeal-worthy for the typophile? Yes.

But we will start at the very beginning. Because typography gives a voice to words, the design of the letters on a page is as important as the meaning that they represent.

Throughout his ABC book, Bruno Munari’s letters act as graphic illustrations, becoming an intentional part of the layout in addition to just their function as the next letter in line.

Perhaps in future posts we can explore more of the typography nitty gritty. For now, just appreciate the letter as an art form itself. That alone is the ultimate purpose of typography.

Art & Max

David Wiesner

Well…you could paint me.

David Wiesner has won THREE Caldecott Medals.  THREE!  I think I won three dollars once from a scratch off lotto ticket.  My all time favorite of his books is June 29, 1999. And confession:  when I was a librarian, I took it home for a week so no kids could check it out and I could have it all to myself.  Scandalous, I know.

But in this one, Art and Max are both lizards.  Duh.  The cover told me that.  Art begrudgingly allows Max to paint with him, and accidentally becomes the subject. Art is the art.  Max’s messy ways cause some slight problems for Art, and he has to figure out a way to paint him back together.  Very clever, a tad confusing, but definitely beautiful.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is not really a rule at all.  And you don’t have to do a lot of math.  It’s a guideline for compositions used by photographers, designers, and artists.

When you divide your composition into 9 equal parts, you should place important elements along the lines or at the points where they intersect. (side note:  Your family vacation beach photos are more interesting when the horizon is along one of those lines rather than dead center.  Try it!) These lines and points drive the eye to look around and through the composition, rather than get stuck dead center.  Take a look at this very first spread from Art & Max.

{This photo is from here, where you can see a series of sketches leading up to the final illustration.}

And the rule of thirds applied:

Even across two pages of his book, David Wiesner set this scene according to the rule of thirds.  The easel is lined up right along one of the verticals.  Art and Max themselves are not perfectly aligned to the vertical, but they are close enough and it feels right.  Max is even lunging across the intersecting point there, which is curiously enough sometimes called a crash point.  See how the megaphone and the little lizard’s eyes are looking right up towards the crash point highlighted in blue. Art is also gazing to that point.  This is how the rule of thirds allows for flow and movement when you are reading an image.  We are never stuck in the middle of this art, but instead get to actively be involved in the scene…

…which is how I found out here that either Art or Max is a Pink Floyd fan.  (See that?!)