Alphablockby Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo

published 2013, by Abrams Appleseed

AlphablockAlphablockThis book. Swoon city. Hefty chunk of graphic design. Just as fascinating and fantastic for adults as well as the stubby fingers of the littles. “You’re never too old for picture books” is my constant battle cry at school. Let’s amend that a bit to “you’re never too old for board books.”

Because wow.AlphablockAlphablockCan you see what’s happening here? Each letter of the alphabet is given two thick spreads for the hint and the reveal. It’s a visual puzzle, linked by a die-cut of the hero letter. For real.AlphablockAlphablockFiguring it out is a satisfying read, and physically flipping the letterform for the answer is brilliant.AlphablockAlphablockNot only does the design feel fresh, but the alphabet choices are newfangled, too. I love S is for SCISSORS and the cut-out arts and crafts that accompany it. P is for PENCILS gets the lined paper treatment, scattered with sharpened pencil shavings. And thank goodness F is for FISH gives us a glimpse into an aquarium with its kooky accoutrements, and not the obvious deep blue sea scene.Alphablock

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

(And any book that uses U is for UNDERWEAR is obviously a hands down favorite, too.)

Add this to your gift-list. Perfect for babes and art buffs alike. (And pretty much anyone who loves the alphabet.)


Review copy provided by Abrams Appleseed.

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.


It’s IMPOSSIBLE to not love Oliver Jeffers. Remember his mustache?!

Well, listen to him read Stuck, and prepare to be enchanted:

I can’t follow an act like that, but let me tell you a few things I love about this book.

1: The endpapers. What a great grid of all of those THINGS that Floyd flings up into the tree.

2: The type.

The handwritten text is an excellent choice for the pictures. The scribbled words have a tactile, lifelike quality that matches the vibrancy of the art so perfectly.

3: The easter egg.

I’m not one to linger on copyright pages since my librarian days are behind me, but check out this little gem straight from the mouth of Oliver Jeffers:

{The art for Stuck was created by compositing various scribbles and blotches of paint, made on small pieces of paper,  all together inside of my computer. This is because I needed to move studios in the middle of making the art, and using this approach seemed like a good idea.}

4: This line.

5: This fakeout mess-up.

6: This spread, that texture, those clouds.

7: That it’s FOR SOMEONE NICE.

Someone like you! I have two copies of Stuck, which is certainly due to having no self-control around picture books and many looming stacks. I’d love to send it to you, and I promise not to throw it in a tree first.

I’ll assume the mailman got down out of that tree in order to deliver it to you.

Just comment on this post by Tuesday, June 12 at midnight PST. I’ll draw a winner with the help of my trusty buddy,, and you can add this to your own looming stack of picture books. It will be a great addition, promise.

Operation Alphabet

Operation Alphabet is the brainchild of art director Al MacCuish. It’s illustrated by Luciano Lozano and designed by Jim Bletsas. Their favorite words are diplodocus, shelter, and ‘toodle-oo, buckeroo‘ respectively, so, you know, they rule for having favorite words. Mine is eyeball. True story.

I can’t give away too much because the book warned me multiple times that its content is TOP SECRET. I’m certainly one to obey letters, so I will comply with that order. But what you can know is that Charlie Foxtrot is doing pretty terrible in school, and the Ministry of Letters concocts a plan of attack to help. And a Duchess rides a motorbike, so there’s that.

And while it’s certainly a departure from a typical picture book as it runs 64 pages and LOTS of words, it’s a fun novelty with stellar pictures.

…and dizzying endpapers!

I love how this title page feels like the first page of a super-secret-need-to-know-basis-very-important file.

Underneath this fun mylar (!) jacket is a poster of all the letters. I love this trend; it’s seen in another favorite alphabet book, Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet.

The color palette is restrained, yet rich and strikingly retro.

Because the letters have such life and function as characters in the book, perhaps typography is not the best choice for which design consideration to highlight. But! The seamless mixture of letter and form into a character study is surely part of the craft of composing type. And because truly, I think the typography graphic above matches the other colors in this post.

And it’s my blog, so I can do silly things like that and blame it on being crazed by the art.

{You can explore the Ministry of Letters yourself at this fun site.}

The illustrations have some really, really fun details. I love the balloon wielding cat above, presumably scribbled on the wall by Charlie Foxtrot.

What about this grumpy raincloud? Poor thing.

{ I’m slightly obsessed with Mrs. Foxtrot’s pink plaid coat. Do they make that for real life people?}

And that’s the Duchess. She wears orange goggles and green galoshes. Kate Middleton’s not the only stylish royal around!

Operation Alphabet is a winner. A kooky, unusual, breaks-all-the-rules, beautiful book.

The Loud Book

words by Deborah Underwood, pictures by Renata Liwska

A fun companion to The Quiet Book, The Loud Book celebrates all things NOISY.

Such a straightforward book calls for fairly straightforward type layout.

Belly Flop Loud

Thunderstorm Loud

Candy Wrapper Loud

Spilling Your Marbles In The Library Loud

And so on.

Enter: the title page.

And the copyright page.

Words spring out like sound waves; their layout amplifies the information.

Even the jacket flap gets in on this typography party:

Onomatopeia in bold and distinguished from the rest of the party.

So as a reader, you’ve seen and experienced the cover, the jacket flap, the title and copyright pages, all with nods to INCREASED VOLUME.

And now you’re ready to read.

I will even SHHH for you. Carry on.

An ABC Of What Art Can Be

{written by Meher McArthur; pictures by Esther Pearl Watson; designed by Catherine Lorenz}

This little gem came straight from the home of Van Gogh’s Irises: The Getty. If you are an art teacher {ahem, essbee…} or an art lover {ahem, YOU!}, you should probably get your hands on this book.

It’s a jaunt through the alphabet with a celebration of art at every single page. Each spread has a unique style, so each page turn is incredibly satisfying. Kudos to the art explaining the art!

The size of this book is striking. It’s long and skinny (and hard to get a photo of!) which is refreshing and eye catching. And shape…can you see (sort of!) the heart in the negative space of the hands? What a perfect image to correspond to the text: “making all sorts of things with the hands and the heart.” {PS: What does it say about me that I thought of the Justin Bieber heart/hand/sign thing when I saw this for the first time? Maybe don’t answer that. Never say never.}

And the texture varies from page to page, but it is used masterfully. I love the paper cutouts on this illustration. Doesn’t it look like the slightest wave of a hand would rip those green trees right off the page? Beautiful.

Naturally, a book about art gets the art absolutely right, but I was especially excited by the typography. Typography isn’t one of the elements of design, but it is an integral part of cohesive, stunning, and successful design.

An ABC of What Art Can Be uses a hand drawn typeface.

I love this as a design choice because it supports the handmade and organic processes of art that are highlighted in the book. While any number of typefaces could have been lovely, one with an imperfect quality really enhances the pictures.

And a fun bonus at the end…arts and crafts and tips for creating your own masterpieces at home. Cool.

While definitely an untraditional choice for me story wise, this book has EVERYTHING I love…pretty pictures, fun words, vibrant colors, and a whole heck of inspiration.


The Serif Fairy

Rene Siegfried’s The Serif Fairy is not your traditional picture book, but I found it utterly charming. The poor little Serif Fairy has lost one of her wings and without it, she can do no magic. So she sets off through the Garamond Forest to the Zenetar Gate, from Futura City to the depths of Lake Shelley on a quest for her missing wing.


See, the Serif Fairy is made up of characters in the Shelley Andante typeface. That’s just a fancy word for font. And a serif? That’s a fancy word for this:

Those little lines at the edges of the letters are called serifs. Font designers use serifs to make letters flow from one to another. Serif fonts are used in books or other blocks of text. See: the text on the pages of The Serif Fairy. Also seen in many a wedding invitation, graduation announcement, or Marauder’s Map.

And compare those letterforms to the word above set in pink, ‘SERIFS.’  Wild-and-crazily enough, that word is actually set in a typeface called a sans-serif, because it doesn’t have those little lines. Sans-serif fonts are generally chosen for headlines or other need-to-be-especially-readable places. See: the  header at the top of this page. And my personal favorite style. Generally.

Similar to the illustrations in Bembo’s Zoo, each picture in The Serif Fairy is made up of characters from four typefaces. There are no serifs in Futura City, because Futura is a sans-serif font. Not surprisingly, that section was my favorite. Maybe because Futura is my favorite font. But also, the helicopter and the crane are AMAZING, right??

The Serif Fairy is such a wonder…uniquely crafted illustrations, combined with restrained pastel blocks of color representing land, water, and roads, and a sweet story.

Although this would be a tough read aloud, and the typography use might soar over the heads of little ones, it is a delightful must for lovers of type and design. And anyone that can say they have a favorite font.

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.

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.

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.