Design Appreciation in Children’s Literature
We all have memories of our favorite childhood books — maybe they took us on a journey, taught us something new or simply sparked our curiosity.
For me, it was always about the illustrations — I was fascinated by the different techniques I encountered, from Eric Carle’s tissue colleges to Maurice Sendak’s use of texture and line work. As I rediscover this genre of books, I am excited by the level of design and creativity accompanying today’s narratives.
From hand-drawn type to sophisticated illustration styles and color palettes, here are my top five designed/illustrated children’s stories.
Henri’s Walk to Paris
illustrated by Saul Bass
This is designer and filmmaker Saul Bass’s only children’s book — probably because he was busy designing logos for clients like AT&T, and title sequences for films like Psycho and Goodfellas.
Written by Leonore Klein, Henri’s Walk to Paris was produced in 1962 and re-released in 2012. The powerful combination of minimal geometrics paired with bold palettes are as relevant today as when they were first created.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
illustrated by Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama is one of Japan’s most celebrated artists, whose work is themed around psychedelic color, repetition, and pattern. She has a rare condition that makes her literally see spots everywhere she looks. These spots are transplanted onto her trippy, yet beautiful, version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
illustrated by Blexbolex
Designed by French graphic artist Blexbolex, this 280-page story follows a child on his walk home from school and builds over several sequences — each becoming more layered and imaginative. Visually, Blexbolex blends his two backgrounds — painting and screen printing — into a lovely illustration style that appears almost vintage.
Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for all the Letters
written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This alphabet narrative celebrates humanity through a portrayal of our imperfections, paradoxes, and curiosities. The subtle, yet expressive illustrations are a perfect pair to this whimsical story. It’s hard to choose just one title from Jeffers — all of his works are equally as original and imaginative.
The Iridescence of Birds
illustrated by Hadley Hooper
In this story of Henri Matisse and his childhood inspirations, Hooper beautifully illustrates the transition from his dreary hometown to the colorful, light-filled world he experiences throughout the narrative. Illustrations are brought to life through relief prints, using “different transfer techniques and old carbon paper to get interesting line qualities.”