What designers read to their children

~ 21 March 2006 ~

Of the dozens and dozens of children’s books we’ve bought over the years, none have been purchased solely with a selfish desire to call one my own. Until today, that is.

Everest and I went to the semi-annual book fair at his school this morning. He picked out his two books, same as last time. And then I nearly tripped over the table when I saw this hardcover beauty:

John, Paul, George & Ben

Gorgeously illustrated and cheekily written by Lane Smith, John, Paul, George & Ben is a rare specimen of fine detail among children’s books. Don’t get me wrong — we’ve got plenty of books that are visually inviting. But this one takes the cake.

A few of the spreads:

Page spread
Page spread

A closer look at the superb illustration work leaves little to be desired:

Page detail
Page detail
Page detail

To see someone care this much about a children’s book, both illustration and word, makes me giddy. One heck of an investment for only $11 (at Amazon).

Best of all, you’ll have a blast reading this to the little lads:

One day his teacher, Mr. Douglas, asked the class to make birdhouses by gluing macaroni to ye olde balsa wood. Tom happily ignored him and used traditional building materials in a neoclassical design.

Smack me silly. Who’d ever thought they’d read the words “neoclassical design” to a five-year-old?

Guess where this one sits? Proudly on my bookshelf, not the boys’. There’s gotta be other books out there like this. Got any at home?



Veer Veer: Visual Elements for Creatives.
Stock photography, type, and killer tees. Genuinely recommended by Authentic Boredom.

1   Stefan Hayden ~ 21 March 2006 at 11:37 AM

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is also an amazing book with great typography and illustrations.

2   Kris Hull ~ 21 March 2006 at 11:51 AM

Gaaahhhh…. Stefan, you beat me! I love that book. Also illustrated by Lane Smith, I think.

3   Andrew Hahn ~ 21 March 2006 at 12:08 PM

I have to say that Stinky Cheese Man is one of my favorites too.

We read The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka Illustrated by Steve Johnson.

It’s a wonderfully illustrated and quirky read.

4   Stephanie Leary ~ 21 March 2006 at 12:28 PM

The Not Like Any Other Children’s Book Book by Glen and Louisa Smith. Out of print for twenty years, alas, but brilliantly weird. The design is not as gorgeous as this one, but it’s definitely consistent with the zany content.

5   Dennis West ~ 21 March 2006 at 12:33 PM

Excellent book! I’ve never heard of it before but I really like how it looks. I’ll be sure to check it out.

My favorite children’s author growing up and now with my kids is Virginia Lee Burton. I love her illustrations and the stories are just great.

It’ll be nice to see what everyone else posts. I’m open for more good ideas!

6   Ty Hatch ~ 21 March 2006 at 12:44 PM

I’ll second the Stinky Cheese Man plug. My kids and I have enjoyed it for several years.

“Run, run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me. I’m the Stinky Cheese Man!”

Now, I’ve gotta go to the bookstore… ;)

7   Nana ~ 21 March 2006 at 12:46 PM

Napoleon Bonaparte (in french) is the story of Napoleon… except all the characters are mushrooms! Very nice illustrations.

8   Edward ~ 21 March 2006 at 12:49 PM

Heh, I would have thought the Scieszka and Smith duo was known to the whole design community! I’m very sorry you only heard of them until now.

Absolutely wonderful stuff. They were, incidentally, one of my first inspirations in design.

9   Clifton ~ 21 March 2006 at 01:28 PM

I agree with all the aforementioned recommendations.

This is definitely worth a read, too:


10   Mark Bixby ~ 21 March 2006 at 01:37 PM

Yeah The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs really got me amped about being an illustrator in college. I love Lane Smith’s sense of color. Hadn’t seen this one yet. GREAT FIND!

11   Carl Camera ~ 21 March 2006 at 01:42 PM

My boys giggled the whole way through No David!. Give it a look-see at your local Barnes & Noble. Takes about 30 seconds to read alone, but longer as you and your child discuss each page.

12   Pedro ~ 21 March 2006 at 01:42 PM

Not exactly a children’s book, but something that I’ve found enjoyable for design and layout work is McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Issue 13 - entirely filled with comics. Never previously a fan of comics, I found it to be a great inspiration, and very visually stimulating as they communicate so much in such a little amount of space.

13   Joseph Lindsay ~ 21 March 2006 at 02:18 PM

Probably not the best design, but certainly some of the best stories:

14   Joshua Marino ~ 21 March 2006 at 03:37 PM

Incredible illustration & typography. Not to mention a fairly entertaining story:

Math Curse

15   Geoff ~ 21 March 2006 at 04:21 PM

That looks really cool. I love the textures and colors, very nice. I’m a graphic designer and my wife is an art teacher; we read this Monster-Haiku book to our son:

Caught Creatures.

16   Daniel ~ 21 March 2006 at 05:09 PM

“John, Paul, George, & Ben” – much to the giddy excitement of Scieszka and Lane fans everywhere – just recently hit the bookshelves this past month… that’s probably why it’s so new to folks.

I need to run out and get it myself still, especially after this starring review! All of their stuff is wonderful, and truly, truly deserves to be on any designer’s shelf.

17   Jayson ~ 21 March 2006 at 05:11 PM

I bought this book for my son, and loved the layout and font.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster

18   Brian ~ 21 March 2006 at 06:10 PM

Also by Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka is Squids will be Squids. I like them in the same way as I like Dr. Suess, old Sesame Street and old Beatles tunes. It is entertaining for both the child and adult.

19   Gustaf Fjelstrom ~ 21 March 2006 at 06:18 PM

Looks great! I’m a sucker for crackle-y textures.

Another must have: The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Superb.

20   Jeff Davis ~ 21 March 2006 at 09:38 PM

Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed is really great Christmas story with exceptional artwork.

21   cristinamarie ~ 21 March 2006 at 10:11 PM

That’s a really nicely illustrated children’s book. There’s another artist who illustrates the “Griffin & Sabine” series. Have you heard of it before? Reminds me of that book that I read as a little girl, something about the postman. Each page has it’s own letter or postcard. I like the idea.

22   mattymcg ~ 21 March 2006 at 11:22 PM

You can’t go past these two:

23   Paul D ~ 22 March 2006 at 03:52 AM

Terrific book. :)

Just don’t forget that “ye” is pronounced “the”. You don’t want to mess up your children linguistically for life!

24   Brett ~ 22 March 2006 at 08:22 AM

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub is an old favorite.

25   Melissa ~ 22 March 2006 at 01:05 PM

Oh one of my favorite topics!

The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me
By Roald Dahl illustrated by Blake Quentin

Burt Dow
by Robert McClosky

26   Laurie ~ 22 March 2006 at 01:18 PM

“Leonardo” is brilliant! Anything from Mo Willems (of Sesame Street fame) especially,
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus;

also checkout (as in go the LIBRARY; don’t you designers own library cards!?)

The Three Golden Keys by Peter Sis;

Mr Monkey’s Classroom by Jiwon Oh;

anything written by Vivian Walsh; illustrated by J. Otto Seibold (gotta love husband and wife duos)

You had to ask a children’s library web developer…

27   Jason ~ 22 March 2006 at 02:40 PM

“Just don’t forget that ‘ye’ is pronounced ‘the’. You don’t want to mess up your children linguistically for life!”

I think telling a kid that “ye” is pronounced “the” is the quickest way to mess them up linguistically. None of us learned it till we were in college, why should they be any different? But, I’m not a parent, so who knows.

For illustrators, it doesn’t get better than Mary Grandpre for me, most known for the Harry Potter book covers.

28   Angela ~ 22 March 2006 at 03:09 PM

Zen Shorts by Jon Muth—It has beautiful watercolor illustrations.

29   Syd ~ 22 March 2006 at 05:57 PM

That looks like a really nice book. I had a very similar experience when I urged (ehh.. forced) my four year old to choose this absolutely wonderful book “The Princess and the Pea”. The pictures are photographs of miniature models that the creators made, begged or borrowed. The typography is fantastic and compliments the tone of the story. It is simply too nice for children. ;)

30   Christopher Grande ~ 22 March 2006 at 11:59 PM

The Widows Broom is a gorgeous book.

31   emma ~ 23 March 2006 at 02:18 AM

I’ve been really inspired by books written/illustrated by Shaun Tan.

I have yet to read the Red Tree. But I love the Lost Thing and The Rabbits. In his books every page is a work of art to the covers and inside covers. All the publishing details, isbn:s and things are really cleverly hidden in the cover design as well. And the stories work for adults as well.

32   Jeroen ~ 23 March 2006 at 09:40 AM

As I have Dutch roots I cant help recommending the Dutch writer Anie M.G. Smith. Very famous in Holland. Pink Lemonade and The island of nose are classics. Too bad not all of her books are translated into english.


33   Jeroen - again ~ 23 March 2006 at 09:42 AM

Uh-oh… sorry for the link in previous post.

34   George ~ 23 March 2006 at 10:08 AM

I’ll second the Saun Tan vote - his books are works of art, we’ve got these upstairs on the shelf so the littley doesn’t damage them. Also the Moomin books are very lovely.

35   Trajan ~ 23 March 2006 at 04:29 PM

It’s quite best to have kids informed at that young age, I remember my kid sister asking me what “quantum physics” were when we were watching Men In Black a couple years back, and mind you she was only 5.

36   emma ~ 24 March 2006 at 01:04 AM

Hey really nice pictures. I love it.

truly adorable!!!!

37   Sam ~ 24 March 2006 at 06:04 AM

Great; this is exactly what I’m looking for (the comments too!). Expecting to become a dad in the next week or so and I need some good childrens books for my own collection :)

38   Stephanie Leary ~ 24 March 2006 at 11:53 AM

cristinamarie is talking about Nick Bantock, but his books aren’t for children.

39   Steve Gerig ~ 24 March 2006 at 11:56 AM

As a new father I can really appreciate this kind of effort.

40   Mark Wyner ~ 24 March 2006 at 12:21 PM

I read your post and immediately jumped over here to post Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales. But Stefan beat me to the punch. He’s correct. Stinky Cheese Man… is absolutely marvelous.

Also, there is the series of books from Jan Brett. Her stories are outstanding and well written. And the illustrations are equally amazing. What’s more, she writes and illustrates everything herself.

Nice post, Cameron.

41   bennion ~ 26 March 2006 at 10:36 AM

My son loves Frog and Toad! We laugh and laugh every time we read them. It’s so cool to see your kids enjoy the same books you did as a kid as well.

42   Tom ~ 29 March 2006 at 12:19 PM

I’m surprised no one mentioned Old Turtle. There isn’t much in the way of typography, but the watercolor illustrations are incredible.

43   Anthony ~ 30 March 2006 at 10:38 AM

My children and I really enjoy J. Otto’s Mr. Lunch books (as well as “Olive the Other Reindeer”)

44   MattLat ~ 30 March 2006 at 02:49 PM

I always quite enjoyed Santa’s Twin myself… we still read it on Christmas eve every year.

45   dog of Dirk ~ 31 March 2006 at 06:07 AM

Our all-time favorite, although for a younger audience, is Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me by Eric Carle. If my youngest gets to choose, she rarely picks something else.

46   Lane Smith ~ 01 April 2006 at 03:41 PM

Hey! Thanks for the nice words about my new book. My wife, Molly Leach, (the book’s designer) and I were very fortunate to work with a publisher that actually encouraged us to use nice paper-stock, embossing, etc. Very rare these days!

47   Jenny ~ 02 April 2006 at 06:16 AM

Even though my kids are older, they still love to be read to. Here are some classics in our house:

The Paper Dragon by Marguerite Davol with illustrations by Robuert Sabuda. Gorgeous paper collages.

Sweet Dream Pie by Audrey Wood with illustrations by Mark Teague

And our all-time favorite:
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. Ron Barrett, Illustrator. Not exactly a paragon of good design, but the illustrations are rich with delightful detail. I use to stare at that book for HOURS when I was a kid, and I’m so glad I can share that experience with my kids.

48   Marla ~ 03 April 2006 at 03:56 PM

I love the Lauren Child books with their odd cartoon+collage illustrations; my favorite is I am Too Absolutely Small for School, in which an invisible friend appears only as a varnish layer.
I also can’t get enough of the facial expressions in Duck on a Bike by David Shannon.

49   Matt ~ 03 April 2006 at 07:19 PM

Someone up there mentioned Peter Sis - almost any of his books is worth getting and opening to any page. Just the textures he uses should ring your bells - the distressed backgrounds and etched-looking pages.

Really dense, elegant work.

50   Arjen ~ 05 April 2006 at 06:22 AM

I love Max Lucado’s books:

  • If Only I Had a Green Nose
  • You Are Special
  • You Are Mine
  • And as Jeroen said: Annie M.G. Schmidt rocks [uri]…

    51   Bradley D ~ 05 April 2006 at 10:15 AM

    My wife and I love “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.

    A bit minimalistic perhaps with the design and layout, but beautiful just the same. Very wonderful moral and a quick read!

    52   Marc Jones ~ 18 April 2006 at 07:25 PM

    A fave of mine and any kid I have ever read it to (and I can’t wait until my 1 year-old gets old enough for his turn) is The Shopping Basket. A true anti-hero and superb illustrations. John Burningham’s other book of equal status with the nippers is The Avocado Baby.

    53   Marc Jones ~ 18 April 2006 at 07:32 PM

    Oops - one more if I may The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

    54   Adam Messinger ~ 21 April 2006 at 02:40 PM

    Ross MacDonald’s children’s books are full of fun retro illustration and typography.

    55   anna ~ 24 April 2006 at 05:16 AM

    Hey i liked the book. Good designs and colorful pages. Lke to buy more like this one.Throughly enjoyable experience.

    56   Matt Grommes ~ 24 April 2006 at 04:37 PM

    I’m a big fan of “Roberto The Insect Architect”. Very cool collage style layout of bug buildings and trash cities, with a bunch of architecture jokes.

    57   felix m ~ 30 April 2006 at 09:34 AM



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