Themed Book Lists

12 Children’s Fiction Books That Inspire Designers

November 11, 2014

Children’s fiction has been an inspiration to designers all over the world. Here are 12 children’s stories that Gail Anderson, Sheila Bridges, Angus Hyland, Chip Kidd, Inga Sempé, Maira Kalman, Peter Mendelsund, and Daniel Libeskind, among others, have noted as shaping their creative work.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll

— Graphic designer Sagi Haviv (Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv) comments on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

“Coming across this book as a child introduced me to the concept of fantasy, which informs my art to this day.”

— Graphic designer Angus Hyland (Pentagram, London) comments:

“My first book.”

— Illustrator and author Maira Kalman comments:

“None better. Logic. Mathematics. Madness. Screwball comedy. Hallucinatory magic. And wondrous everything.”

— Type designer Zuzana Licko (Emigre) comments:

“This is the first English book my dad read to me in Czechoslovakia, trying to expose me to the English language, he tells me. Regrettably I don't remember, since I was only five at the time. But it probably explains why I later enjoyed the Caedmon recordings, featuring Joan Greenwood (as Alice) and Stanley Holloway (as narrator), to the point that I could recite long passages from memory in my early teens. This book is best in the edition accompanied by John Tenniel’s illustrations—I remember poring over the details when I was learning to draw.”

— Graphic designer Deborah Sussman (Sussman/Prejza & Company) comments:

“In case you haven’t yet read this, do so!”

— Architect Daniel Libeskind comments on on Alice in Wonderland: Illustrated by Ralph Steadman:

“‘The best books have pictures,’ says Alice, and this is the best—and most scary!”

Charlotte’s Web E. B. White
Illustrations by Garth Williams

— Interior designer Sheila Bridges comments on Charlotte’s Web:

“About life, friendship, and the passage of time. It’s a book that every child (and adult) should read.”

— Graphic designer Chip Kidd comments:

“This was the first book I read that was really about the power of design and typography. I would say that Charlotte’s typographic web-o-grams represent the first depiction of a successful ad campaign in children’s literature.”

Harold and the Purple Crayon Crockett Johnson

Graphic and book cover designer (Knopf) Peter Mendelsund comments on Harold and the Purple Crayon:

“A tale of a boy who makes his own adventure, and his own way through this adventure, with nothing more than the eponymous crayon. It was my first and most profound lesson in world-building. Lesson learned: All you need is a crayon.”

Harriet the Spy Louise Fitzhugh

Product designer Inga Sempé comments on Harriet the Spy:

“A very unusual children's book that tells the story of an 11-year-old girl in New York being shunned by her friends and classmates, because they caught her writing notes about them in her diary after she spied on them. My mother did the illustrations for the French version of this book (Harriet l’espionne, illustrated by Mette Ivers) when I was already a grownup, but the book is so subtle and original, that I have read it several times.”

It’s Like This, Cat Emily Cheney Neville

Graphic designer Gail Anderson comments:

“Harriet the Spy, It’s Like This, Cat, and later, all of the S. E. Hinton books, were childhood favorites that still resonate to this day. Perhaps it’s the city kid side of me that identified with the adventurous loners I met through their stories.”

The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

—IDEO founder David Kelley comments on The Little Prince:

“The Little Prince had a big impact in my life when I was young and impressionable. It offered my earliest lessons in prototyping, iterating, and stretching your imagination.”

Product design company president Alberto Alessi comments on The Little Prince:

“A poetic overview of our world—which a designer should always have!”

Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life Henry Beard

Interior and product designer Jonathan Adler comments on Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life:

“An inspiring read from my camp youth. It’s a really brilliant and hilarious book.”

The Missing Boy Joan Dell

— Landscape designer Margie Ruddick comments on The Missing Boy:

“It seems as if I read this book a thousand times as a child. A Cockney girl finds an alternate reality after jumping into a reflecting pool in Berkeley Square, travels through an underwater purgatory of lost children, meets fairies, bests evil spirits in the underworld, and ultimately sacrifices it all to help a blind boy. Sob.”

The Red Shoes Hans Christian Andersen

Fashion designer Stephen Burrows comments:

“The way Andersen centers his story around the sickness of the shoes fascinates me. And besides, I'm a shoe fanatic—they complete the outfit!”

Tintin in Tibet Hergé

— Graphic designer Angus Hyland comments:

“The book that changed my life.”

The Velvet Room Zilpha Keatley Snyder

— Jewelry designer Lisa Jenks comments:

“This was my favorite book growing up.”

Winnie the Pooh A. A. Milne

— Graphic designer and illustrator Maira Kalman comments:

“Oh, Winnie. Oh, Pooh. Tenderness. Humor.”

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