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Designed for Kids: Highlights in Recent Children’s Design Books

New books for children from AMMO Books, Gestalten, Paintbox Press, Princeton Architectural Press, and Schiffer Publishing

By Stephanie Salomon November 13, 2014

Kids, design, and books have come together in a variety of wonderful ways for several design book publishers this year. That means that in 2014—and particularly during the upcoming holiday season—young readers (whether chronologically or constitutionally so) and the adults in their lives have a wealth of choices in books designed with children in mind.

“Creativity and imagination are driving forces in our world today. Kids own that space!” says Pamela Pease, publisher at Paintbox Press, which produces design “dossiers” for children ages 10 and up.

 “Milestones,” from Design Dossier: Graphic Design by Pamela Pease; Kids Design Collaborative; foreword by Michael Bierut (Paintbox Press)

We caught up with Pease and also with some key publishers, editors, and design directors from AMMO Books, Gestalten, Princeton Architectural Press, and Schiffer Publishing to get their perspective on what’s new in designing books for children—including books specifically intended to teach children about design.

For Pease, the children’s design books published by Paintbox Press, which she founded in 2002, “grew out of conversations I had with kids as I visited schools to show them how to make pop-ups (the first books we published were pop-ups). I realized that kids were interested in design, but didn’t really understand what it meant to be a designer. With a 25 year career—first in fashion, then in publishing—my own design education is something I am grateful for every day, and I wanted to share that. To let kids know that their ideas matter, and to have the courage to bring those ideas to life.”

Design Dossier: Gift Set, 2014 (Paintbox Press)

This fall, Pease is offering her three successful dossiers for children (she’s also the author) on “the world of design” (2009), graphic design (2010), and architecture (2012) in a slipcased gift set. A fashion design dossier is in the works. The books, she notes, “are written in a style that doesn’t talk down to kids. So what that really means is that the books are written for people who love or are curious about design.”

“I will always cherish,” Pease adds, “an email I received from design legend Massimo Vignelli (who was kind enough to be interviewed for the graphic design book.) He said, ‘It is the best introduction to graphic design that I have ever seen. Concise, to the point, accurate, basic, correct, historically precise, it is a joy to see how stimulating that book could become in the hands of a young kid.’”

At Princeton Architectural Press, which for more than 30 years has been recognized as a leading voice in U.S. architecture and design publishing for adult readers, an interest in books for children has evolved over time. This year the Press has published two books by the French illustrator Didier Cornille geared toward introducing modern buildings to children ages 5 to 10 (and their parents)—Who Built That? Modern Houses and Who Built That? Skyscrapers.

Who Built That? Modern Houses by Didier Cornille (2014, Princeton Architectural Press)

Editorial Director Jennifer Lippert explains: “The interest in children’s books started many years ago. We tested the waters with Ellen Lupton’s D.I.Y. Kids, which was an activity book for kids and parents. We kept toying with the idea of creating a children’s list, but nothing came across our path that made us really want to jump into a new genre. Then a few years ago, there was a rise in the birthrate at Princeton Architectural Press—many of us had children at around the same time, and thus we automatically became more interested in children’s books. Just as we started really thinking about children’s books, an editor brought the Meet the Artist series to the table. We fell in love with the series, and realized that we really are interested in creating books for children with a focus on art, architecture, and design. The Who Built That? series came on the heels of the Meet the Artist series, and seemed like a strong fit for our growing kids’ list.”

Interior page from Who Built That? Skyscrapers by Didier Cornille (2014, Princeton Architectural Press)

The Who Built That? books are great for “parent and child to explore together,” says Lippert. “Interest in how and why things are made starts early. Recently, we took our three-year-old to the Mount Lebanon Shaker Museum in upstate New York. It was the largest masonry structure of its kind when it was built, completely awe-inspiring. Although she was more interested in the chicken house, which was spectacular in its own right, it was a wonderful thing to watch her react to building, architecture, and history. . . . As a lover of design and architecture, I want my child to be exposed not only to design, but to structure, and to history. I love it all, and want her to, as well! What better way to pass this on than through beautiful and interesting books!”

What’s next for children’s books at Princeton Architectural Press? Lippert says, “We’re busy creating and collaborating on projects for the future. We work with very talented architects and designers, so we have big hopes for developing books for forthcoming lists with them. We’re looking at some classics that have gone out-of-print and deserve to be re-published, such as Paula Scher’s The Brownstone and Seymour Chwast’s The Pancake King. We're also planning to introduce some of the extraordinary children’s books of Bruno Munari into this country in the next twelve to twenty-four months—a really exciting development for us.”

The Future Architect’s Handbook by Barbara Beck, 2014 (Schiffer Publishing)

This year Schiffer Publishing, as part of its extensive design offerings more commonly directed toward adults, released The Future Architect’s Handbook by Barbara Beck. The book translates for children ages 9 to 12 the processes and techniques of planning and designing a house, accompanied by freehand pen-and-ink drawings. Beck, an architect, describes a floor plan this way: “It can be helpful to think of a floor plan as a sheet of paper in a large stack. To see the bottom-most sheet you remove all of the paper on top of it. . . . . In every building, certain rooms should be near each other while others can be farther apart. A floor plan helps understand how rooms work or function together. We can see where the noisy spaces are and keep them away from quiet ones.”

 In addition to books that aim to teach children about design methods and history are new additions to the tradition of the beautifully designed story- or alphabet book for children. The Berlin-based visual arts publisher Gestalten launched its line of children’s books, Little Gestalten, this year focused on just these types of books.

Little Gestalten Editor Hendrik Hellige tells us, “We’ve always been interested in children’s books. We published a series of illustrated fairy tale books—Grimm, Andersen, and 1001 Nights—a decade ago. And more recently, we did Play All Day, a survey on design products and concepts for children, and titles like Little Big Books, featuring the best illustrators and creators of picture books for children.

“So, it’s been a natural progression. Many of our readers, designers who started their careers with our titles, also have kids now and looking for children’s books that have a creative approach.”

Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault, illustrated with paper cutouts by Clémentine Sourdais, 2014 (Little Gestalten)

“Many of the books that we have in mind are classics—30, 40, or 50 years old. Some are perhaps more well known in certain countries and some are brand new stories that are great and just haven’t gotten the attention they clearly deserve. With Little Gestalten, we aim to bring new and surprising stories by today’s gifted storytellers and fresh creative illustrators to children.

“Children’s books are especially interesting today as children are increasingly exposed to various media and tools like the iPad. Books offer different kinds of content and storytelling possibilities. Reading books with children also creates a different type of communication and trust between parents and children that help address questions and deepen their relationships.”

Issun Boshi: The One-Inch Boy by Icinori and Elsa and the Night by Jöns Mellgren, 2014 (Little Gestalten).

“We’re looking to pair great modern/contemporary illustrations that work well with a poetic story. As it turns out, many of the books in our first Little Gestalten list illustrate metaphors about life. We are also releasing nonfiction books, all of which are illustrated with original artwork by some of today’s most creative talents—adapting their style and approach to illustrate a topic—giving the publications and the genre a contemporary look and feel. Many of them are designers, illustrators, and photographers that we’ve worked with and published in our main list over the years.”

Will Little Gestalten be doing books that have the specific intent of introducing kids to design? “Not necessarily,” Hellige answers. “The books themselves communicate a design aspect just by the way they are—similar to the way Eric Carle’s books introduced a certain way of making collage to kindergartens everywhere.”

Interior pages from Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology by Patrick and Traci Concepción; illustrated by Dawid Ryski, 2014 (Little Gestalten).

AMMO Books, based in southern California, brings its enthusisam for coloful modern design to its large list of children’s books and related games and puzzles. 

Gloria Fowler, the founder of AMMOs’ children’s line and AMMO’s creative director, says, “We are very enthusiastic about shining the spotlight on design and illustration icons, and have done so with Alexander Girard, Charley Harper, and Charles and Ray Eames through the comprehensive, large-format monographs that we have published on these mid-20th century greats. Along with that, we are just as excited to share their work and inspire the next generation of young creative minds with our corresponding line of kids’ books and games. Many of the kids and adult titles go hand in hand. For instance, I designed the Eames monograph Beautiful Details and then also designed a companion Eames memory game for kids. It’s really fun to be able to share the genius of these artists with an audience of all ages.”

Interior pages from The Story of Paul Bunyan by Barbara and Ed Emberley, Forthcoming December 2014 (AMMO Books)

“We just published a lovely monograph by Todd Oldham on Ed Emberley, the grandfather of how-to-draw books for kids since the 1970s. His books have inspired many young working artists today who grew up practicing drawing and being inspired to become artists because of him. We hope to expand that awareness with this monograph as well as some new Ed Emberley kids’ products we are creating and some vintage out-of-print children’s books by Emberley from the 1960s.

“We are a boutique publishing house and as such many of our choices are very personal,” says Fowler. “We aim for a curatorial voice in our selections that is design-centric and hope to create delightful books that may become future classics for any child’s budding library.”

Interior pages from Come with Me to Paris by Gloria Fowler; illustrated by Min Heo, 2014 (Ammo Books)

“Whether we are designing new books with vintage content, or creating new books with contemporary illustrators, there is always a sense of how all of these titles can feel at home within AMMO’s aesthetic.

Books! by Murray McCain; illustrated by John Alcorn, 2013 (AMMO Books)

“I was fortunate to have taught design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena for twenty years, so great design is really essential to what we do in all of our projects both for adults and kids. Often I come across talented young illustrators such as Patrick Hruby and Min Heo who are both Art Center alumni, and this inspires me in turn to collaborate with them on creating new kids’ products. I’ve always got my eye out for interesting young illustrators who are just getting started as well as for vintage ones that may have been forgotten.

“We are also expanding our interest in publishing out-of-print vintage gems such as Books! illustrated by John Alcorn, which is a lovely example of a great story, beautiful typography, and charming hand-drawn illustrations combined in one book. It’s a sweet homage to the very nature of books themselves and in our digital age, a treasure like Books! reminds us of how irreplaceable actual, physical books truly are.”

You can win some of these books in our current drawing, running through November 25.

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