Children's Books That Impacted Your Design Sense

Children's Books That Impacted Your Design Sense

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Sarah Rae Smith
Jul 21, 2008

My husband and I can spend hours in the children's department at our local bookstore. Not because we have kids (unless the kind with 4 legs counts), but because we love thumbing back through the books that stole our imaginations as children. It fascinates us to see that what we read before we even went to school, has played a major part in making us who we are today. See which kids books inspired my personal design sense and tell us about yours after the jump...

Kids books are funny things. If your household was like mine, my brother and I would pick out a few for our parents to read to us each night before bed. We read the same stories over and over again knowing what happened before we even got to the next page. We knew the illustrations inside and out as if we were part of the book. The alligator doll in A Bargain For Francis could have actually been real in our 6 year old brains. And the loose tooth in One Morning In Maine was so real, we could actually taste the warm blood in our mouth.

Having the chance to flip back through some of our old favorites, I catch myself being drawn to things in the design world that relate back to many of the books I read as a child. Art styles ranged from intricate pen and ink work to beautifully painted spreads as my mother was always sure to have books in our house that would really stretch our minds. Let's examine some of my favorites:





The Color Kittens helps to explain my love of bold solid shapes. There are no black borders around any of the art and some of it feels to have a brush stroke to it. Almost as if your water color brush sat on the paper too long before picking it up. There are still colors to this day that I say are "Color Kittens Purple." Which sounds just as ridiculous as calling a color "Deep Blushing Eggplant" so I'm kind of ok with it.








Robert McCloskey is by far one of my favorite children's book authors/illustrators. The pen and ink work in his illustrations are breathtaking and I am sure they captivated more minds than just my own. The deceptively simple inking allowed a story to be told in great detail without feeling heavy on the page. Which I would like to think is how many of the rooms in my house are designed. We want them to feel warm and very "us" without feeling weighed down by furniture and accessories.








Cross Country Cat along with the other books about Henry the Ca, really hit home when I was younger. I am sure it was because I had a cat, and I was positive she could actually perform the things that he did in this story. Henry is a real member of the family and the stories are always written with that in mind.
The colors don't always stay consistent as you flip through the book, but the textures do. It helps me to remember that I don't always have to have my rooms match, or even coordinate. But as long as the design carries you from one room to the next, things will always turn out ok.

Ferdinand was a simple book although it had depth and complex words. It never seemed heavy due to the clean ink work that the entire book was done in. The line weight, or variance of line thickness, conveyed emotion without needing color to make it's point. This helps me to remember that clean lines and different textures of the same neutral color have a great impact when used correctly.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was over the top. The inking was sharp and the colors saturated the page as visions of donuts and pizza danced in your brain. This book represents the side of me that believes that more is more and I want to bring everything I own into a space (even if it's not always practical).

Mike Mulligan captured my heart like none other. I was a tom girl at heart (still am), and the industrial nature of this book appealed to me just as much as the soft color palette did. As you read through this book, it is without the hard outlines you so often find in other books. Colors blend effortlessly and move your eye around the page. Modern furniture and design often times feels cold and hard. Remembering to melt your colors together with textures was a great lesson learned.

Ping. Oh Ping. You stole all of our hearts and captured our minds. Ping mixed a wide variety of colors, but texture blended them as if they were born to go together. Many times we struggle with narrowing down the color choices we bring into our rooms. Ping is a great example on how to utilize many colors without having it distract from the story your room is trying to tell.

Horton Hears A Who was a favorite of many. It has hard cartoon outlines and bright bold colors. The inking is flawless and moves your eye across the page as it line weight varies. It might feel garish compared to the color palettes of the other books, but the large amounts of white/negative space keep the brightness of the bold colors in balance. This helps keep things in proportion in my own house as I remember that white is not only a color, but the absence of it. Sometimes it's best to not add that one last pillow...

So next time you are out and about and find yourself hunting for a new book to read, maybe check out an old one and see what you learned from it.
Do you remember a book you read as a child like it was yesterday? Tell us about it!


Photos by: Color Kittens, One Morning in Maine, A Bargain for Francis, Cross Country Cat, Blueberries For Sal, Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Story of Ping, Horton Hears a Who

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