Children are always designing something. Design is basically a matter of course for them. So they are happy when they can play with letters, words and pictures and learn something about the big wide world of design. We have selected some proven and current children’s book highlights – all of them excitingly narrated and well designed.
By Helge Aszmoneit (selection) and Thomas Wagner (text).
Jump directly to the individual children’s book titles
Click on the illustrations to view the pictures in full size.
Ecki Bläckie and Lina Tschornaja are bored
Graf Tüpos kleine Formenwunderwelt
Graf Tüpo, Lina Tschronaja und die anderen
360 Grad Verlag
It’s unbearable: Ecki Bläckie, the black square, and Lina Tschornaja, the line, are bored. Everything is a yawn. Luckily Littel Rusch, the red ball, rolls into their lives. The game can begin. It goes up and down, down and up, for many a shape is added. Adam, a black triangle, falls from the sky – and soon Half, white rabbit, Bick Blanksch, Parti, Eva and Lina Krasnaja, a red line, appear. Sometimes the red line plays cigarette, sometimes mouth or tail. The black semicircle becomes eye, ear and outstretched tongue. Geometric figurines with different character traits emerge, but also a tractor and a tree with a good and a bad apple. Not to forget a giant lollipop, a ball runner and a mosquito elephant.
The children’s book Graf Tüpo’s little world of shapes (Count Typo[graphy]’s Wonderful Little World of Shapes) was created by the East Berlin graphic artist, caricaturist, cartoonist and illustrator Manfred Bofinger in 1990 as a tribute to the 100th birthday of the architect, artist and typographer El Lissitzky. Great fun, and there is also a cardboard sheet with shapes to cut out and create figures.
Where words sparkle
Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words
While in Paul and Ann Rand’s “Little 1” from 1962 the lonely one goes in search of a friend (oh, the zero is lonely too), in “Sparkle and Spin: a book about words” everything revolves around words. Paul and Ann do exactly what the title promises and what corresponds to the joy of discovery of children and those who have remained so: they make words sparkle like gems and spin them back and forth until an “aha” spark jumps from the eye to the brain. The Rands unfold a lively play of images and words, in which the texts sound like poems and grope for what words actually are and how they are used.
Sometimes the words in this children’s book are direct, sometimes politely restrained. Sometimes sound and meaning meet, Bang! is shouted and Shhh! whispered. In 1957, the New York Times chose Sparkle and Spin as one of the “ten best-illustrated books” of the year. What’s more, this playful, humorous and beautifully designed book is dedicated to all children who love ice cream. So: everyone!
Ann & Paul Rand
Sparkle and Spin. A book about words.
San Francisco 2006.
Words wonderfully set in scene
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
352 p., hardcover.
“One of the biggest differences between a word and an image” notes children’s book author Christoph Niemann, “is that most of us learn to understand images through happenstance or playful discovery, whereas learning to read and write usually requires a conscious effort. My aim for this book was to make the discovery of words equally fun and inspiring. By showing more than three hundred key words in the context of simple scenes, I am inviting kids (and readers of all ages) to intuit and puzzle out meaning; and to see language as a source of ideas and stories.”
So Niemann rushes from “start” to “stop” on a double page spread, plays with the (at least) double meaning of chip by showing a girl with a bag and an open mouth, the deep-fried potato slice in her hand, and next to her a robot holding a chip in its right hand, that is, an integrated circuit. With thick black strokes, the draughtsman and illustrator devotes coloured paper pages to homonyms, has girls race across the lawn, a (light) note illuminate a (money) note and a snake stand in line. With a lot of imagination, Christoph Niemann has set the scene for more than 300 nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, pronouns and conjugations in “Words”. For the original American version, the cartoonist, who lived in New York for a long time and became famous with his work for the New Yorker, used the official “List of Instant Words” as a guide, which (young) American readers should know because they occur frequently. Wherever you come from, playing with words is a lot of fun.
Visiting Garamond Forest and Futura City
Die kleine Serifee
Words not only mean something, they are also written this way or that way, and writing and typography have something directly to do with design: this is understood particularly well by those who are just learning to write and therefore look very closely at each individual letter. In other words, anyone learning to write is right in the middle of the world of writing and typography. So René Siegfried and his little Serifee (“little serif-fairy”) take children and anyone else who is curious on a course in typography.
Little Serifee has lost her wing and her search leads her through all kinds of lovingly designed scenes made of letters. Attentively, the little typo fairy explores this and that area and tries to remember where she lost her wing. Those who help the brave fairy search cross the Garamond Forest, search in Futura City and at Lake Shelley, and, if they look closely, discover a letter in each image that has crept into the picture, although it does not belong to the typeface used at all. Of course, at the end “Die kleine Serifee” flies away again happily with two wings.
32 p., hardcover,
Verlag Hermann Schmidt, Mainz 2007
Colours, shapes, orange juice
Somewhat strange things, 69 in number, are gathered together in “D.E.S.I.G.N.”: They come from everywhere and date from the last 50 years. They are all connected to the house and have their own design history, whether furniture, lamps, this or that. A chair from 1859 appears just as much as the “Pratone” sofa with blades of grass, a well-known juice press or the famous “sleeping machine” by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. In the case of Alvar Aalto’s “Savoy” vase, for example, people ask what you can do with such a “puddle of glass”. Because puddles give you ideas.
Ewa Solarz explains each thing, Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski have illustrated the whole thing in a colourful and comic-like way. Why is an armchair by Frank Gehry called “Powerplay”? How does being in love influence the design of a corkscrew? Can you sit in a chip basket? A book that is guaranteed to get children and young people thinking in new ways.
A night with Gropi and Muche
Stromausfall im Bauhaus
Silke Opitz und Judith Drews
Stromausfall im Bauhaus
Illustration und Gestaltung: Judith Drews
Typografie: Andrea Peter
Verlag der Bauhaus-Universität Weimar 2011
Alter: Ab 4 Jahren
Do you know Gropi? Master Muche? Of course! “Stromausfall im Bauhaus” (Blackout at the Bauhaus) is the name of the first children’s book, interactive to boot, published by the Bauhaus University Weimar publishing house in 2011. Paul, the caretaker’s son, lives in the now world-famous architecture, art and design school in Weimar. He is always accompanied by his little cat. When Paul once creeps through the school corridors alone, the electricity promptly fails and he has to find his way around with a torch. An exciting journey of discovery begins, during which Paul discovers objects and materials discarded by the Buhaus people. They all complain to Paul that they have been banished to the cellar. Why have they fallen out of favour? Are they not functional enough? When the lights come back on, Paul wants to get to the bottom of the functionality issue and also discovers the advantages of Bauhaus design.
Design everywhere and we are right in the middle
Überall Design und wir mittendrin
From the alarm clock and the toothbrush to the park bench, the water bottle and the bedside lamp – everything is design and design is everywhere! What is useful, what is merely decorative? What is a utility object, what is art? To help everyone understand that their environment and the things in it are designed, the book delves into design history. We get to know the Eames couple, the Panton chair, the Barcelona armchair and a Memphis shelf by Ettore Sottsass. “Überall Design und wir mittendrin” (Design everywhere and we are right in the middle) is about ideas, materials and manufacturing processes – but above all it tells a lot of exciting stories about people and things. On top of that, there are ideas for DIY and experimentation.
MAKK-Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln
Koenig Books, London 2018
Alexander Girard Color
Alexander Girard Color
Ammo Books, o.J.
Alexander Girard was immensely versatile as an interior and furniture designer. But when it came to designing graphics and patterns for textiles, his creativity virtually exploded. And so he created many unique colourful worlds. Gloria Fowler’s picture book “Alexander Girard Color”, with the Girls of 1972 on the cover, presents 26 classic Girard designs that not only preschoolers can use to learn what imagination can conjure from colours and shapes. How hypnotising pink, white and green eyes can look at us!
Let the sunshine in!
Coloring Book – La Fonda del Sol
Many of Alexander Girard’s motifs, figures and patterns sparkle with joie de vivre and radiate a joyful playfulness. In 1960, together with his wife Susan and Michael Hamilton, he turned “La Fonda Del Sol”, a Latin American themed restaurant on the ground floor of the Time & Life Building in New York City, into a colourful marketplace. He created the sun, which appears on walls and tables, on the menu and on matchboxes – in fact, everywhere in the restaurant – in countless variations that glow in bright colours. The “Coloring Book – La Fonda del Sol” contains various of Girard’s sun motifs – to colour in.
Coloring Book – La Fonda Del Sol
42 p., br.,
Vitra Design Museum, 2018
All it needs to create an exhibition
Making a Great Exhibition
Text by Doro Globus, illustrations by Rose Blake,
Design by A Practice for Everyday Life
40 p., 40 illus.,
Publisher: David Zwirner Books, 2021.
Would you like to take a look behind the scenes of the museum? Dora Globus (text) and Rose Blake (illustrations) make it child’s play to go on a journey of discovery with their children’s book. What doesn’t come together to make a great exhibition, from the first idea to the opening? You accompany the works – how do they actually come into being? – on their journeys around the world and into the museum. Don’t hesitate, take a look!
How to tame alarm clocks
Bruno Munari is one of the most original children’s book authors. In addition to his “ABC”, a children’s book classic that playfully teaches the alphabet with wordplay and colourful illustrations, and “Zoo”, in which the parrot was born on a day with a rainbow and the zebra is an animal in striped pyjamas, there are also “Munari Machines”: These are as fantastic as they are original, and in their design and function Munari’s so wonderfully playful humour is particularly evident. Or doesn’t anyone want to know how to tame alarm clocks with the help of a bagpipe? How about such useful inventions as a tail wagging machine for lazy dogs? Or the famous handkerchief winker when the train leaves? And what happens when sunlight focused through a magnifying glass hits Romilda the frog and she gets hot? Don’t worry, she jumps into a sieve that plops into the bathtub, which is filled with water and – watch out! – mint extract. Very refreshing! And so it goes on and on until two giant butterflies as big as fans, trying in vain to “flower”, as wing flutter fans cause the desired air movement. If that’s not an ingenious design!
34 p., hardcover
Corraini Edizioni, 2001
If the wing flutter fan is not enough for you as a small impulse continuation experiment or causality theatre, then watch Kermit as the “Master of Invention” and his “What Happens Next Machine” from Sesame Street together with the children. Or, already accustomed to unstoppable causal chains, leave yourself to the wonderful frenzy of Fischli and Weiss’ “The Way Things Go”.
But if the causal machine falters and something doesn’t work out after all, one should speak loudly and clearly (with Munari): “Instead of bread, please do humbug”. After all, in the realms we find ourselves in, “Authorised persons are forbidden entry / Parents are liable for their children.”
Some of the presented children’s book highlights of the past decades are available in the library of the German Design Council. In addition, with its unique collection, it offers a comprehensive and valuable knowledge platform on diverse design topics.
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