Friday, July 28, 2017

Book Design and Layout Issues

Today's post comes from Jackie Partch. Jackie is a School Corps librarian at Multnomah County Library, where she does outreach to K-12 students. She was a member of the 2012 Geisel committee.

When I arrived for my very first meeting of the 2012 Geisel committee, I felt pretty comfortable evaluating literary quality and finding books that were “respectful and of interest to children.” But I hadn’t pondered book design nearly so much, even though it’s addressed in the Geisel criteria: “The design of the book includes attention to size of typeface, an uncluttered background that sets off the text, appropriate line length, and placement of illustrations”

Let’s go through these features one by one:

Size of typeface
Kathleen T. Horning’s From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books states that the standard font size for beginning readers is 18 point. Some books utilize even larger sizes. Also important is the space between the lines, otherwise known as leading. Ideally, that space should be at least equal to the type size so children’s eyes don’t easily drop down to the next line. A good example of this is last year’s Geisel honor book The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LeReau, illustrated by Matthew Myers.

Image from The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LeReau, illus. by Matthew Myers

These features are so important that, when my son was learning to read, he would often reject a book just because he thought the text was too small or bunched too tightly.

Uncluttered background that sets off the text
Here’s one reason the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are so awesome! Beginning readers are working hard try to decode all those words on the page, and a clean, uncluttered look like the spread below from I Broke My Trunk! makes their job so much easier.

Image from I Broke My Truck! by Mo Willems

Contrast that with the pages from Rescue Squad No. 9 by Mike Austin, in which the words are smack dab in the middle of the illustrations. Although Rescue Squad has minimal vocabulary and popular subject matter, the visual clutter makes it more of a challenge for an early reader.

Image from Rescue Squad No. 9 by Mike Austin

Appropriate line length
Beginning readers can often lose focus if too many words are on each line. From Cover to Cover recommends a line length of no more than 10 words. Appropriate line breaks are also important so the text doesn’t sound choppy. It’s also best if sentences finish on one spread, rather than continuing after a page turn. Notice how the lines are divided naturally (and consistently) in the spread below from last year’s Geisel winner, We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller.

Image from We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller

On the other hand, on these pages from Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea, some of the sentences in the last speech bubble are divided awkwardly.

Image from Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants by Bob Shea

Placement of illustrations
Thoughtful placement of illustrations helps readers find support for unfamiliar words. When evaluating books, look for visual support that appears on the same page as newly-introduced words. And, if multiple new words are introduced on one page, an illustration like the one below from Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends by Tina Kügler, makes clear the meaning of each.

Image from Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends by Tina Kügler

What book design issues have you noticed in this year’s Geisel contenders? Let us know in the comments below.

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