More than Letters: Typography in Children’s Books

Eliza Clark
October 24, 2011

Do you remember when you first learned to write bubble letters? And then there was the period when you would only write your name in "fancy script." Curlicues and shaded-in lettering were ways to brighten that oh-so repetitive act of writing your name in the corner of every picture or school assignment. Forming the letters in a special way—beautiful, funny or bold—made the name itself unique and special, and conveyed the mood and character of its bearer.

All of which is to say, that kids get the power of typography, even though they may not know what the word means.

Typography is not, however, the first thing we usually notice when reading a picture book. We focus on the artwork and the story, and usually that's more than enough to hold our interest. But when we take a second look at some of our favorite books, we realize that perhaps the creative use of type has more to do with their appeal than we thought.

For early readers, the use of typography to give emphasis or added emotion to selected words can really make a big difference in understanding. If a word jumps out from the page, you know to speak it with a greater expression. Similarly, a word in bold font or bright colors will be more memorable to a child who is developing a repertoire of sight words. Finally, an author's use of a distinguishing typographical style can help young readers recognize his or her works, and thereby develop a sense of authorial style.

Most of all, though, the inventive use of font, type size, color and word spacing just makes a book more interesting and exciting. And that's what reading with young kids is all about.

So without further ado, we give you our favorite examples of creative typographical design paired with an excellent story. ENJOY!

I Will Never Not Eat a Tomato (the Charlie and Lola series) by Lauren Child. A delightful take on sibling friendship and a visual treat.  Lauren Child has a graphic style all her own that carries through her many popular works.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. Kids can't get enough of the naughty antics of this scheming kitty. Her name scrawled in dripping paint on the wall says it all.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Lane Smith. Smith makes brilliant use of newspaper type and layout to tell his "true story."  Kids get the joke and love this fresh take on an old favorite.

This is the House that Jack Built by Simms Taback. The bold use of coloring and size in Taback's hand printing adds to the zaniness and joy of this classic retold.

What Pete Ate from A-Z by Maira Kalman. Kalman's use of hand lettering and script give a personal feel to all of her works.

Paul Thurlby's Alphabet. M is for Mountain because it has two snowy peaks, didn't you know? This and other brilliant visual puns make this an alphabet book like no other.

From the Parents

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