World Book Day: designers reveal their favourite children’s book designs

To mark this year’s World Book Day – which celebrates reading for pleasure among schoolkids – we asked designers to pick their favourite children’s books.

Hippu by Oili Tanninen published by Tate, 2014. Courtesy of Tate Publishing

“My pick is Hippu by Finnish author-illustrator Oili Tanninen. I love this short little book. Despite being over 50 years old, the design still feels fresh. Small and square (think Miffy sized), it’s the perfect starter book for little hands and minds. It tells the simple story of two new friends: a dog and a mouse. Printed in just red and black ink and with illustrations made from torn paper collage, the characters are packed full of humour and charm. With such nice graphic illustrations, you don’t need to read Finnish (or read at all) to know what’s going on.”

Linzie Hunter, illustrator and author of upcoming children’s book What If, Pig?

Dowling’s son with the designer’s copy of The Butter Battle Book

“My favourite children’s book is The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss, first published in 1984. It tells the story of two warring parties divided by a wall, their only difference being their opinion on which way bread should be buttered, up or down. This point of contention results in a senseless conflict, where each side builds larger and larger weapons to try and outfox the other.
“In Dr. Seuss’s hands this is, of course, taken to spectacular extremes, with each weapon representing a wonderful flight of fancy. The book ends on a cliffhanger, with each side, confident of their tactical advantage, ready to drop a bomb that would result in their mutually assured destruction.

“As a child, I simply loved the creativity shown in the illustrations, with each page revealing more and more absurd weapons. The escalation of the story is thrilling and amusing in equal measure. As a father, reading it to my six year old, I read it with more than a tinge of sadness. Written at the time of the Cold War, it is an allegory of the futility of arms races. As such, it’s very moving and makes me wonder how my parents must have felt when reading it to me, in the early 1980s.
“It’s now my son’s favourite book too. When I first read it to him, I remember him being disappointed at the open end, as I must have been as a kid. ‘But who wins daddy, why doesn’t he say who wins?’ The lesson Dr. Seuss imparts is that there are no winners in such conflict and also the need to respect each other’s differences.”

Jon Dowling, co-founder of art and design book publishers Counter-Print

“Three books: Bruno Munari’s ABC for its graphic, joyful simplicity and perfect for the youngest readers. Eloise, illustrated by Hilary Knight with Kay Thompson’s pitch perfect voice of the smart little girl who is a force to be reckoned with. And the always relevant, and deeply moving, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.”

Jennifer Morla, president and creative director of Morla Design

“As a child of the 70s, my favorite children’s book design today is Blast Off by Linda C. Cain and Susan Rosenbaum, illustrated by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon. I was first introduced to this children’s picture book when the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) published the 2015 article by Saundra Marcel about Diane and Leo Dillon’s Design Journey, and an illustration was selected a year later as the lead image for African American Culture and History: an AIGA Design Journey. Back in print in 2021, the book is wonderfully illustrated. The images spread across the pages with wavy lines – details and words pop with bold, DayGlo colors. It signals to young people everywhere to follow their dreams.”

Heather Strelecki, director of Development at AIGA and organiser of 50 Books | 50 Covers

The Fox and The Star jacket design. Courtesy of Penguin
“The Fox and The Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith is one of my favourite children’s book designs because it is such a thoughtful and beautifully crafted book. Each page aids the storytelling as we follow the brilliant orange of Fox – a contrast to the muted background colours that focus on shape, texture and subtle details. The design also sets the pace for reading, with some pages in full picture and others with beautifully framed text, all of which help the reader to pause and reflect. The beautiful illustration works hand in hand with the sensitivity of the story.

Maltby’s own copy of Maia and What Matters
“Another favourite book design is Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier (illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire), due to the sensitivity of the illustrations and the beautifully composed pages. The illustrations reflect a story about love and loss, using symbolism and surrealism to reflect the changing emotions throughout the story. I love the contrast of the pages and simplicity of colour – it gives just enough to let the imagination wander.

Maltby’s edition of May I Bring a Friend?
“My Nana used to read May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers (illustrated by Beni Montresor) to me as a child. I love the simplicity and use of vibrant colour, contrasting strong pinks, yellows and purples with simple white text pages. The illustrations reflect the quirky humour and playfulness within the story. Despite being published in 1964, this book has a timeless quality to it that makes it a keepsake for more than just sentimental value.”

Lisa Maltby, illustrator and designer

“The books of illustrator John Burningham are firm family favourites in my house, but one in particular stands out for me. Each page of Would You Rather… simply asks the reader(s) to choose one thing out of a range of given options, with Burningham’s scrappy illustrations of the bizarre scenarios helping to kick off the decision-making. It’s a picture book that invites hilarious discussions about personal preferences – “Would you rather … your dad did a dance at school or your mum had a row in a cafe?”, for example. That’s a tough one! Overall, Burningham’s charming book is an inventive take on an everyday part of life: making choices – and arguing over why we made them.”

Mark Sinclair, senior editor at design publisher Unit Editions 

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  • Jonny O'Reardon March 11, 2021 at 7:51 pm

    A child of Books’ by Jeffers/Winston: This magical work of art celebrating the power of the written word, truly and literally creating a world of stories. The words are more than words they are the illustrations across seas, mountains, forests, and pathways throughout and have started to depict scenes in a beautiful combination of narrative and typographic art

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