Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Design

One of my passions is book design. I'm not an expert, though. I appreciate books-as-art-objects, especially novels whose design and illustration enhance the story, where form and content mesh seamlessly.

David Diaz's design and illustration of my book The Wanderer (Joanna Cotler Books, HarperCollins, 2000, 305 pages) is (admitting bias) one of my favorites. (Examples above.)  Diaz designed a different icon for each of the 78 chapters, plus additional full-page sectional dividers. His artwork bears repeated close study for the way that repeated visual elements (swirls of the sea, for example) echo the story's repeated thematic elements. Some day I would like to frame each of his chapter openings!

The first chapter book in which I remember noticing the visual elements was The Timbertoes by Aldredge and McKee (Beckley-Cardy, 1932, 1943). It was also the first book I read in which I was completely and totally 'in the book.'  I remember staring at the illustrations that complemented the text, unable to leave the world of the story:


That color illustration still draws me in; the caption still makes me laugh.

David Diaz also "illuminated" my book, The Castle Corona (Joanna Cotler Books, HarperCollins, 2007, 320 pages.) I was stunned at the way his full-color illuminations perfectly captured the tone and milieu of the story. I may have slobbered over the artwork:

Each chapter opens with half-page full-color art.

The paper is rich, the edges are deckled. I love what Diaz and the publisher did with this book.

Three recent books I also greatly admire include:

Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press, 2006, 200 pages). I would have loved, as a child, to find this book in my hands. I would have pored over every sepia illustration and every full-color one:


Another recent book whose design I especially admire is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, written and illustrated by Grace Lin (Little Brown, 2009, 282 pages).  The meshing of form and content is brilliant:

And a third, recent book with elegant design is Pam Munoz Ryan's The Dreamer, illustrated by Peter Sis (Scholastic Press, 2010, 372 pages). Everything about the design of this book–from the paper quality to the font style and size, to the illustrations, to the selection of green ink–embellishes the artistic awakening of the boy who is its subject.

Do you have favorites, especially among illustrated novels, to recommend?

I have more, so I'll need to revisit the topic later.  Meanwhile, please remember that all artwork above is copyrighted by the illustrators.

Ciao, bellas, and good night. . .


  1. Your examples are dazzling. There's no doubt about
    it, good illustrations are mighty powerful.

  2. I think you are good at it!!! Beautiful sharing of your passion!!!

  3. Sharon,

    I have a small story for you. I saw your comment on my friend Georgianna's blog. My heart bumped and I thought, "No way. That can't really be Sharon Creech." Then I thought, "How many Sharon Creech's do you think there are, silly?" And now I find myself here with a chance to tell you how much I love your books; how much I admire your talent. And, now - how thrilled I am that you have a blog.

  4. Thank you for sharing your ideas about writing so regularly. I am a third grade teacher and my students visit your blog almost every day. They love hearing about your writing process; the joys; the difficulties; the sweat and tears that go into your writing. And I especially love your enthusiasm for the written word and for the art in it. Thank you for helping to inspire us in our writing process!

  5. Have you ever seen the version of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Alberdo Mollard? I spelled his last name wrong, but I'm close. Anyway, it's marvelous.

  6. These are such a treat, Sharon! I absolutely adore book design, too. I've been fortunate to design books in my previous work in publishing but nothing as charming and timeless as these.

    I'm really delighted and honored that you visited my blog and left such thoughtful comments. Thank you so much! To answer your question on the soft light in the apple tree photos, it is post photo doctoring in Photoshop. The light was very nice and soft at the orchard that day anyway but in the computer I reduced the intensity of the colors and made them warmer. I can explain further if you are interested. If you are shooting digital, chances are there is a program you already have access to that you could achieve the same effect. I'd be happy to help you.

    best, Georgianna

  7. For me, the fascination with illustrated books began with THE WIZARD OF OZ. I read it so often when I was in the 2nd grade that the school librarian finally had to restrict me from checking it out more than once a month. I loved the story AND the simplistic but wonderful illustrations. Another was LITTLE WOMEN. I ached to sneak into those happy 'portaits' of mother and daughters. I think I still DO just a bit. Your post gave me such lovely memories! Thank you!

  8. In this new age of electronic publishing, will this become a lost art?

  9. I enjoy so much reading what writers are thinking. This is one of my favorite blog entries by you. This morning, I'm thinking back to all the wonderful books I read and carried growing up and the wonderful art they contained. There is a version of Dickens "A Christmas Carol" with some stunning chapter-heading artwork. I gotta find that book. And yes BSquared, I thought of that too.

  10. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You :-)


  11. Sharon, love those illustrations. thanks for your recent comments re my mom's passing. God Bless

  12. Sharon, I am wanting to send a letter to ask some questions about your writing. I found the address on your website and was curious if you actually received the letters sent there. If there is a better address for me to send it to could you please share that or email it to me at I am doing an author study for my elementary education program and would absolutely love to ask you a few questions. Thank you so much!