Thursday, February 3, 2011

No Gimmicks

Let us pause for a moment in praise of books that use design in service of their content.

So many books have flaps to lift or tabs to pull, or parts that pop up, and for no apparent reason, other than to give children something to do—a gimmick. One Blue Fish by Charles Reasoner, on the other hand, is a perfectly designed book. Each element of the book serves its sole purpose: to introduce youngest book lovers to colors, numbers, and creatures they are likely to encounter in their own surroundings.

Each number, spelled out, appears on the left in big, chubby, easy-to-read letters. The corresponding numeral is displayed--die-cut, or cut out in the shape of the numeral--on the right. With repeated readings, children start to see that the two belong together. They learn to identify the letters in the words, and the sounds they make. And when they look beneath the numeral, they see that the single “blue fish” goes with the “one” and the “1.” It’s a book they will want to come back to again and again because of the element of surprise. It becomes a peek-a-boo game, as they grow confident about what they will find under each number-shaped flap.

As with the best children’s books, the simplicity of One Blue Fish’s design is deceptive. Yet a book this clean, with all of its parts working together seamlessly, is very difficult to achieve.

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