Current Issue - October 2019

Dear Readers,

I love October--season of crispy leaves, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin pie. And Halloween of course.

This year we are throwing our annual party and I can't wait to dress up. I am torn whether we want to be a group of garden gnomes. Or the weather (cloud, rain, sunshine). Or astronauts. I'll try to include pictures next month.

A light on in our house :)

A light on in our house :)

Usually we design our own costumes, but with Ori and the house build etc, we might end up buying them. We have just SO much to do. Ori's first official word is "Uh-Oh", which I wonder what that says about our life-craziness right now? But based on this picture of him, Luke and my dad, he looks pretty happy, right?


Once we have our house we will definitely be back to making costumes by hand. We have an attic and I am pretty certain it will quickly be filled with costumes and costume making materials.


We HAVE been busy creating and working with our hands, though. Specifically Luke and I and a bunch of our friends have spent every weekend since September 1, staining cedar shingles for our house. It both saves us a bit of money and also allows us the pleasure of actually being able to say that we helped build it. I must admit I really adore doing it, despite the work.

The house is really coming along. Supposedly we will be able to sleep there for Christmas, with our fireplace installed, and flooring in, and flushing toilets! That means SO much is going to happen in the next few weeks. It boggles my mind.

To continue on the theme of making things, as promised, I also wanted to feature an important part of children's books that maybe isn't talked about as much--book design.

Book designers are in charge of so many vital things, including (but not limited to): fonts and font sizes, where the font lays out on a page, cover of the book (jacket/case etc), endpapers (those pages you see first thing when you open a book). Often book designers work hand in hand with an art director (in a small house they may be one and the same), which means they are in constant contact with an illustrator too.

I actually don't know that much about book design. I only admire book design and designers so much. I'm so lucky to be able to work with quite a few including Sara Gillingham, Robin Mitchell Cranfield, and Elisa Guiterrez. I thought the best learn more was by asking a book designer whose work I admire to answer a few questions.

Elisa Gutierrez works in Vancouver and designed books such as Caroline Woodward and Julie Morstad's Singing Away the Dark, which won a gazillion awards, and a version of the Kalevala: Tales of Magic and Adventure, which won the Aesop Award, and Princess Dolls, by Ellen Schwartz.If you ever see Singing Away the Dark one of my favourite parts of it is the design on the spine--tiny snowflakes trickling down.

Dear Elisa--Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, what kinds of books have you designed?

I have designed many kinds of books. I started my book design career in Mexico City. After graduating from university, I began working for a publisher called Artes de Mexico which specializes in publishing various collections related to Mexican arts and culture.

I worked in the design of their main publication: a bi-monthly, high-end "book-magazine" (revista libro) that focuses on a theme (e.g. culinary spaces, textiles of Oaxaca, tequila, etc.) and explores it through essays, poetry, artwork, photography and short works of fiction.

I also worked on various issues of some of their other illustrated collections: poetry books and art books. After I moved to Canada I started doing freelance work and my focus was to work on children's books, which I always loved. I have designed different kinds of children's books including picture books, illustrated novels, illustrated collections of stories, cook books, poetry compilations, chapter books, comic-book-type books, graphic novels and others. I have also worked on other (not children specific) books like architecture books, novels, illustrated non fiction and non-fiction, as well as covers.

What is your favourite part of children's book design?

Each type of children's book is different and needs a different approach. Designing a picture book would be quite different than designing a graphic novel or a cook book. However, something that applies to all and that is my favourite part of designing books for children is figuring out the true power and potential of a project—its unique "soul"—, and then doing my best to bring that forward and honour it.

I try to accomplish that by, when possible, working closely together with the author/illustrator from the start, while the story and visuals are developing. Sometimes though, story and artwork have been completed, so I need to make sure that I can bring both to work together as seamlessly as possible. In either case, collaboration with author/illustrator or/and publisher is something that I value and enjoy immensely. This is the most meaningful part of the process for me.

It is important to me that what takes precedence when designing a book is the project's heart, rather than a specific design style or form.

What is one challenge that you often have?

What I find most challenging is when there is a strong pre-conceived idea (from the creators or the publisher) of how best to approach a project, or of how it should work and look like, without having gone through a process of deep understanding of the project's potentials and possible challenges. When this happens, the role of the designer is limited to more superficial tasks like choosing a typeface for the text and laying it out.

Fortunately, this does not happen too often.

How do you find story is influenced by good or bad book design?

In my opinion, effective design is about enhancing communication, connection.

Bad design would interfere with the story's ability to connect with the reader in a way where the story's power is properly delivered.

Good design, on the other hand, would facilitate for that powerful connection to be created with the reader.

So, way before there is consideration of what we typically understand as book design (final layout and form), story (words and visuals) should consider design as a tool to make the story's content more meaningful, powerful and compelling, even if the story is very simple.

I would argue that book design should start at early stages of a manuscript/storyboard when considerations are being made about how to structure and pace a story, how it will flow, where the climax will be, how fast it will develop, etc.

Can or should authors or illustrators think about book design when they are creating a story?

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes authors or illustrators are not familiar with some of the production limitations of the book form and this can create challenges for the project if these limitations (and potentials) are not fully considered and understood. A project will definitely benefit when the creators have had the specific format of a book in mind when developing their story. Having said this, it is possible to transition a story that has been created for a different format (like video or audio) into the book format. A book designer will be key in making this transition successful by taking advantage of the unique characteristics and possibilities of the book as an object to enhance the story's content and meaning in its new form.

Do you have any particular children's books that you LOVE the design of? Why?

One of my favourite picture books of all times is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

It was so impactful to read it when I was young and I did not really understand what design is, and it has continued to be a wonderful inspiration as I have gained experience as a book designer. I have come to appreciate time after time the beauty and flawlessness of the relationship between its words, images and design.

I think that the book design is extremely effective at communicating the main characters' (Max) emotional and imaginative journey. It takes full advantage of the book form by working with the placing and flow of the images and the words, as well as with the variations of the text/image relationships that take place through the story (including the spreads with no text at all, where the absence of words allows for the imagination to soar). Reading the book, we get to experience much more than the sum of the text and the images together. We experience the emotions of the character and are transported into this world of imagination with him. It is simple and non-imposing design and yet so powerful.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Elisa!

I'm so grateful to know so many talented, smart people in my life. I have definitely been feeling extra grateful of late, and that's good timing for this season too--because us crazy Canadians have Thanksgiving this month!

More next time!