Sunday, August 3, 2014

Caldecott Reading: "Go" by Chip Kidd

This spring, I was elected to the 2016 Caldecott Committee, an honor that thrills me, and also makes me a wee bit intimidated. Yes, I certainly know something about picture books, given my nearly 25 years as a children's book reviewer and eight years as a (second-career) children's librarian. But there's still so much to learn!

Our committee won't actually begin our work until January, as we will be reading eligible books throughout 2015 and awarding one of them the 2016 Caldecott Medal. So, like my fellow committee members, I've decided to use the intervening months to do lots of background reading. The Caldecott Committee manual includes a great suggested reading list, and our committee chair and my fellow members have recommended other books. In addition, there are three recent Caldecott webinars, which were produced by the Association for Library Service to Children.

Recently, I ordered some of the books on the Caldecott reading list from Alibris, and it's been fun seeing the books come in this past week. The books include: Lotus Seeds: Children, Pictures and Books by Marcia Brown (who is one of only two people to win three Caldecott Medals -- David Wiesner is the other one); Writing With Pictures by Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz; Picture This: How Pictures Work by Caldecott Honor illustrator Molly Bang; Art and Design in Children's Picture Books by Lyn Ellen Lacy, and more. I've already dipped into a couple of the books, and it's clear that I'm going to have a fine old time reading them.

Over the next few months, I'll be posting now and then about what I'm reading to prepare for my Caldecott year. I've also decided to use this time as an excuse to read even more widely about art and graphic design -- something I've always wanted to do. I did take a year of art history, but it was through the specific lens of French art, as I was a French minor in college. As a result, my knowledge of other-than-French art history is pretty paltry. By good fortune, my son, who is an industrial design major at the Savannah College of Art & Design, is taking an online course in art history this summer. I've been borrowing his Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition and leafing through it just for the heck of it.  I also rediscovered a dense little volume that I bought years ago, Learning to Look: A Handbook for the Visual Arts, which is one of a trio of books that have been used in the Humanities 1 course at the University of Chicago. (The other two volumes are Learning to Listen and What Happens in Literature.)

 It's certainly fun to take such a wide-angle look at art and art history as I prepare for my Caldecott year. But I'm trying to do that as a "sidebar" experience, as it were, while spending most of my time reading the volumes most focused on picture books and the Caldecott criteria. With that in mind, I picked up Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Publishing, $17.95, ages 10 up) by Chip Kidd, a noted graphic designer.  Go was one of the five finalists for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction, so I knew it would definitely be worth reading. Besides, one of the criteria for the Caldecott Medal states that "The committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration, but other components of a book are to be considered especially when they make a book less effective as a children’s picture book. Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc."

 So I figured it would be worth learning more about graphic design, about which I know little. Besides, the cover of Go was calling to me -- how can you resist a book where the title -- Go -- is designed to look exactly like that ubiquitous red-and-white sign that tells us to "Stop"? Besides the cover is printed on board pages -- just like a board book for little ones! -- something that I also found quite intriguing. But the cover was just the beginning of the delights of this book, which I found both educational and entertaining, and impossible to put down.

I learned, for example, about what exactly is graphic design and, perhaps more importantly, why I should care about it. Kidd's answer: "Because it affects you all the time. On average, every person in America is exposed to thousands of images a day, whether through advertising, television, the Internet, packaging, other people's tattoos, or t-shirts....Every single one of those things was designed by someone, a person whose job it was to decide what color it should be, where to put the type, what font to use, and how it should look. Whether it's the fine print on the back of a shampoo bottle, the colors on a box of cereal, or where to put the numbers on your remote control, there's a great deal of thinking that goes into the things you use, read, purchase, play with, and consume" The bottom line? "Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone."

Kidd's book gives readers a tour through the basics of the one of graphic design, looking at major concepts like form, which includes things like color theory, pattern, symmetry, etc. Then there's the fascinating (to me) subject of typography (sans serif, anyone?) and, of course, the actual content. As Kidd notes: "If form is the last thing you consider when making a piece of graphic design, then content is the first.... Content is harder to figure out, but it's what you start with, and it dictates what form you design will take." For example, the fundamental question people may have when they are inside a place is "How do I get out of here?" Using a flowery blue script to spell out the letters on an orange background may look nice but it's hard to read. The typical "Exit" sign, meanwhile, uses straightforward red lettering on a white background, which makes it stand out and easy to spot -- a perfect case, Kidd says, of form following function.

Go was a blast to read, and I learned a ton of basic information about graphic design. Not surprisingly, the book is beautifully designed, and there are many illustrations to visualize Kidd's text. He also uses every part of the book, from the inside front cover to the copyright page to the inside back cover to convey -- both graphically and in written form -- more information about graphic design. Young readers interested in graphic design also will enjoy the 10 inventive design projects that Kidd suggests at the end of the book.

(Note: I used our library's copy of Go to write this review).

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