Brain Pickings

Sparkle and Spin: A 1957 Children’s Book About Words by Iconic Designer Paul Rand


A mid-century lens on the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression.

As a lover of children’s books and mid-century design, I have a particular soft spot for vintage children’s books by iconic mid-century designers. After last week’s look at Saul Bass’s only children’s book, here comes Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words — an utterly, perhaps paradoxically, delightful 1957 children’s book illustrated by legendary designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand, and written by his then-wife Ann.

(I came across the book in the excellent Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, a treasure trove of seminal vintage children’s books.)

With its bold, playful interplay of words and pictures, the book encourages an understanding of the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression, a lens we’ve also seen when Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics in the same period.

Though the cover of the 2006 reprint, with its all too literal glitter gimmick, would have likely sent Rand into a vapid fury, the book is an absolute treasure, one I’m happy to see survive the out-of-print fate of all too many mid-century gems.

Sparkle and Spin is part of a Rand trilogy, including Little 1 (1962) and the out-of-print, incredibly hard to find Listen! Listen! (1970).

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