Brain Pickings

5 (Mostly) Vintage Children’s Books by Iconic Graphic Designers

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Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Bruno Munari, Paul Rand.

As a lover of children’s books, I have a particularly soft spot for little-known gems by well-known creators. After two rounds of excavating obscure children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups and icons of the art world, here are five wonderful vintage children’s books by some of history’s most celebrated graphic designers.

HENRI’S WALK TO PARIS BY SAUL BASS

Saul Bass (1920-1996) is commonly considered the greatest graphic designer of all time, responsible for some of the most timeless logos and most memorable film title sequences of the twentieth century. In 1962, Bass collaborated with former librarian Leonore Klein on his only children’s book, which spent decades as a prized out-of-print collector’s item. This year, half a century later, Rizzoli reprinted Henri’s Walk to Paris (public library) — an absolute gem like only Bass can deliver, at once boldly minimalist and incredibly rich, telling the sweet, aspirational, colorful story of a boy who lives in rural France and dreams of going to Paris.

Originally featured here in February, with more images.

THE ALPHAZEDS BY MILTON GLASER

Many of us regard Milton Glaser as the greatest graphic designer alive. From the iconic I ♥ NY logo to his prolific newspaper and magazine designs, logos, brand identities, posters and other celebrated visual ephemera, his work seeks to inform and delight. In 2003, he collaborated with his wife, Shirley Glaser, on The Alphazeds (public library) — mighty fuel for my obsession with alphabet books, in which the letters of the alphabet turn into a boisterous bunch and meet one another for the first time in a small yellow room. Delightful havoc ensues.

In 2005, the duo collaborated once again, producing The Rabbit Race (public library) — an adaptation of the famous Aesop fable.

THE BROWNSTONE BY PAULA SCHER

Paula Scher might be best-known for her iconic identity design and, most recently, her obsessive typographic maps, but in 1973 she teamed up with pioneering documentary-style cartoonist Stanley Mack to produce The Brownstone(public library). It tells the tale of six animal families who have trouble finding the right apartment in a classic New York City brownstone building. The collaboration is somewhat surprising — Scher, a formidable visual communicator herself, took the role of writer, while Mack illustrated the story. The book is long out of print, but you can find a used copy at reasonable price with some rummaging online, or look for it in your favorite public library.

THE ELEPHANT’S WISH BY BRUNO MUNARI

Italian creative polymath Bruno Munari has tried his hand, with celebrated success, at painting, sculpture, film, industrial design, graphic design, and literature. In 1945, he expanded his roster of talents into children’s books with The Elephant’s Wish (public library) — a stunningly illustrated story, with playful folding flaps to add tactile delight. It was published in the U.S. in 1959. This book is also out of print (hey, Rizzoli, what are you waiting for?), but used copies are reasonably priced and you can, of course, look for one in your local library.

In 1960, Munari followed up with the graphically astonishing ABC (public library), then with Zoo public library in 1963. The two were reissued in 2006 and 2005, respectively.

Images courtesy of Douglas Stewart Fine Books

SPARKLE AND SPIN BY PAUL RAND

In the late 1950s, legendary graphic designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand and his then-wife Anne set out to write and illustrate a series of children’s books. First came Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words (public library), originally featured here in February. 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 was followed by Little 1 in 1962 and the out-of-print, incredibly hard to find Listen! Listen! in 1970.

For more seminal vintage children’s book illustration, see the fantastic Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling.

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To Infinity and Beyond: BBC Untangles the Most Exponential Mystery

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‘There are infinitely many infinities, each one infinitely bigger than the last.’

From BBC’s fantastic Horizon series — which previously explored such intriguing topics as the nature of reality, the age-old tension between science and religion, how music works, the volatile history of chemistry, Richard Feynman’s legacy, quantum mechanics, and the nature of time — comes To Infinity and Beyond, which teases apart the seemingly benign idea of infinity to pull you into a world of perplexing paradoxes.

What is the biggest number? Is the universe infinite? How did the universe begin? Might every event repeat again and again and again and again… Is the Earth just one of uncountable copies, tumbling through an unending void? Your intuition is no use here. Faith alone can’t save you.

Mathematicians have discovered there are infinitely many infinities, each one infinitely bigger than the last. And if the universe goes on forever, the consequences are even more bizarre. In an infinite universe, there are infinitely many copies of the Earth and infinitely many copies of you. Older than time, bigger than the universe and stranger than fiction. This is the story of infinity.

For complementary mind-bending reading, treat yourself to physicist Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing and David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, one of the 11 best science books of 2011.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

C. S. Lewis on the Secret of Happiness

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“A good toe-nail is not an unsuccessful attempt at a hair.”

Though a slim collection, C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children shines with the enormity of Lewis’s compassion and wisdom in responding to fan mail from his young readers, often imbuing his correspondence with a kind of subtle but profound advice on life, delivered unassumingly but full of wholehearted conviction.

Adding to his insight on duty and “the three things anyone need ever do” is this beautiful response to a boy named Hugh, who asked for a definition of “gaiety,” in a letter dated April 5, 1961.

A creature can never be a perfect being, but may be a perfect creature — e.g. a good angel or a good apple-tree. Gaiety at its highest may be an (intellectual) creature’s delighted recognition that its imperfection as a being may constitute part of its perfection as an element in the whole hierarchical order of creation. I mean, while it is a pity there sh[oul]d be bad men or bad dogs, part of the excellence of a good man is that he is not an angel, and of a good dog that it is not a man. This is the extension of what St. Paul says about the body & the members. A good toe-nail is not an unsuccessful attempt at a hair; and if it were conscious it w[oul]d delight in being simply a good toe-nail.

Half a century later, researcher-storyteller Brené Brown articulated a similar sentiment, making an eloquent case for the gifts of imperfection, and Alain de Botton cautioned us that these ideals we contort so hard to conform to may not even be our own. Perhaps at the end of the day “gaiety” is simply the ability to be our own imperfect being and fully inhabit its beingness.

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