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My dad one day decided to write a children's book, and my wife illustrated it. However, we've had some difficulties in putting the illustrations into a book format. What kinds of things should one consider when designing the layout for a children's book?

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You should consider making it child friendly. -- But in all seriousness, kids prefer pictures to words. I'd make the illustrations large, and the words bigger too for ease of reading. –  Johannes Feb 3 '11 at 6:08
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What difficulties? –  JamesHenare Feb 3 '11 at 7:06
    
@Johannes ... I thought children preferred pictures. –  JFW Feb 3 '11 at 8:02
    
Can you be a bit more specific? WHAT difficulties are you having? What kind of children's book? What are the ages you are targeting? What is the subject matter of the book? –  DA01 Oct 10 '12 at 6:55

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Speaking from experience of reading books to my three sons, which are now five years and below.

I must add that this may apply mostly to younger kids and elder toddlers. However, I still think the below holds true for nearby ages as well, in many cases.

Likewise, I'm also considering making children's books, and these are the main things I would consider (and avoid more often than not, except the last paragraph):

Text/images unsynchronization

If it's not intended as a concept of its own – try avoiding cases where text and images don't sync:

For example, you turn a page and the new page begins with a fair amount of text that still goes on about something that happened on the previous page. This introduces confusion since the kid(s) may be all stoked about the things they see on this new page, whereas you (the reader) is supposed to keep reading about 'the past' (as the kids perceive it).

Multiple scenes on same spread

(This probably applies more strictly to ages below 3–4 years.)

Another very delicate consideration (that should often if not always, I'd say, be avoided for younger audiences) is when you introduce two different 'scenes' on a single spread (one on verso and one on the recto side).

With scenes, I mean different narrative states which are significant enough to warrant small but somehow distinctive transitions in the story.

This introduces a few problems. One being that it can be hard for the child to relate what it's looking at, with what you're reading, when the images signals different things. Another problem being that it imposes a certain itch (sometimes even requirement) to point on each element that illustrates what you're reading about. In other words, your finger has to do the 'synching' I was talking about previously. It's often prone to confusion.

Coil binding

(Yes, this is almost entirely targeted towards young childrens books.)

Coil bound, or spiral bound books add a fantastic feature that most childrens books lack – the ability to really turn a page around, making it easier to hold in one hand, and help remedy the caveats I mentioned above. It also adds favorably to the book's longevity, I think.

In the same vein, laminated or stiff, coated paper will do wonders to a book's sturdyness and lifetime. This of course involves taking these physical attributes into account in early design stages.

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I am well late here, but anyway... I will not repeat some of the excellent advice @hced have given here, just see if I can add something of value.

Age guidelines

These are general guidelines used by illustrators and authors of children's books:

Six months - two years:

interactive books such as floating bath and board. “Shape” books with simple text.

Two - five years:

picture books, pop-ups and novelties early reader text.

Five - eight years:

chapter books - picture books of a more sophisticated nature with associated text.

Eight - 12 years:

First novels

Twelve +:

Young adult material.

Questions to ask

  • Does the publication have a specific target audience with defined learning needs?
  • Is there a broad cultural or ethnic diversity envisaged or it the readership specific or parochial?
  • What curriculum or school grade is associated with the age group and what skills are they expected to master?
  • In a generalised sense what are their level of motor skills?
  • What might their interests be?

Illustration and text

Children's books are about telling stories. They are usually divided into fiction and non-fiction, but they (almost) always are illustrated narrative, sequential stories (in our time, this is not common in other genres: besides children's books, it is for the most part only found in comic books and specialist publication of fantasy, gothic and mythological tales).

Illustrations are meant to complement the text, express something unwritten, and help drive the story forward. Illustrations (as opposed to decoration) are extremely important, and the two must "play the game" together. That is not to say that image-text cannot be in juxtaposition, to contrast; some level of dissonance can be a very good thing. An example often used in this context is Where the wild things are by Maurice Sendak. The illustrations cannot be judged purely on visual language and character representation. They are indispensable to an understanding of the plot with expressions and content depicted clearly, often without words.

Practicals

As for the binding, this I would say depend on the targets age range. There are all sorts of alternatives, from plastic, floating books to "read" in the bath, to quite ordinary formats made of ordinary material.

Personally, I think a landscape format is best, it will give you more freedom to play with illustrations and placement of text, it is easier to read when you have a child in your lap and you have to read over her head...

A friend and I made a children's book some years ago: we co-wrote, I illustrated. This book was meant as a gift to his nephew, so we got it simply printed as a "photo book". Since then, it has gained some popularity, and one consideration is to use Print on demand for a larger audience and easier logistics and production. The photo-book worked remarkably well. It is simple, but it does the job perfectly well (and just to be clear: I am actually educated as a bookbinder; I know bindings).

If the book is going to be published by a publishing house, they might have guidelines as to formats or materials. Children's books does not have any standards as such, but publishing houses might want to publish the book as part of a series, and therefore the format and general cover design might not be negotiable.

I do not believe the idea that children "prefer" text to images: this is entirely dependant on the age group and the aim of the book. The whole point is that the images and the text must be self contained and each give something to the story that each cannot do alone. Being a child, having a book read to you, is an experience the contains several things; human interaction, images, spoken words, imagination, surprise... I also think that preconceptions like this is fallacious and in danger of oversimplifying - in this case - children. Some of them are stupid, but mainly they are just short, inexperienced people.

A curious note is that there is a good deal difference in children's books in the US and in Europe.

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Take the binding into consideration

Do not let important parts of an illustration disappear into the binding.

When designing the layout for facing pages, consider carefully that the space in the middle will appear partially hidden and partially curved: while reading, the book does not appear as a flat surface, unlike the page on your desk or computer.

This makes it especially difficult to get an illustration that crosses the page boundary right.

The same applies to the text, which should be kept at a comfortable distance from each side of the page.

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Children may prefer more pictures than text.(Actually many adult are so, as well)

Head First series have a heavy use of graphics to impress readers and improve efficiency and it turns out to be a success(at least for me).

Hope Head First's style might give you some inspiration.

Here is a free sample reading chapter from Head First Web Design

Good luck!

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I think you should use A4-format (Length: 297mm & Width: 210mm). The companie(s) who are printing the book will automaticly resize the document to their standards. Don't make the design dark and mysterious, believe me, children won't like that. You should design a colourful something, like yellow, green, blue and make sure looks child friendly. Imagine: 'How would I react on this layout when I was a child'.

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I'd recommend a horizontal lay-out, i.e. height < width. Unless your illustrations are vertical, of course. :) –  rightføld Feb 4 '11 at 21:27
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I'm sorry, but this is a really poor answer. Yellow green and blue? The size suggestion is arbitrary and the 'children don't like dark and mysterious' tends to ignore Maurice Sendack's entire career. –  DA01 Oct 10 '12 at 3:15
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"The companie(s) who are printing the book will automaticly resize the document to their standards" seems particularly crazy. The size, shape and feel of a children's book is one of the most important parts of its design. If you're not deciding the dimensions, at the very least, you should know what they are going to be. Designing at a random arbitrary size then leaving it to the printers to crop or deform the images into shape seems crazy. "Imagine: 'How would I react on this layout when I was a child' " is good advice... But it shouldn't replace testing with real kids. –  user568458 Oct 10 '12 at 9:46
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Childrens books is not a format, or an aesthetic. Surely there seems to be a lot of repeating patterns, but I think there's an industry waiting for books (and content) that does quite the contrary to what this answer proposes. I strongly believe that most kids (thanks to their vast curiousity) have the capability to completely adore unique stuff, and originality. So, go ahead and defy any stenciled ways of thinking, especially when it comes to kids books. –  Henrik Oct 23 '12 at 22:08

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