My customer asked me: “What’s new and interesting in children’s book production?”

mcam-kidsWe all remember our favourite books as kids. Whether you were a Hardy Boys aficionado, Winnie the Pooh devotee or Dr. Seuss enthusiast, we all have much loved books from our childhood that still hold true to us today. In taking a recent stroll through my local Indigo store, it became evident that children’s books have become much more elaborate, high-tech and innovative than I remember.

I have found seven amazing children’s books that are worth taking a moment to touch on. I haven’t chosen these books for their content (although some are award winners) but because of their superior design, printing and production qualities. I will also discuss 1:1 customized children’s books in the new age of digital book printing. Let’s begin!

Eerie Origami by Duy NguyenEerie Origami by Duy Nguyen (Sterling Innovation – 2009) – Interesting packaging and presentation that creates shelf appeal.

This book is a Halloween must-have to create scary origami creatures of your very own! The kit contains a how-to origami book, 50 sheets of origami paper and, my favourite part, a fully assembled origami wolfman. The die-cut packaging with cellophane window at the front is the perfect for letting the wolfman peek through. The design and packaging really leaps out at consumers on store shelves. Housed in the crafting section, it is flashy and fun and hard not to pick up for a closer look.

Buzz by DK PublishingBuzz by DK Publishing (DK Children – 2007) – Fantastic use of sound.

This book has an amazing cover that includes “hot spots” with sounds embedded for children to push, hear and learn. “Squash Me! Squish Me! Smash Me!” These cues let kids know where to press to hear the sounds of their favourite bugs. This thick cover that houses all of the noise-making gizmos makes up a significant portion of this book. The rest of the book is filled with full colour glossy pages filled with fun bug images and fun bug facts.

Big Frog Can't Fit in, Mo WillemsBig Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems (Hyperion – 2009) – A larger than life pop-up book.

Traditionally, pop-up books involve intricate aspects of a book becoming three-dimensional when a page is turned. They can also involve pulleys, flaps and transformations, which make pop-up, or moveable books more memorable. Mo Willems took a different approach when designing the pop-ups in Big Frog Can’t Fit In because he made the pop-ups less intricate and more over-sized and larger than life. This title is also referred to as a “pop out” book versus a “pop-up” book, which is a very accurate description because as the pages are turned, Big Frog’s limbs literally fly off the page!

Black Book of Colors, Menena CotinThe Black Book of Colors by Menena Cotin and Illustrated by Rosana Faria (Groundwood Books – 2008) – Interesting uses of coatings and embossing.

This book is amazing because it uses unique coating and embossing techniques to break down barriers and simulate what it’s like to only see through one’s sense of touch. The embossed Braille throughout describes what each colour of the rainbow looks like. Raised UV coated images are applied over glossy black pages, creating very subtle images, whereby the reader must rely mainly on touch to explore each scene.

Sandy's Incredible Shrinking FootprintSandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint by Carole Carpenter and Femida Handy and Illustrated by Adrianna Steele-Card (Second Story Press – 2010) – Eco-Forward Thinking

In a time when climate change is arguably the most imminent problem facing future generations, Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint stands in a category of its own as an innovative and thought-provoking introduction to environmental responsibility. I not only love the message this story drives home, but also the way in which it was executed in picture book format. Artist Adrianna Steele-Card uses natural and recycled materials to create the unique collages on each page. You can find leaves, wool and birch bark throughout the book, and it is printed on FSC-certified paper. This collage technique not only drives home the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) but also creates a book where nature literally lives within the pages, resulting in a textural, dimensional and very personal work of art for each young reader.

Wave, Suzy LeeWave by Suzy Lee (Chronicle – 2008) – Beautifully simple.

This title does not compete in the same category as the aforementioned books, in that there are no sights or sounds or touchy-feely components. It’s amazing because it’s so simple. In classic 2-colour imagery (black and cyan) with no text to impede the beautiful nature of the illustrations, the description simply reads “A sunny day. A curious little girl. A playful wave.” The wave is depicted in cyan and the little girl and her seagull counterparts are drawn in black. It is beautifully printed and it is a must-see to really understand why it’s an amazing book.

Blanket Full of Love, Kim FreemanBlanket Full of Love by Kim Freeman (Starrytime Keepsakes) – 1:1 Children’s Publishing.

I had the privilege of speaking with the author of Blanket Full of Love (and the creator of Starrytime Keepsakes), Kim Freeman, about her inspiration for this book and what makes it so unique. Blanket Full of Love is a personalized book that uses today’s digital printing technology and variable data software to create a customized print-on-demand children’s book. This book is a high-quality digital full colour hardcover, which is designed to look like an offset book and is getting closer and closer to offset quality due to advancements in digital printing technology.

Blanket Full of Love imageThe books are printed by New York-based digital printer SharedBook, who helps Kim achieve her publishing goals by offering print-on-demand services through Kim’s online Starrytime Keepsakes web portal. The child’s name on the cover and throughout the book is their own, and there are images throughout the book that are customized to look like the child (10 different boy images and 10 different girl images of all skin tones and hair colours). You can even add a custom dedication page with a photo for your little one. Customers personalize their books right on the website and can view the final product in page turning software. Once they approve the free-form text and images used, the order is processed and sent to SharedBook for printing. Kim says that the majority of her sales come from first birthdays and first Christmases.

“Toddlers are able to see themselves and relate to the images that look like them. When the child becomes older, Blanket Full of Love becomes a perfect book to learn how to read because it’s all about them,” Kim explains.

Blanket Full of Love image 2Furthermore, Kim predicts that many mainstream publishers will soon be moving into this area of custom, print-on-demand publishing because of the ever-increasing ease, affordability and quality of print-on-demand books.

Whether or not children’s books have all the bells and whistles to capture the attention of their young readers, I am appreciative that children’s book publishers are doing a great job creating interesting and interactive books for everyone to enjoy. It’s nice to think that in a world that may one day be ruled by Kindles, E-Readers and iPads, there are still children’s books that are as tactile and authentic as we all remember.


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.