help on children's book layout

BEH's picture

I would really, REALLY appreciate any insight you are willing to dish out. I'm attempting to put together a book of fairy tales. It's the first time I've done something on this scale, and I'm not sure if what I've put together is working or not. The book will be 6 x 9 inches. The type is Arno, 13/16.2 (the weird baseline is simply so the grid would fit the page exactly), with occasional bits of Phaeton (title page, cover, and page numbers, basically). Oh, and I'm using fleurons or whatever they're called from several different fonts for the story title decorations. Thanks so much for helping out a struggling-to-learn flunky.


Nick Shinn's picture

I'm impressed by your use of ornament.

The drop cap lacks finesse (relative to the other elements) and doesn't look like a T.

I'm afraid I dislike the slick, tight fit of this text face and layout application, it strikes me as too bland for the genre of layout.
I like antiques, even if they are reproduction, to have a bit of patina and be somewhat dog-eared.

Look at the sentence break in line 11: the period is kerned under "r", resulting in a word space that is smaller than the counter of the "G". Compare with the sentence break in the next line, which is just about OK.

Would it look more classic with a larger word space in the h&j's?

And if you are going to be so tight and even, you have to solve every spacing issue, or else they really stick out like sore thumbs, which is the case with the long arm of "f" stretching across word spaces to interfere with following characters (see line 7).

BEH's picture

Thanks for the feedback, Nick. I looked at a few books, and see what you mean about the tightness of my spacing. Here is an updated version with a quick change to the justification settings. Is the text box itself too narrow and long for the page?

How is the rest of the layout tight and bland? It feels a bit off-balance to me (especially this spread), but I can't pin it down. Too many competing elements?

Also, do you think Phaeton works in this context? I wanted something that wasn't feminine (these aren't just stories for girls), but also had a bit of the old-fashioned, fantastical tone.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Just some nitpicking on the drop cap: I think it's hanging too much. I would also probably align the top of it with the top of the small caps if I were you. In Norwegian it's important that the first line is closer to the drop cap than the preceding lines. With a T your example is sort of acceptable, but it wouldn't have been so with an H. I would feel more comfortable with a clearly marked difference between the first and the preceding lines, but then again there might be other rules in English.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Trying my hands at English is always kinda embarrasing.

Nick Shinn's picture

Overall, the ornaments, the classic layout, the exotic drop cap, these capture the far-away-and-long-ago feel of the Arabian Nights, and I do prefer your revised h&j's.

I like the shape of Phaeton, you're right, it is phantastic -- but there is a disjunct between its crude finish and the refinement of the other typography. Look around for another face for the drop caps, that has as much personality, but is more finely detailed.

riccard0's picture

Look around for another face for the drop caps, that has as much personality, but is more finely detailed.

Maybe something like this:

BEH's picture

Here is yet another attempt. I've tried Eccentric, which I think blends in a bit better than Phaeton, but am still not sure about. Something to keep in mind also is that there are different decorative borders for other titles. They are mostly rectangular (extending to the text margins), and several are a good bit darker.

riccard0, Ambicase looks like it would be a really fun font to use, but I think it might overshadow the lighter lines of the other elements. Thanks for the recommendation, though; I'll have to remember it for another project.

frode, I wish more Americans used "it's" and "if I were you" properly.

heyfrito500's picture

"frode, I wish more Americans used "it's" and "if I were you" properly."
Is this an American phenomenon? I didn't know that this was a particular problem in the U.S. but perhaps I just am not informed.

As to the layout:
I think the drop cap is more appropriate in this version and seems more harmonious and appropriate with the historical feel. While I am not quite as refined in my type education as many others who have posted in response to your request, I think that this version looks a better overall than your first version. I do not know (and perhaps there is a rule that dictates this) if I would small cap the first a, it seems a little lost to me, but like I said, take my critique with a grain of salt as it is my goal in visiting this site to LEARN about typography rather than to impart my knowledge.

BEH's picture


I think you're right about the 'A.' It's the result of a nested style which automatically small caps a certain number of words; nice catch.

As for the grammatical comments, it's been my experience here in America that if "its" or "it's" is used by the average person, it will be used incorrectly. "It's" must look more refined, since that is the popular form for run-of-the-mill ads. I tend to immediately cringe when I come across any form out of habit, whether it has been used incorrectly or not. And I also think that the average person would avoid "I were" simply because he is not sure how to use it correctly. Another common error is using singular and plural for the same subject (e.g., "if everyone used correct grammar, they wouldn't make this mistake"). Or maybe my perspective is skewed because I've spent most of my life in the moderately rural South. (Although, in defense of the South, I still think "y'all" is an extremely useful and underrated word.)

Vladimir Tamari's picture

How about using bold or color for the title? It seems a bit overwhelmed by the border and other elements on the two pages.

Chris G's picture

I'd be tempted to use an accent colour for the ornaments and drop caps, keeping the title in black.

jacobsievers's picture

My feeling is that most of the criticisms mete out here could be addressed by changing the text face. Beyond adjusting the h&j's, it seems to me that the "slickness" of the chapter heading face conflicts with the busier ornamentation around it.

Also, is the "Arabian Nights" text in the lower left corner a kind of running footer, appearing on every verso?

BEH's picture

I wish I could use color, but that's not in the budget. Here's yet another variation on the theme, with the title border made into a rectangle, which hopefully makes it less obtrusive.

Jacob, do you have any suggestions for a text face that would work better?

I think I've been trying to tie together three elements to keep this book connected a bit to its roots (Victorian and post-Victorian children's fairy tales).

1) Typography (heading in all caps of text font, wide margins with outside and top margins double the width of top and inside margins)
2) Blatant, if not ostentatious, use of ornamentation
3) Illustrations

I've been trying to use these three things to connect the book back to the original time period of the book, while at the same time not wallowing overmuch in them. I don't particularly want it to look old, just reminiscent. Perhaps I'm doing this badly, or working towards a mishmash that simply won't work.

"Arabian Nights" is the source credit. It only appears on the title page of each story. I'm throwing in an image of an all-text spread, so you have an idea of how that part works.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I'm thinking maybe Akira's FF Clifford could fit nicely here. The optical sizes might help your titles and captions and possibly drop caps, it has a nice set of ornaments and a very analogue feel to it: in that sense it might also play well with Phaeton. The page numbers bothers me, but that's just a layman's opinion.

Nick Shinn's picture

I think Oneleigh would be perfect, but I admit to being biased, as I designed it for this kind of project.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I actually like Arno for this purpose, but I think it would benefit from (relatively) more leading in this antique setting. You could do 12.5 on 16.2 and I'll bet it would look better. Or keep it at 13 pt and increase the leading to the next step up that would have one less line on the page.



Vladimir Tamari's picture

I rather preferred the original title ornament with the white around it.
The Tiny "Arabian Nights" at the bottom left of the first page can be lifted to align with the bottom of the illustration.
BTW is the illustration by Willy Pogani? He is really good!

BEH's picture

How about Hoefler Text? Most of the ornaments I'm using are from Hoefler.

And this illustrator is H.J. Ford. I've never heard of Willy Pogani, quite liking his stuff (at least his earlier style).

quadibloc's picture

Although no one mentioned it, the one criticism of the first example I had was that the sidebar with the title of the story lined up, line-for-line, with the body text. You corrected that in the later examples, although I wonder if the italics aren't too small.

As for the drop cap, which was much discussed, the first one seemed to be better than the later ones - as they're too narrow.

But I don't think the text of the body copy can be improved on.

eliason's picture

Two confirming opinions, for what they're worth: I also find the font of the page numbers to call too much attention to itself, and I also agree that the first go of ornament around the title is more pleasing than the rectangular block.

Vladimir Tamari's picture

H. J. Ford's drawings are great too. BTW y'all may know that captions for illustrations to story books have gone out of fashion in the past century. I feel that is a pity - a short phrase (in italics of course!)from the story matching each illustration will serve as a teaser, and entice the reader to delve into the full text.

BEH's picture

More flogging of a dead horse here. Please indulge my learning.

After thinking about it for a bit, I really can't afford a new text face for the book. I have the standard adobe fonts (arno, minion, adobe garamond, adobe caslon, garamond premier pro, hoefler text (these last two with not the entire font set, but enough to set this book, I think). If a new display face would help, I could probably manage a somewhat cheap one.

My question is more, Is the font really my problem? Maybe I should simply go back to the drawing board on this one.

Anywho, here's one final lash to the carcass. Set entirely in Arno. With pretty standard layout for the running header, and the story source moved to the end of the story instead of the beginning page.

Blessings from a battered beginner.

Vladimir Tamari's picture

Everything considered I think the design of your October 13 post is the liveliest horse in the stable. It could be (and has been) tweaked this way and that but it is quite fine as it stands.

kentlew's picture

I have to say that the only thing that truly bothers me about all of these otherwise perfectly fine layouts is the use of hanging punctuation.

I know it’s touted as being a sign of sophisticated, fine typesetting, but in my opinion that’s a myth. And it completely disrupts the allusive character of this sort of setting, since it simply would not have been done in a piece of period printing such as this emulates.

I’m surprised that Nick didn’t mention this; but perhaps he doesn’t share my disdain for this “feature.”

The concept behind Adobe’s hanging punctuation sounds all well and good in theory. But every time I’ve seen it applied to large blocks of text, I find it has entirely the opposite effect — creating a distractingly irregular, rather than a visually even, edge.

dtw's picture

A question of subtlety, isn't it? I think the commas and hyphens are fine, but the double-quotes stick out too far perhaps?
Agree with Craig (elaison) about the shaped title-block ornament working better than the rectangular one.

Nick Shinn's picture

@Kent: …perhaps he [Nick] doesn’t share my disdain for this “feature.”

Rest assured that I too fart in the general direction of "Optical Margin Alignment"!

There is one use for it (if I can ever remember where the damn menu item is hidden)—to move the final period in a squared off paragraph sufficiently to the right; this entails making the final line of a paragraph a separate "paragraph", if you get my drift.

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