On Children’s Books

January 16th, 2016

When my grandchildren were young, I used to wish for children’s books to work on, so that I could show them Poppy’s work. But except for one children’s book in 2007, Mishka: An Adoption Tale, my work was exclusively textbooks about different kinds of engineering, and science journals, both loaded with mathematics, equations, and tabular material.

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Until last year, 2015. First I got to work on a neat little storybook about a child’s first brush with death. I know, sounds grim—how could I call this book “a neat little storybook”?

Well, When My Baba Died, the story of a child living through the death of a grandmother, placed the experience under a comforting light. Written from an albeit religious perspective by author Marjorie Kunch, described in her author’s bio as “a mother, mortician, and Orthodox Christian,” death comes across as a natural step that closes out a person’s earthly existence, but leads to something peaceful and not at all scary.

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Now, whether or not the religious angle is your cup of tea, the story is told in a very comforting manner and the pictures are bright and cheery. This feel of this book was just what I had in mind years ago when I first looked to design and lay out children’s books.

While I was working on Baba I received another children’s book project which I have since finished. This one is titled Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff and is just as fun and quirky as it sounds, even as it drives home a notion of common sense about how the diets of pets ought to be treated with care. Although I’m showing the front cover below, this is one for which I did  just the interior, although I did add the author’s and illustrator’s name to the front cover.

front_cover_wht

But as welcome as these books were, I must admit they each surprised me with issues and “special needs.” At least compared to all the non-children’s books I’ve done.

Or one thing, page size and type choices—including type size and leading—are a whole new and intense ballgame. As it’s safe to say that children’s books have much less text—and therefore, type—in them, as well as illustrations that take up space, the way text is placed and runs is particularly important for a pleasing look.

Just for instance …

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But then there are issues that cropped up that I had never encountered before. With Mishka, I’m afraid I can’t remember the exact issue, but it had to do with typefaces and an overseas printer. I do not generally give the client my native files, but rather send them only printer-ready PDFs. But the printer in Asia kept telling my client that the typefaces were causing problems and they needed me to send all of them.

I called Quark (the company), because I was using QuarkXPress, and I thought perhaps there was an issue with how the PDF was distilling from their software. I was lucky enough to make contact with someone from Quark’s Customer Support Department who really cared. She walked me through some stuff and took a look at files I sent her. She thanked me for being a loyal Quark customer—I’d mentioned that I’d been using Xpress since version 3.0. She told me to expect “a surprise” in the mail “for [my] trouble].”

Weeks later I received a CD of “graphic extras” to use with Quark. But I found that it would not work with my version of QuarkXPress, 6.something, and I offered to return it. My personal Customer Service rep—for that was how I had come to think of her, as she had taken such an interest, fixed my issue, and then sent me a gift—told me not to bother returning the disk. A week or so later, I got yet another little package from her, the update to version 7 for free. And when I thanked her, she told me that this was one of the perks of her job: she got to do special nice things like this every now and then.

In its turn, When My Baba Died brought a different unexpected problem. For the first time, after working on dozens of books loaded with photographs and full-color illustrations, I ran into an ink coverage issue. That is, a printer returned the dust jacket PDF because the ink coverage on the page was over their 240% limit. That is, each of the four ink colors—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, black—are part of the formula that make up printed colors, expressed in percentages. For the printer used for When My Baba Died, the total of those four percentages cannot add up to more than 240.

Cutting to the chase … I did some online searching and found an article that explains all this and provides a link to a profile to drop into InDesign that handles the issue, “Force Color Images to CMYK with a 240% Ink Limit.

But needless to say, this is another example of how just because children’s books are clearly shorter than most other kinds of books doesn’t mean there aren’t still thorny issues to contend with.

Don’t Feed Your Pets Weird Stuff has been a good project in and of itself. I have no misgivings or sense of what I might have done differently, and better, with this one. It was just one of those that seemed to try to draw me into the book shepherding end of things. I found myself wanting to line up all the different kinds of places an author might speak at to promote a children’s book.

That said, I’m awaiting finalization of a deal on yet another children’s book, one that could be the start of a four-book series. And while I’m always more hopeful of steadier projects and the fun and learning experience that only a bumpy ride can bring, the prospect of starting a book series and helping to establish its brand is exciting.

Entry Filed under: book design

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