A Book Designer’s View of ALA 2017

By Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to the 2017 American Library Association (ALA) conference. In between the whirlwind of meetings, celebrations, events, signings, and running—literally running—to and from various rooms to hear ALA celebrity librarians and authors pontificate about topics dear to us book people, I found design inspiration in some unlikely places. I also found and (finally) met in person the award-winning illustrator, R. Gregory Christie.

Bad News for Outlaws, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie    No Crystal Stair illustrated by R Gregory Christie    The Book Itch illustrated by R Gregory Christie

Eight years and three books later, it was high time to meet Greg, the illustrator of Bad News for OutlawsNo Crystal Stair, and The Book Itch.

After a trip up and down the escalator and two failed attempts to find coffee, we sat on wobbly chairs outside the exhibition hall and chatted for a while about books, design, and art. At one point, Greg mentioned something about how designers are always taking pictures of things. Anything. For inspiration, for reference, for color combinations. And he asked if I was always taking pictures.

My somewhat sheepish response: “Uhm, I’m actually doing a very good job of not having my phone out right now so that I’m not distracted by wanting to take pictures. . . ”

And thus, there is no photo of me and Greg trying to keep balance while sitting on those shaky stool things. I did, however, manage to take many other pictures. So, here are a few images of how one Art Director/designer saw ALA. (I hope I didn’t ignore or get in the way of too many people while being distracted by a certain angle, color combo, or interesting pattern.)


The photo on the left is of The Chicago Firehouse restaurant, locale of the Sibert Honor luncheon, which Editor Carol Hinz and I had the opportunity to attend with author Caren Stelson and her husband Kim for the honor book Sachiko: A Nagaski Bomb Survivor’s Story.

On the right, the Chicago Art Institute wall and ceiling during a party hosted by the Junior Library Guild.


Tones and textures of a convention center’s floors, plus one taken outside during a five minute break. Look closely in one of these photos and you can see Rep. John Lewis’ feet (can you guess which one?).

Wooden floor patterns

Tranquility Domes, for people wanting a little break from the high ceilings of the exhibition hall. Or for flower patterned clothing being called to the green green grass of indoors.


Composition exercise of “How do I fit all of the buildings with Pride lighting into one frame?”

Gratuitous Chicago picture below. Because even when you’re looking for patterns and colors and angles everywhere, you can’t ignore the inspiration of a really nice sunset on a really nice evening.

Picture taken en route to the Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal winner speeches. An event that also included a spontaneous recitation of Langston Hughes poetry by Ashley Bryan that the audience chimed in on. Book people, you are the best.

Design inspiration comes from many places in many ways.

Thank you Chicago, thank you ALA! It was a whirlwind few days.

Have you found inspiration in everyday design? If so, share it with me on Instagram (@carkneetoe).


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