K-3 Book Design: Deceptively Easy?

by Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director
In our Millbrook imprint, we recently started publishing highly visual expository nonfiction specifically geared toward young readers in grades K-3. Anytime we start a new type of book, working through the design aspects to figure out what we really need to communicate visually is always a fun exercise.

For clarity of purpose for the young readers these books are meant for, there isn’t  a lot on each spread—words or visuals. I asked designer Viet Chu his thoughts on how that went down on two of the books he’s worked on: Small Matters and Run, Sea Turtle, Run.
How did you find distilling the visuals down to the bare minimum in these books— did you look at them differently than you normally would?
Yes. If there were more images on each page, then there would be less space for large images and big areas for text, which you see in a lot of K-3 books.

And design-wise, these visually simple designs: are they harder or easier than more visually complicated designs? And why, if you care to elaborate.

I think it could go either way depending on the project, and it also depends on how my creative brain is working for the day. For both simple and complicated designs, some days I try things out and get lucky, and everything works out super quick. Other days, I spend time staring at and thinking through design elements and not much gets put onto the canvas.



For Run, Sea Turtle, Run, the execution of the design was fairly simple, but getting the ratios of space, text, and image just right took some fiddling.


For Small Matters, the visuals are a lot simpler to look at than they were to make. The Photoshop files for the lenses got kind of crazy with reflections and shadows and whatever else. The background speckle texture was also unexpectedly complicated to deal with and took a lot of adjusting to get it to look right.

Do you have a favorite spread in each book and why, if you care to elaborate?
For Run, Sea Turtle, Run, my favorite spread is where you see a group of little sea turtles emerging from the sand, and some of the lines in the text have a fun emphasis to them. It’s cute.


For Small Matters, my favorite spread, by far, is the cat spread because it’s a picture of my cat, Boba. I was really excited to be able to put a full bleed image of my cat into the book. My niece was pretty excited about it too. “IS IT BOBA? IT’S BOBA!”

Thanks, Viet, for answering my questions!
For more pet viewing fun, here is Boba, seeing himself in print:
image courtesy Viet Chu
And Boba isn’t the only Lerner staff pet who has made it into our books over the years. I’ve chronicled more of them in this post. Take a quick cute animal break, and enjoy!

2 thoughts on “K-3 Book Design: Deceptively Easy?

  1. Heather Kinser

    I’m thrilled to hear about the design process behind these two beautiful (if I do say so myself) books! Many times I have wondered what magician was behind the scenes, making my book visually stunning. Viet, thank you! You are the unsung hero of my book, and I’m definitely singing your praises. And the cat page will always have special meaning to me, now that I know Boba’s name.

  2. Charles Waters

    That was fascinating! Especially the close-up of the Boba’s tongue and the information of how it’s used for grooming purposes. I also enjoyed the photos of the two books!

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