Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book jacket designer Charlotte Strick

The fabulous designer Charlotte Strick of Strick&Williams joins us to answer some of my weird questions about book jacket design! I don't know about you, but I'm pretty obsessed with book covers and am constantly curious about the process. Charlotte has created some pretty famous ones (like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom) and is a thoughtful, creative woman who also happens to be mother to twin boys at my school. Here are Charlotte's thoughts on Anne Shirley, Roald Dahl, and inspiration. Enjoy!
-Karen, Williamsburg Northside School

We’ve been seeing a lot of reissues and redesigns of children’s classics lately. Which children’s classic would you like a crack at redesigning the cover for and what would you do?

Well, “Alice in Wonderland” of course or a grand edition of “The Wizard of Oz” would be a fantasy project. I’d love to design a boxset for the “Anne of Green Gables” series. Anne with an “e” Shirley, that plucky chatterbox, meant so much to me when I was a preteen; it would be a thrill to create a special edition of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s much beloved books. The first thing I’d do is enjoy the excuse to reread these books and see how my memories of the stories resonate with my adult-self. I’m a very different reader today, and as a book jacket designer, I read for visual queues and not strictly for pleasure. 

Speaking of redesign, is there a children’s or YA book cover you’d like to see redone? Why? 

I’d love to see Roald Dahl’s paperbacks repackaged. I’m enormously fond of Quentin Blake’s illustrations, and I have long come to associate his work with these books, but I like them less as cover art—especially when combined with digital type. As a collection, Dahl’s current covers feel more commercial and safe, and far less extraordinary than I think the writing deserves. Finding an original way to successfully capture Dahl’s dark wit would be a terrific (and dreamy) design challenge.

What is your favorite cover you’ve done?

It’s impossible to pick favorites. That would be akin to choosing one’s child over another! 

What is your favorite picture book cover?

I think “The Giving Tree” has a tremendously successful cover that should never be touched. It’s “a classic” through and through. It’s spare, unexpectedly glossy, kelly green cover with strokes of red for both the young boy’s overalls and the falling fruit, is difficult to forget. Shel Silverstein was marrying illustration and handmade typography on his book jackets long before it was trendy.

I’m always on the lookout for artwork that I wish I had the talent to have created myself. I design books mainly for the adult market, when I came across Todd Stewart’s illustrations in the picture book “See You Next Year”, by Andrew Larsen (Owlkids Books), I knew Todd’s work would be a perfect match for a new novel our studio, Strick&Williams, was designing. Todd was such a pleasure to work with; he took my little pencil doodle of a guitar-as-road and expanded on it in a way that we hadn’t imagined. This is the real joy of collaborating with other artists. “Vexation Lullaby” (Catapult) won’t be in bookstores until this Spring, but you can get a sneak peak at the finished cover here: http://shop.catapult.co/products/vexation-lullaby

What would you like to hear a student say about one of your covers?
A design student? “Is there anything I can learn from this?”

about Charlotte:
For 14 years Charlotte Strick was a designer and Art Director at Faber & Faber, Inc and the paperback line at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her work has been featured in the AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers show, the TDC Annual Exhibition, Print magazine, the Book Binder's Guild Annual Awards Show, and many books about cover design. The proud owner of a coveted Silver Cube from The Art Director's Club, Charlotte is also designer and Art Editor of the distinguished Paris Review magazine. Her writings on art and design have been published by The Paris ReviewThe Atlantic and The Huffington Post. In 2014 she partnered with Claire Williams Martinez to form Strick&Williams, a boutique, multidisciplinary design firm focused on the arts, education, publishing, non-profits and everything in-between. A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Charlotte lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, their twin boys, and a giant bowl of goldfish.

Friday, January 15, 2016


This was the blog post in which I’d intended to write about my many fabulous adventures at ALA and how wonderful Boston was. While I did have adventures (Last Stop on Market Street – wow!) and Boston was wonderful (nicest people ever), I find myself distracted and disoriented by a devastating event in my school community. 

Our school lost a husband to one of our teachers and father to one of our students in a tragic accident this week. His death has shattered a family and a community and I find myself responding in one of the only ways I know how: with books.

I feel we, as librarians, have a calling and a responsibility to our communities. We are keepers of information and guardians of stories. Our skills can help people and have significant impact.

I put together a list of books for my families, students, and faculty that I hope can help start discussion and, perhaps, begin healing. I’m sharing that list here both so that you can use it in your schools and so that you can share additions. In addition, our HVLA colleague Michael Clark also has a wonderful list, including books for parents and caregivers, that he’s previously shared on our listserv.

I’m so grateful to be a part of HVLA and be a part of this fine group of guardians.

with respect,


Books on Loss and Grief for Children

Aliki. The two of them. New York : Mulberry Books, 1987, c1979.
Describes the relationship of a grandfather and his granddaughter from her birth to his death.
Bagley, Jessixa, author, illustrator. Boats for Papa. First edition 2015.
Buckley and his mother cope with the loss of their father/husband by sending small wooden boats, built by Buckley, off into the ocean.
Brown, Laurene Krasny. When dinosaurs die : a guide to understanding death. 1st ed. Boston : Little, Brown, c1996.
Explains in simple language the feelings people may have regarding the death of a loved one and the ways to honor the memory of someone who has died.
Castellucci, Cecil, 1969-. Grandma's gloves. 1st ed. Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2010.
When her grandmother, a devoted gardener, dies, a little girl inherits her gardening gloves and feels closer to her memory.
Clifton, Lucille. Everett Anderson's goodbye. 1st Owlet pbk. ed. New York : H. Holt, 1988, c1983.
Everett Anderson has a difficult time coming to terms with his grief after his father dies.
Edwards, Amanda. The Elephant in the Room : A Children's Book for Grief and Loss.
Fang, Suzhen, 1957- author. Grandma lives in a perfume village.
"Xiao Le's grandmother lives in a faraway village. A visit with Grandma is always a special event, but this time she is frail. With encouragement from his mom, Xiao Le plays with and helps Grandma. When Grandma dies shortly thereafter, Xiao Le comforts his mom."--
Innes, Shona, author. Life is like the wind. First North American edition published in 2014 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Explores the concept of life and death as the animals different ways grieve in different ways for their lost friends.
Karst, Patrice. The invisible string. Camarillo, CA : DeVorss Publications, c2000.
Twins Liza and Jeremy, frightened by a storm, are comforted when their mother tells them about the invisible string that connects people who love each other.

Mellonie, Bryan. Lifetimes : a beautiful way to explain death to children. Toronto ; : Bantam Books, c1983.
Briefly describes the beginning and end of life for plants, animals, insects, and people.
Parr, Todd, author, illustrator. The goodbye book. First edition: September 2015.
Illustrations and brief text relate how a person might feel when they lose someone they love.
Wilhelm, Hans, 1945-. I'll always love you. New York : Crown Publishers, c1985.
A child's sadness at the death of a beloved dog is tempered by the remembrance of saying to it every night, "I'll always love you.".
Willems, Mo. City Dog, Country Frog. 1st ed. New York : Hyperion Books for Children, c2010.
Through the seasons, whenever City Dog visits the country he runs straight for Country Frog's rock to play games with him, but during the winter things change for them both.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Poetry Windows

If you’ve ever been to the Williamsburg Northside Library, then you’ve no doubt noticed that we overlook the BQE. If you’ve never been… we overlook the BQE. It’s literally right outside my library window and provides an endless source of inspiration/distraction.  We decided to take advantage of this during poetry month last year and the project proved so successful that I’ve extended it for a full year.

Last April, classes from Kindergarten through Grade 4 each composed a group haiku for commuters on the BQE.  Each class read haiku (from Bob Raczka’s frustratingly-named but totally awesome Guyku: a Year of Haiku for Boys to Hi Koo!, Jon Muth’s sublime haiku-adjacent poetry) and then spent one class creating a poem. Our inspiration was to create a poem to help commuters stuck in traffic.  The results were surprising, funny, and exciting.  We weren’t sticklers about the haiku format, especially for younger grades and that really opened up the creativity.

Grade 4:
traffic will end soon
do not worry about it
just hang out and chill

There’s traffic
Look at this window and you’ll have a nice day
Like magic

I hashtagged the window and listed our twitter handle. It was great to hear from commuters (I hope they were the passengers, not the drivers) and we got reports that we lifted spirits!

This year, I've extended the project and have declared our Grade 2 class to be our school poets. Throughout the year, we’re studying various forms of poetry and composing a group window poem. Their classroom teacher is coordinating with the project as well and I’m finding that it’s been enhancing work both in the library and classroom. Here’s the current offering and I think you’ll agree that it’s a corker:

Feathers pretty
Flying, tweeting, swooping
Flying up with the sky

I think this project could work well in any library that has public windows. I'm certainly in a very specific situation but I can envision fun poetry for an office building across the street! If you do this project for your community, please let me know how it goes. I'm sure you'll entertain and enlighten your neighbors.

-Karen, Williamsburg Northside