When the inscribed circles of fate align such that you are simultaneously: a) seven months pregnant, b) write about graphic design, and c) froth enthusiastically at the mention of color and patterns, well: it becomes high time to blog about smashingly beautiful children’s books on same.
Today’s post is first in a two-part series, highlighting 10 books you’ll want to snag for the pattern-loving-kid (or parent-to-be) in your life. Soon we’ll tackle a top ten of amazing color books for kids — an Olympian challenge given how crowded the playing field around that topic is.
I’ve loosely organized these by developmental stage, so the baby-titles kick things off, with books for toddlers and curious youngsters close on their heels. Without further ado, then:
Art for Baby (Various authors), $18.49
This board book gathers striking B&W images by modern artists to engage the nascent visual skills of super-young babies. The stiff pages pulse with a stripped-down vibrancy borne of dynamic graphics, patterns and shapes, like the zigzag pattern enthralling the visually impaired baby (below).
Spots and Dots (in the Art Baby series) by Chez Picthall, $5.35
Another wordless board book geared to very young babies, Spots and Dots, is alive with striking, high-contrast patterns all riffing on a polka-dot-esque theme. Bulleyes, rolling dice, strobingly symmetrical clouds of microbe-circles. This book will perk up even the most jaded, sleep-starved parent (in addition to their considerably more alert offspring).
The Game of Patterns by Hervé Tullet, used from $14.98
A beauty of a kid’s book from Phaidon Press, this book offers simple visual games of “spot the break in pattern.” Judging from the Amazon customer reviews, you’ll have to choose your developmental window for this carefully; one parent of a 4-year-old delighted in the child’s engagement with the game, while the mom of a 3-year-old felt disappointed at her child’s lackluster reaction.
Elmer by David McKee, $11.69
First published in 1989 and since expanded into a series, Elmer the crazy-quilt elephant lumbers his way through a dull, monochrome world. At first he laments his double-take look, but learns to embrace it in witty style.
Unlike most of the other books in this list, patterns aren’t present in Elmer as early visual stimulation, a guide to basic cognitive skills, or to teach you math principles in a fun way. (More on that later.) Elmer is just a beautifully weird, checkerboard elephant trying to amble calmly through a too-boring world. Patterns signal his glorious oddity, his uniqueness, and the virtues of same. It’s a slam dunk if your kid can embrace those creative, if occasionally friction-making, qualities.
Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban, $6.29
This book is best described as an “I Spy” guide to noticing shapes in the everyday world. Taking a page from Charles and Ray Eames’ stylebook, page after page is filled with color photographs of patterns and shapes glimpsed accidentally in bridges, stacked lumber, and elsewhere. Perk your child’s sense of attentiveness to the elemental shapes that build so many more complex structures we encounter daily.
Bees, Snails & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco and Steve Jenkins, $13.09
Another book devoted to shape- and pattern-spotting, this time with its eye trained on nature and animals. Boldly illustrated, this book helps critter-loving kids spy geometry embedded in all manner of nature scenes.
Pattern (part of the Math Counts series) by Henry Pluckrose, $4.45
One of a gorgeous math series by the felicitously named Henry Pluckrose, Pattern takes its place in the Math Counts series next to Sorting, Length, Numbers and Weight among others. They’re all visually strong titles designed to teach kids about basic mathematical concepts as they crop up in daily life.
Patterns Coloring Book by Kirsteen Rogers, $5.39
For younger children who delight in scribbling mayhem across delicately patterned outlines, or for older children who take pleasure in animating the shapes carefully with color. Patterns Coloring Book crams any pattern-fan’s dream of a sock drawer into a single book, begging to be filled in.
Pattern and Design Coloring Book (Vol 1) by Jenean Morrison, $10.80
Featuring patterns by surface and textile designer Jenean Morrison, this book comes in handy once every page of Patterns Coloring Book is scribbled in. Morrison’s patterns offer a wider array of surprising takes on pattern, from Arabic-style rose windows to groovy interlocking squares, like the colored-in page below.
Each page offers a pattern on one side, a blank on the other – a smart choice for those kids ready to riff freehand on the pattern inspirations they’ve been dutifully coloring.
Developing Patterns by Anna Craycroft, $47.45
Hurry: this limited-edition boxed set of 300 copies is already down by one, as my patterns-and-color-mad friend Josh Rutner has already bequeathed me my very own copy. All I can say about this marvelous compendium is this: it’s not technically a children’s book (although it’s printed on board pages like one), but it’s too beautiful to make any pattern-fan quibble about such distinctions.
Parent or auntie or not, you simply owe it to yourself to own this lovely series of books, a visual meditation on patterns as they rove through nature, culture, cognition, behavior, movement. It will jog your thinking like few books can. Isn’t that the finest gift any book can provide?
Suggested Color Resources for Designers