Children's Books on Design

Children’s books can be wonderful sources of entertainment. The best ones can be returned to years later yielding new layers of their stories. The five books profiled here are the result of searching for children’s books that teach aspects of Design. None directly cite the Design process, but within them are various moments when characters use the Design process. The books’ heroes use various aspects of  the Design process; encountering a problem, iteration, and prototyping until a satisfactory solution is reached.

stack of books

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

A little girl has a wonderful idea, and knows exactly how it will look and work. What Designer hasn’t had similar ideas of a perfect product in their mind or encountered a client doggedly fixated on a single solution that struck them in the middle of a walk. 

The girl quickly gets to prototyping. Just as soon as she starts, she finds herself frustrated with her inability to realize the idea in the first, second, or ninth iterations. 

She even wants to give up. Luckily, her assistant knows the value of a work life balance. And suggests a break.

Taking a step away from our work often yields the perspective to see it from a new angle (HBR article on breaks helping us reevaluate our goals) . Which exactly what happens in here, allowing the breakthrough our young creator needs. 

The Most Magnificent Thing is the most clearly Design related book of the selection I’ve presented here. The weakest component of the book are the coloring of the illustrations which feel muddy at times, lacking clarity and decisive intention. There is a sense of restraint, that is valuable in highlighting the main focus of the character and her magnificent thing.


PSSST! by Adam Rex

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With beautiful illustrations and a dreamy clever layout, Pssst! delivers on every page. A simple story about a girls trip to the zoo and the odd requests from each of its residents.

Notice how the first page fades into the distance of the second. Soft transitions like this abound in the book. Details come into the foreground from the background throughout. It is a pleasure to get lost in the pages searching for all the hidden gems.

Interactions with the animals follow a similar layout to each. That said, each is lavishly detailed exactly where it needs to be. I felt myself falling into each page, looking over every detail with excitement.

Notice the sign post in from of “Camel-lot.” It is these details that make this book just a joy to explore, much like our protagonist walking through the zoo. There is cleverness enough in this book for both parents and children.

Calling out here, the detail that goes into writing Psst!. Each instance is unique and wonderful.

You’ll have to get the book to find out what all these animals are asking our friend for. It is well worth it. You’ll be returning often to view it again and again because of the illustrations. This is one book that can be enjoyed over and over each night. 

Children will be wowed at ingenuity of the animals to create a DIY project of their own. Inspiring people to build and get their hands dirty is an important part about getting people into the field of Design. A more subtle lesson that many designer still need to learn is the value of asking others for help and working as team.


The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett

Mark Pett illustrates a delightful tale. “A little boy. A lot airplane. An idea takes root…” And that is the last text that will be found in this book.

When his favorite red plane gets stuck on a roof, the boy tries multiple iterations of solutions to get it off. Each dramatically different than the other. A single sketch for each vividly brings to mind the thought process of how each solution might work. Their panel juxtaposition bring a humorous montage to paper, and the collage of failed attempts on the floor make the reader feel the frustration. However, you’ll have to find a copy yourself to see just how this boy’s idea takes root. 

Similar to The Most Magnificent Thing, iteration is the highlighted design process here. Another valuable lesson for both children and designers is that of patience to see an idea through to the end. 


The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

The Girl and the Bicycle was published the year after The Boy and the Airplane. It follows the same structure of the first, and is every bit as enjoyable.

In this story though, the plot is set into motion not by an accident, but a desire. The Girl sees the bike in a store window, and sets into motion with an entrepreneurial spirit to make it hers. Illustrated with soft loving patiences, and a slightly larger cast, I want to return to this book over and over. Only on repeated readings did I pay more attention to other characters like the Girl’s brother.  Pett’s style is a little reminiscent of Bill Watersons’ Calvin and Hobbes strips. The entire book is done in a loose style, that gives it a dynamic vibrance. Close inspection reveals loving attention to detail, and a sense that every line is exactly where it needs to be. Worth having in your library. 

Both books would not appear on the surface to relate to design. In each, the main characters encounter a problem, and then iterate and prototype solutions. The wonderful element of both books is the sense of time and effort conveyed in achieving solutions that are worthwhile. More Designers need to have the forward thinking mindset that these children demonstrate.


Flotsam by David Weisner

I browsed through a number of Weisner’s books, but Flotsam is by far my favorite. It was the Weisner book that was recommended to me, and that I would recommend to everyone. Beautiful watercolor pages with layers and layers of detail. Like Mark Pett above, Flotsam accomplishes its fantastical story through visuals alone. The ability to communicate so much in such an economic manner puts many graphic novels to shame.

Flotsam, like Pssst!, has fantastic transitions between pages that feel like a well executed classic film, and are perfect for the book. It starts out as a relaxing day on the beach.

Combining a curious protagonists predilection to exploration and the appearance of a magically real object, set the story in motion. Weisner’s mastery of the page is absolutely astounding, transitioning from full bleed watercolor pages to multiple panel layouts. The attention to detail ignites the imagination as to the world that Weisner is creating here. 

Each mystery in the book unfolds into another mystery, that only takes us deeper into this world. As a reader, we feel everything the character does while unraveling it. Like most great designers, an insatiable appetite for the truth of a thing drives our protagonist. He may not suffer the setbacks of characters in the other books I’ve included in this review, but his persistence to understand is a trait to aspire to.

This book is worth picking up to find out what happens… !

The fantastic element of all these books is exactly that, their optimistic fantasticalness. They are all wonderfully crafted, and stimulate the imagination. Whether that is towards the completely made up or in emotional empathy. Each books touches upon that spark of design inquisitiveness that few to no academic style books ever address.