April 26, 2016

Trim Size Matters

What does the size of the book say about the story inside? Trim size is the size of the physical book, and books come in all different shapes and sizes.

Let's start with big books. Big books are designed to showcase big ideas. A big book literally gives an illustrator more space on which to show his or her story, so chances are you'll see some extra large characters along the way.


Mo Willems' Leonardo: The Terrible Monster is a fun example because of the contrast in size between Leonardo and the size of the book. Willems can physically highlight Leonardo's shortcomings (pun intended) through his illustrators, drawing in other monsters--and even some humans--who tower over poor Leonardo. Yes, Willems depicts Leonardo as sad through facial expressions and posture, but physically being able to see the vast difference in size puts things into perspective for readers.

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet is also a well-utilized big book, though for a different reason. Jolivet does something similar to Willems in the sense that she only uses a fraction of the page, but due to the nature of the story that empty space fills up quickly. As more and more penguins are delivered Jolivet takes advantage of size of the book and emptiness on every spread, filling each page to the brim with penguins. The size of the book serves to accommodate the insane number of penguins that show up, and they create a great physical narrative as we watch the pages get fuller and fuller.

In direct contrast to large books, small books highlight small characters in small worlds. Shaun Tan is obviously amazing in, like, every way, but I think my favorite book of his has to be Eric. The book itself is only 4.5" x 6" (11.4cm x 15cm) and tells the story of a tiny little alien creature who comes to live with a human family as part of a study abroad program. We quickly learn through the illustrations that Eric is very tiny--he is almost literally the same size as a stamp and he sleeps in a cup in the pantry--but the trim size of the book makes his tiny stature even more noticeable.

We see something similar in Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library, which features a collection of 4 small books that are perfect for traveling. Each book serves to teach a concept, so there is an education thread that runs throughout, and the compactness of the series is half the draw because it allows kids to take it on the go 

The books are the perfect size for little hands.

There are also landscape books versus portrait books. And like big and small books, there are some that go to the extreme to convey a concept. Germano Zullo and Albertine's Sky High and Vincent Mahé's 750 Years in Paris are perfect examples of dramatically tall, skinny books that uses the height book as a means to an end.

Albertine and Mahé start their buildings short on the page and build them upward, taking advantage of the white space above. Mahé's building goes through far more incarnations than Albertine's, but the concept is the same: the book is tall to accommodate the building that we eventually see on the final page, and it's fitting that as soon as the building in Albertine's book reaches the limit it collapses. It literally has nowhere else to go.

Let's look at the opposite end of the spectrum. While some books are dramatically tall, there are some that are short but long.

I know we talked about her last week, but Suzy Lee has a perfect example in 
Wave. Lee keeps her protagonist on the left side of the book and the water on the right, so there's a feeling of safety in knowing that the water won't cross the gutter--the point where the two pages meet in the middle of the book. There are vast amounts of space on either side of the book, and we feel calm knowing that the girl and the water are on their respective sides with so much space for each.

Marianne Dubuc's The Bus Ride is another great example. The shape of the book perfectly compliments the story as a girl travels down the road (or from one side of the book to the other) to get to her grandmother's house. The wide format allows for you to sweep your eye all the way across the book and join the girl on her journey across the

What other books can you think of that have odd trim sizes? Does the trim size help or hinder the story?

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