August 22, 2016

Crossing the Line

Today we're discussing a key part of picture book anatomy called the gutter, or the space in the middle of the book where two facing pages meet. Design-wise, it's usually a) worked around so that there's a wide margin of white space, or b) entirely forgotten about to the point where images are lost or warped when the book is printed and bound. Every book has a gutter, though, so it's so fun when illustrators use it to their advantage. Rather than working around the gutter or ignoring it, illustrators use the gutter as an structural element, an irremovable part of the illustrations. In the past couple of months, a few books have come out that emphasize the gutter, and I'm excited to showcase them today!

If you ask me (and this is my blog, so let's pretend I have some authority here) Deborah Freedman's Shy (Penguin 2016) is a masterpiece. Shy tells the story of a nameless and faceless character named Shy who lives in the gutter of the book and is too timid to reveal himself to the world.

Being a huge fan of birds, though, Shy can't resist stepping out when he hears a bird fly by one day. But Freedman isn't giving up Shy's identity that easily. EVERYONE in the book chooses to step out and follow the bird! We don't get to know who Shy is until the end of the book. And you'll never guess who it is!

Shy exists in the one part of the book that is forgotten, hidden, lost. The amount of courage it takes him to leave the middle of the pages and into the actual book is inspiring. As Shy's internal monologue plays out and he begins to realize the gravity of what he has accomplished by stepping out into the world, the colors on the spreads get brighter and brighter until we FINALLY see what Shy looks like. It's such a phenomenal build up that is drenched in emotion because we've spent so long connecting with this character solely on an emotional level.

The Nosyhood (McSweeny's 2016) by debut author-illustrator Tim Lahan is a fantastic, awkwardly-sized board book that emphasizes the gutter and makes a statement about how we utilize space within a book.

The right side of the book represents a couple's new home. As they move their stuff in and get settled, though, people start showing up at their door--the gutter--to introduce themselves and things get out of hand quickly.

The right hand page gets more and more crowded, giving readers a sense of space--this is a small house that is (obviously) unable to accommodate this massive influx of people.

Don't Cross the Line! (Gecko Press 2016) by Isabel Minhós Martins and Bernardo P Carvalho has a very similar feel to The Nosyhood in the sense that it is more of a commentary on the space within a book than the story itself.

A dictator states that no one is to cross the gutter of the book and even goes so far as to place a guard at the border. But when things start to get a little too crowded on the left (verso) page of the book, it's only a matter of time before everyone is crossing the line.

Once again, we find ourselves taking notice of the space in the book, wondering what exactly it will take for characters to cross that line onto the right (recto) page of the book. And when we find out, things get hectic pretty fast!

Next week I've got a very special Let's Talk Illustrators post, so be sure to stop by!


  1. For another book in a similar vein check out The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

    1. Yes, another great suggestion (I had a chance to talk to Jon about it here:! It's hard to go wrong with Jon Agee!