I’ve been an illustrator for over ten years, and for the last four or so I have focused on children’s books. In that time I have illustrated three children’s books, and I created the page layouts in Adobe InDesign CC. This is not essential for a children’s book illustrator—many layouts are already provided by the client. However, it is a useful skill to learn and makes you more desirable, especially for small publishers who may not have access to a designer.
The books I create are picture books (2-8) and easy readers (4-7). These books are for children who are beginning on their reading journey and may not be confident with large pages of text. There are a lot of considerations when creating a good page layout for a children’s book. In this tutorial, I will be talking about what makes an effective book layout, what fonts to use, and what fonts to avoid.
The layout of a page is very important when creating any book, but especially for one where a child is taking their first steps into the wonderful world of literature. There needs to be no confusion as to where the reader's eye needs to go to follow the narrative. The arrangement of images needs to make sense with the text too. So in this tutorial I will be talking about the importance of page layout and looking at a simple way to set up text in a book.
For a more in-depth look at how I set up my debut children's book Ruan The Little Red Squirrel, please have a look at my tutorial How to Design a Children's Book: Cover and Internal Pages here on Envato Tuts+ Design & Illustration Tutorials!
1. What Makes a Good Page Layout Design vs. a Bad Page Layout Design?
A good book layout should have the following:
Have Your Story in Clear, Large Text
Use a font that's ideally 15-20 pt. If in doubt, go larger than the standard print in a novel.
Don't use all the fonts!
The great Dr Ian Malcolm once wrote:
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should."
Dinosaurs... fonts... same thing, less teeth. Anyway, because you have The Internet of Fonts available doesn't mean you should use them all in a book. Besides, some fonts are expensive. Pick maybe two or three fonts at most.
Keep Your Text on a Plain Background
Keep the area behind the text clean and not too choked up with surrounding illustrations. Remember to give the text room to breathe. If you have to put text over illustrations, then something went horribly wrong in the planning process or someone is too lazy to edit some artwork.
Here's an early layout plan for the text on the book jacket of The Kilted Coo.
Notice how all the text has been given areas that will have little to no background detail, such as the sky and ground.
Would you like to read your copy of War and Peace if it was printed on 70s swirly wallpaper? Of course not!
2. Use Appropriate Colours for Your Text
Font styles are not the only consideration when choosing typography for children’s books—the font colour is equally important in relation to the surrounding artwork and background colour: dark on light; light on dark; light on light; dark on dark.
Good Font Colour Choices
Here are some examples of good colour and contrast choices using Helvetica.
Contrast is good—remember that!
Always plan out your illustrations to ensure that text can be read over them. Night sky? Use white text like below!
Bad Font Colour Choices
Depending on the calibration of your monitor or device, you may only just be able to see the text. This is very extreme, but amazingly I have seen text like this in the real world.
This example can just be read, but imagine having this at 12 pt! It'd be very difficult to read.
A pet peeve of mine is yellow text in general, but it's especially bad on white.
Again, the background and text colours are too close—please try to avoid this.
3. Break Up the Text Into Easy-to-Read Sections
Everything's easier in small pieces—you wouldn't eat a whole 20" pizza in one go without cutting it up, would you? Well... some of you might, but most of you wouldn't manage to eat that. Imagine you're a small child learning to read—a large block of text appears on a page, and your brain goes WOAH! Learning happens through repetition, and if a child can look at a small chunk at a time, then their confidence will grow! Nurture those young minds—don't scare them off reading.
Flow Your Text Naturally Around Your Illustrations
Sometimes, the easiest way to lay out text is to have it at the top or bottom of the page.
However, on occasion you can have text dotted around the page, as long as the flow makes sense! Have the illustrations complement the text to draw the eye along.
4. How to Do This in InDesign CC
InDesign CC is a fantastic tool to create book layouts. Here I'm going to give you a basic overview of how to quickly create a layout.
Open InDesign CC in the usual way.
Create a New Document. For this, we shall be using an A4 document—set the page size to your project requirements. For more information on setting up a document to include Bleed and Slug, please look at Section 2 of How to Design a Children's Book: Cover and Internal Pages. This is for InDesign CS6, but the setup and theory are the same.
Here we have a blank document. All the possibilities!
Press Control-T and drag out a text box. Next select a font—for this, I'm going to use Comic Sans because I'm a maverick. Type your title.
Next, centre your header text. Justifications can be found in the toolbar.
Next, we need to enlarge the font—here I've set it to 30 pt. Remember to make your work clean and clear!
Now, to keep your document tidy, we'll shrink the box for the text. This can be done by pressing Control-Alt-C or by right-clicking on the text box, scrolling down to Fitting, and selecting Fit Frame To Content.
Next, select the Type Tool (T) and drag out a text box to the desired size. Type your text in a clear font—here I have used Arial.
Select the Rectangular Frame Tool (F) and drag out a square of how big you would like your image. This can be approximate and scaled appropriately.
Next we need an image. With the rectangle selected, press Control-D to place an image. This will open up your operating system dialogue. Navigate to where your image is stored, select the image, and click Open.
Here you will see the image is larger than the square we have placed it in. This is totally fine, and in the next step I will show you how to work with this.
Next, press Alt-Shift-Control-E to Fit Content Proportionally, or right-click on the image and select Fitting > Fit Content Proportionally.
Next, move the image to the desired location. You'll see here that the text goes behind the image and does not react to it.
Set the justification of the text to Justify with the last line aligned left. This option can be found in the Paragraph panel, which can be easily accessed by pressing Alt-Control-T.
To Wrap the text around the image boundary, open up the Text Wrap panel by pressing Alt-Control-W. This is what the box will look like.
With the image selected, press the second icon at the top of the panel Wrap around bounding box. In the boxes below, you will see 0 mm in all. To have an even border around your image, type in the desired size (in our case 3 mm) and press Tab. This will change all the numbers to the same value as long as the chain icon is highlighted. If you wish to have different boundaries around your image, then deselect the chain icon and manually type your boundaries into the correct fields.
Setting the border to 3 mm around the image means that the text does not go right up against it.
5. Bonus: Wrap Your Text Around a Shape!
If you don't have a square or rectangular image, then no problem! Simply repeat the above steps, but change the shape of the frame by pressing Alt while clicking on the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a circle and Control-D to place an image inside your shape.
Next, in the Text Wrap box, select the third setting at the top, which is Wrap around object shape. Here, as before, you can set the border around the shape. This allows the text to flow in a curve rather than in a straight line. Lovely!
6. But Rowena, I'm a Busy Person! How Can I Put Together a Great Book Layout Quickly?
As well as providing fantastic courses and tutorials, Envato also provides design resources from creatives all over the world. If you need a readymade template for children’s books, I recommend looking at the following page layout designs.
The following InDesign book templates have been created by crew55design.
Template 1: Children's Book Illustrated
"This is fully illustrated, creative and unique pictures book. Made your personal pictures book for your special occasion. Write your own story, place text and you’re ready to go. Text and images/colors are easy to change, help file included. Just drop in your own text, change the images and you are ready to go. Photos used in the preview are not included."
Template 2: Alphabet Book Template
"Beautiful illustrated alphabet book template perfect for your children. A colourful and humorous book of illustrations inspired on animals, items, food, etc. Have fun and learn with your children. This book is entertaining as well as informative. A special treat is included in this alphabet book. While your child learning, it have a special line space for practising and writing. Therefore, book is personalised because you can import child picture and name."
So we've spoken about the basics of what makes a good page layout design. Okay, you have your pages laid out, and you have an idea of what you want your font choice to be.
Remember: A good font for any children’s book should be clean and clear. It’s best to avoid scripts, joined-up letters, and unnecessary fanciness.
A Wee Note on Fonts
There are many different kinds of fonts, but for simplicity's sake, in this tutorial I will be talking about sans serif fonts, serif fonts, and script fonts.
What Is a Serif Font?
According to Wikipedia:
"In typography, a serif (/ˈsɛrɪf/) is a small line or stroke regularly attached to the end of a larger stroke in a letter or symbol within a particular font or family of fonts."
As we've mentioned before, all fonts have their place (yes, rules are made to be broken), but in my experience having little flicks all over the place confuses the reader. It's not a natural way to write. If you look at a child's handwriting, it's made up of the simplest shapes. You don't need bells and whistles—that's what the pictures are for!
Children will also copy words they see in books, so not only are Sans Serif fonts easier to read, but they also help children learn how to create the simple shapes all the letters are made from.
What Is a Sans Serif Font?
According to Wikipedia:
"In typography and lettering, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, or simply sans letterform is one that does not have extending features called "serifs" at the end of strokes."
Sans Serif, from the French "without serif", means a simple up-and-down font, no flicky bits. Clean.
What Is a Script Font?
According to Wikipedia:
"Script typefaces are based upon the varied and often fluid stroke created by handwriting. They are generally used for display or trade printing, rather than for extended body text in the Latin alphabet. Some Greek alphabet typefaces, especially historically, have been a closer simulation of handwriting."
A script font is a horrible, nasty thing that should only be used for flourishes, fancy titles, and wedding invitation monograms. Don't get me wrong—calligraphy is a beautiful thing and an incredible skill to have, but it's all about the right context. If you had to read a few pages of a novel written in script, you'd only get a few pages before your eyes went square.
8. Good Font Choices for Children's Book Layouts
So now we've spoken about different kinds of fonts. Next, I'll give you some examples of great fonts to use and why.
Here's how Arial looks:
According to Wikipedia:
"Arial, sometimes marketed or displayed in software as Arial MT, is a sans-serif typeface and set of computer fonts. Fonts from the Arial family are packaged with all versions of Microsoft Windows from Windows 3.1 onwards, some other Microsoft software applications, Apple's macOS and many PostScript 3 computer printers. The typeface was designed in 1982, by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders, for Monotype Typography. It was created to be metrically identical to the popular typeface Helvetica, with all character widths identical, so that a document designed in Helvetica could be displayed and printed correctly without having to pay for a Helvetica license.
The Arial typeface comprises many styles: Regular, Italic, Medium, Medium Italic, Bold, Bold Italic, Black, Black Italic, Extra Bold, Extra Bold Italic, Light, Light Italic, Narrow, Narrow Italic, Narrow Bold, Narrow Bold Italic, Condensed, Light Condensed, Bold Condensed, and Extra Bold Condensed. The extended Arial type family includes more styles: Rounded (Light, Regular, Bold, Extra Bold); Monospaced (Regular, Oblique, Bold, Bold Oblique). Many of these have been issued in multiple font configurations with different degrees of language support. The most widely used and bundled Arial fonts are Arial Regular, Italic, Bold, and Bold Italic; the same styles of Arial Narrow; and Arial Black. More recently, Arial Rounded has also been widely bundled.
In Office 2007, Arial was replaced by Calibri as the default typeface in PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, and WordPad."
Here's how Comic Sans looks:
According to Wikipedia:
"Comic Sans MS is a sans-serif casual script typeface designed by Vincent Connare and released in 1994 by Microsoft Corporation. It is a casual, non-connecting script inspired by comic book lettering, intended for use in informal documents and children's materials.
The typeface has been supplied with Microsoft Windows since the introduction of Windows 95, initially as a supplemental font in the Windows Plus Pack and later in Microsoft Comic Chat. Describing it, Microsoft has explained that "this casual but legible face has proved very popular with a wide variety of people."
I bet you're surprised to see this one on the list! Comic Sans gets a bad rep, but in my opinion it's a great font. However, it tends to be misused, such as in corporate email signatures or community newsletters. When used in a child-based environment, it's great. It's clear to read and looks less intimidating than the more standard clean fonts like Arial and Verdana.
Here's how Verdana looks:
The history of Verdana is an interesting one. Verdana was originally designed for low-resolution computer screens in 1996.
"Bearing similarities to humanist sans-serif typefaces such as Frutiger, Verdana was designed to be readable at small sizes on the low-resolution computer screens of the period. Like many designs of this type, Verdana has a large x-height (tall lower-case characters), with wider proportions and loose letter-spacing than on print-orientated designs like Helvetica. The counters and apertures are wide, to keep strokes clearly separate from one another, and similarly-shaped letters are designed to appear clearly different to increase legibility for body text. The bold weight is thicker than would be normal with fonts for print use, suiting the limitations of onscreen display."
Hopefully, those have provided you with a good starting point for selecting a font for your book. Next, I'll talk about what font may seem like a good idea. First, however, I will point out their flaws.
9. Fonts and Dyslexia
It’s important to realise that your books should appeal to everyone. A great way to do this is to use one of the clear fonts mentioned above, or alternatively use a font specifically created for those with dyslexia. I'm not an authority on this subject, but Laura Keung is; check out this fantastic article called Best Fonts for Dyslexia for a greater understanding of the power of text.
10. Bad Font Choices for Children's Book Layouts
I'm not here to font shame, but each font has an intended purpose, and the following don't fit well with a young readership. Here I will be talking about three well-known fonts: Calibri, Pacifico, and Georgia.
Here's how Calibri looks.
A little history of Calibri can be found on Wikipedia.
Although Calibri is a lovely font, there are some issues with the usual troublesome letters of A, G and R in upper and lower cases. Let's talk about some examples below.
Here we can see that as capital letters they are strong and hold their own—the capital G may be confusing to children as the tail of the G is asymmetrical.
Next, we look at the lower case, and I'm sure you can immediately see two issues.
The "a" here does not follow how children tend to write an "a", which is usually as a circle with a tail. This can be confusing.
This "g" looks totally foreign even to some adults! It looks like a totally new letter—as above, in Verdana, it should be as simple as possible.
Here's how Pacifico looks.
Pacifico is a gorgeous font, but if you're just learning to read, it's a nightmare. All these swirls and whirls with joining-up letters—nope. Great for titles on laidback products, but this won't work well for a book.
Here's how Georgia looks:
Again, we have the issue with the crazy "g". Older children may find this font preferable, but it's best to Keep Things Simple!
Of course, to keep children engaged, you may want to add a slightly more interesting font. Bear in mind how clean the letters need to be—here are some examples of jazzier yet clear alternatives.
Another consideration is breaking up large parts of text. Young readers can be intimidated by large sections of text. An idea is to break up huge chunks of text at natural points such as the below example. Next, I’ll move on to talk about laying out the font on a page and the best way I have found to do so.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on How to Create a Page Layout Design for a Children's Book in InDesign CC and that the tips are helpful for you to create children’s books that will keep young readers engaged.
If you would need quick, high-quality book design templates then look at GraphicRiver's wide selection.
For more information on creating your own book and learning about fonts for dyslexia, please check out these great tutorials!
- IllustrationHow to Design a Children's Book: Cover and Internal PagesRowena Aitken
- TypographyBest Fonts for DyslexiaLaura Keung
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