More than just a novelty: the art of die-cut picture books

Jul 1, 2013 by

I think  ‘novelty’  is a rather unfortunate term commonly used to reference certain types of children’s books. I suppose books that use die-cuts or other techniques in their printing process are seen as ‘jazzed up’, and hence have a novelty factor. It still bothers me that just because these books have something more than the regular printed page, they are often times considered slightly better because of their  bells and whistles. It is very similar to how many people equate good apps as those with more animation and interactivity, losing track of the fact that at its core a successful kid’s app is one with a great story. A lot of the time these types of ‘special effects’  distract from, rather than focus on, the essential storytelling aspect. However, when creators have a unique story, simplify and use creative book techniques like die-cuts effectively,  it can have the most amazing results. Two of my current favorite picture books that exemplify this are Laura  Vaccaro Seeger‘s Green and Lizi Boyd‘s Inside Outside.

I own a copy of Green and I find myself going back to it time and time again. The entire book is about different shades and types of green — a humble, yet brilliant, idea to begin with. And with the richly painted illustrations, the book is like a breath of fresh, crisp air. The die-cuts in it are so subtle that sometimes you miss them altogether, and they blend beautifully with the concept and into the pictures.  For example, in the spread below, the cut out is the small worm, and then when you turn the page…

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Copyright © 2012 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

 

… the worm transforms into the rusty hook on the left hand side page. Genius, right?  The whole book is full of these wondrous surprises, and it kept me, even an adult, searching and looking for the small and thoughtful clues hiding on the pages. Every time I pick it up, I fall into a rhythmic journey of search and discovery. Green was also picked as a Caldecott Honor book for 2013.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Copyright © 2012 by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

 

Inside Outside is is hot off the press and is Lizi Boyd’s latest wordless book. Again, it is the concept behind this book that gives it the room to play so effortlessly and creatively with the die-cuts. Inside Outside is beautiful in it’s hide-and-seek feel. Every page that leads to the next shows the difference between what’s going on inside and outside.

 

Copyright © 2013 by Lizi Boyd

Copyright © 2013 by Lizi Boyd

 

In the page above you’ll notice the die-cut is for the butterfly and by the time you turn the page you can see it inside the house (page below). There is always one element on one page that is completely transformed into another by the time you flip the page. Like on the inside page below, the die-cuts are the windows, which then change into something else on the other side of the page. Also, the die-cuts are so organically placed that you really need to hunt them out. Only when you go through the entire book do you realize the amount of work that must have gone into orchestrating this giant puzzle-like game.  It is truly a work of art in itself;  I can see a child get completely absorbed in this book for days, forget minutes and hours.

 

Copyright © 2013 by Lizi Boyd

Copyright © 2013 by Lizi Boyd

 

Both Green and Inside Outside are stellar examples of having an ingeniously simple idea, and incorporating die-cuts not as additional, but integral elements to evoke a sense of surprise and wonder.  Both the books use die-cuts almost poetically, which in turn make them very interactive and engaging. If you want to see what die-cut picture books can aspire to be, take a look at both these books. They are excellent, elegant examples of where die-cuts make them the books they are.

2 Comments

  1. We are living parallel lives, I swear! I was just marveling at the die-cuts in I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail. I was amazed at how seamlessly the die-cuts were incorporated in the book. Not sure if you’ve seen this, but the designer talks about the process which I found very fascinating here: http://www.tarabooks.com/blog/a-designers-journey-i-saw-a-peacock-with-a-fiery-tail/

    I agree with everything you’ve said about Green. Will get Inside Outside soon, it sounds just as awesome.

    • Gayathri

      hahaha, indeed we are! Yes, I’ve heard of that title, but haven’t managed to see it yet. Thanks for sharing the link, will read.

      Yeah, Inside Outside is totally worth taking a look at. So many details and things to look for.

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