Look For A Sign! Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout


Today, I’d like to shine the spotlight on author/illustrator Maria van Lieshout‘s new release Backseat A-B-See!

Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout (Chronicle Books/2012)

This visually bold picture book full of street signs will appeal to young children and will make time on the road more fun as they recognize signs from the book. Arranged in A-B-C order, this book will entertain and educate. I was already a fan of van Lieshout – love her Bloom “series” (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) – hey, I have a thing for cute piggies. With this new book, I’m ever more solidly a fan!

What was the initial spark for Backseat A-B-See?

My son! My little guy Max was less than a year old when he started pointing to traffic signs. I realized he responded to the bold shapes, bright colors and high contrast graphics, which is what babies are attracted to. I have always loved traffic signs for their beautiful design. Signage surrounds us, so we don’t give it much thought, but those simple, bold icons tell us where to go, help us arrive on time, keep us safe and mostly out of trouble, looking fabulous all the while.

Many signs were designed by a team of AIGA graphic designers headed up by the famous Seymour Chwast and received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in the 1980’s.

When I realized Max was as smitten with signage as I was, I set out to make this book.

This book looks different from your previous books (a couple of my favorites are Bloom and Hopper and Wilson). Were there any special challenges to doing this book compared to your previous? Were there particular challenges to coming up with signs to match the alphabet?

The book looks indeed different, since I wanted to convey why signage is so effective: it is bold, bright, simple and clear. My conventional watercolor style wouldn’t have done the signs justice, so I used Adobe Illustrator instead to achieve the bold contrasts, bright colors and simple shapes.

Using a different medium took getting used to, but I studied graphic design in college and have worked as an Art Director for The Coca-Cola Company, so this was somewhat familiar territory for me.

Coming up with one sign for each letter was fun; like a puzzle. Some letters were easy (Yield for Y), some letters proved me with a tough choice: for S, did I want to showcase the iconic STOP sign, or opt for the sign for SCHOOL instead? Some letters were tough (Q and Z), but in the end, I found a sign for each letter.

I am not a artist, although I certainly appreciate art – can you give me a description of how you as an artist and writer create a book?

I am a visual person, so I usually start from a visual place-I imagine what the book will look like. What will the art look like? The design? What will the overall feeling of the book be? Will it include characters? What will they look like? Only after all that is fairly apparent, do I start to think about the words.

I have writer friends who also illustrate, but they start from a different place. They work on the story first, and when they are completely happy with the words, they start thinking about the art. So everyone has a different process, which is why every book has such a distinct look and feel. I love that everyone approaches book making differently.

I love the signs! My favorite is L for Library! Do you have a a favorite?

Thanks! 🙂

Library is a popular sign, especially with librarians, which is why I wish I could’ve included the sign for School, to honor the teachers. But I felt that a book that celebrates road signs needed to include the STOP sign, which may be the most iconic sign out there.

It is not my favorite one, though I love it.

My favorite is the US Route sign. Not only is it beautiful in its simplicity, but it conveys Americana to me-like a road trip along Route 66. It symbolizes freedom. It captures what I love about America-the high skies, the long roads and the endless land where anything is possible.

Check out Maria van Lieshout’s web site for more about her and her books! I think you’ll love her books and her style as much as I do!


2 responses »

  1. What a fun ABC book for the road! I’ll have to remember this one to give out as gifts since my own daughter is long past this age. Glad to hear there is an L for library sign. Great behind the scenes interview!

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