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The Swing Set: Alphabeasties and Numeric Nsects

Written by in Profiles

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{ON THE READING LIST: Bugs by the Numbers By Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss}

Alphabeasties began not as a children’s book but as a pro bono assignment for the 2008 Type Director’s Club (TDC) call for entries and Annual Competition. Werner Design Werks’ first concept they submitted was not well received. Competition Chairman Matteo Bologna of Mucca Design urged Werner and Forss to give it another shot.  Their solution hit the bulls-eye. Matteo Bologna recalls the story with his inimitable hyperbole:

“Their first idea for the Type Director’s Club poster sucked! [Matteo exaggerates] It looked like they did it in five minutes. [Matteo exaggerates] And in an evening of heavy drinking [Matteo is loose with the truth] Sharon confessed me that actually was designed by an intern (in five minutes) [Matteo is loose with the truth] and she didn’t even had time to review it because she had to [pick up the laundry]. Then after the club promised to ban her from the designer’s mafia [Matteo exaggerates] she finally decided to ask Sarah to abstain from [macramé] (‘at least until breakfast, please’) [Matteo is loose with the truth] and to do something that would impress her design colleagues. Now Barnes & Noble is infested by these alphanumeric animals whose molecules are made by crawling glyphs that for some strange reasons are liked by parents and even more strangely by their children. [Matteo does not exaggerate here]”**

 

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TDC board loved it. And so did Harriet Ziefert at Blue Apple Books. Sharon and Sarah learned some lessons about children’s publishing. “When I sent the first layouts in to Blue Apple we were told that they were like MOMA coffee table books. They were too refined and too precious. They needed to be more interactive and kid-friendly,” recalls designer/author Sharon. Ziefert agreed: “Sharon and Sarah took our editorial direction…no problem!  They realized I knew more about what was appropriate for kids than they did.  I was not about to publish a coffee table book for kids…the content had to be right.”

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Sharon says her and partner Sarah Forss’ goal was to teach the alphabet and type. But aside from kids like Chip Kidd, who would want such a thing? Says Sharon, “We sent the book off not knowing if it would do well. Our hopes were based only on faith.”

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Werner Design Werks’ instincts have served others well, including 3M, Target, Moët Hennessey, and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day. They were right again for Blue Apple Books: Alphabeasties started getting talked about on the blogs. Then a respected librarian’s group gave the book a positive review. Next, Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review.  Such attention is unusual for a book, unheard of for a first book. A companion activity book and flash card series were developed. Then came the request to bring the bugs into the house—nothing icky about it.

Bugs by the Numbers is so new not many comments have posted, the one parent who did write Amazon offered this insight:

It turns out the authors have taken a different approach than what we usually see in these books. First, it’s definitely not “just another counting book”. And it could be argued that this book is more about bugs than numbers. Each page, instead of focusing on a single number, focuses on an insect and then offers numerous numeric-related facts about that number.

Alphabeasties, the result of a second attempt to satisfy type snobsin New York City, has paid dividends. It became one of the talked-about books that made it a “must-have” among knowing parents. No one wants to be left off that list. So even if your kid hates math, she’s got to be fascinated by well-drawn bugs. Sharon and Sarah are counting on that fascination, too. It will only lead to huge numbers of numeric bugs crawling into the lives and homes of children and parents nationwide. Concludes Harriet Ziefert at Blue Apple Books, “The bug book and cards are as good as alphabeasties…which is not always the case with sequels.  We are now moving on to dinosaurs!”

We are looking forward to the animated feature.

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**Later, Matteo Bologna asked if he could clarify his previous statement. We knew he couldn’t so we let him: “To be historically fair, I really liked the first proposals [submitted to TDC] by my Minnesotan colleagues, but the board of TDC disliked it (read: puked after they saw it). Therefore, if Sharon and Sarah are in Monte Carlo sipping mimosas on the deck of their 150-feet boat, swimming in a pool of royalty’s checks it is not thanks to me.”

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