Explanation Graphics 2.0



Nigel Holmes’ “explanation graphics” in Time Magazine in the 80’s and 90’s were my introduction to what is now commonly referred to as infographics. Nigel’s clever graphic solutions that infused statistics with meaning and grabbed readers’ attention with its visual charm, made me want to do them too! As a freelance illustrator and magazine art director/designer I did on occasion create charts, graphs, and illustrated maps. As with Nigel Holme’s work, the new crop of infographics sprouting up everywhere around the interwebs has once again captured my attention and inspired me to want to try my hand at it.

At School Library Journal where I am the art director, I was asked to commission an infographic based on findings from a recent technology survey. I quickly discovered that this is a specialty field and it wasn’t going to be as easy finding a “data visualizer” as it is to find an illustrator or graphic artist. Many infographics do not include artist credits which I began to realize meant that the work was collaborative in-house (organization) or agency efforts.

So I tackled this one myself (with the support of SLJ‘s editors of course, and our in-house researcher who provided and helped parse the data). I learned a lot about the process. A good infographic in my opinion is a combination of appealing graphics and illustration, and provocative, succinct writing. But at the heart of an infographic, I believe, is data visualization—delivering information to the reader in a way that provides context, gives meaning, and is memorable.

Think Global, Design Local

GoldenFarm3Ten years ago, we moved to Kensington, a neighborhood right in the center of Brooklyn N.Y. With no car, we were grateful for a certain conveniently located grocery store with a wide selection of international foods and decent prices. But we quickly realized that Golden Farm was far from golden. Some examples: Customers attempting a return for any reason were always refused. It often got heated; on occasion perishable foods were on the verge of their expiration date and fruit would never last more than a day or two after purchase; the cashiers never gave you your receipt unless you asked for it; and I had my own run-ins with the store management, most notably when they tried to charge me for a small container of hummus that fell and broke open in-store, that was arguably not even my fault. But did I mention that the store was convenient and had no real competition?


So if they treat their customers badly can you imagine how they treat their workers? The community found out about a year ago when workers sued the store’s owner claiming (among other violations) that they were being paid well-below the legal minimum wage. Community groups stepped up to help represent the workers, and a unionizing effort was initiated. Read all about it here.  A big boycott ensued. Some progress was made and the boycott was called off. But that wasn’t the end of it…

Heading home recently on a late summer evening, my twin girls who are three, wanted ice cream. I  turned the corner where Golden Farm is located. That’s when I discovered the boycott was back on again. Eleanor, a community organizer (see Facebook post at left) was there. We started talking and she filled me in on the latest. I offered my design services. She took my info. And the girls and I went across the street to the pharmacy and bought our ice cream there.

That night I created some designs for buttons that are now circulating around the neighborhood. I am happy to be able to contribute to a good cause within my local community and to support the workers. And for me, this all started with a small container of hummus…

Going Under Cover


Photo by Brownie Harris.


Photo by Karen Shell.

In 2005 School Library Journal introduced a monthly interview column called ‘Under Cover.’ The page was to be a short, conversational interview paired with a quirky photo portrait—a friendly introduction to mostly up-and-coming authors and their new books.

The first ‘Under Cover’ subject was a new author named Stephenie Meyer whose book, ‘Twilight,’ was getting a lot of buzz. She was in Arizona, and so I contacted Karen Shell, a great photographer in the area. Karen, Stephenie, and I began an email correspondence about the project and we discussed infusing concept into the portrait. Stephenie nailed it, posing with an apple (from the cover of her novel) and dressed in a sleek vampire-black outfit.

NBishopStephenie Meyer with her debut novel, and a three-book contract already inked, was off to a great start, and so was our ‘Under Cover ‘column. Within a year we had interviewed and photographed Gene Yang, Jonathan Stroud, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch, Emily Gravett, Philip Reeve, and John Green, among others! In 2008  Suzanne Collins appeared on the page being interviewed about her new book, The Hunger Games. After a while it didn’t matter if the author was new or already established—‘Under Cover’ became our monthly format for short, energetic, interviews with authors of great, new books.

What I enjoyed most about these shoots, whether I art directed remotely or in-person, was the collaboration between myself, the author, and the photographer. A great example of this was when  enthusiastic and irrepressible Australian photographers Ivan Lee and Nic Bishop came up with a far-fetched plan involving spider webbing—lots of it—as Nic Bishop’s beautiful new photography book was about spiders. This may be my favorite ‘Under Cover’ photo ever because of Ivan and Nic’s commitment to going so completely over-the-top!

See more ‘Under Cover’ samples here.


Battle Plan 2013


Five years ago, Monica Edinger and Roxanne Feldman of the Dalton School approached School Library Journal with an idea for a “March Madness” of children’s books—basically an online elimination tournament where 16 books are paired up , and after a series of matches, one book emerges victorious . The contest aspect was just a gimmick—a quirky and engaging way for Monica and Roxanne to share and discuss great books. SLJ accepted and the Battle of the Kids’ Books was born.


Rick Margolis, who was the senior editor at the time, was enthused about this new project, and suggested contacting big-name authors as judges. This was a stroke of genius because it ensured many wonderfully entertaining write-ups per battle. The judges in the first year included: Jon Scieszka, Tamora Pierce, John Green, Lois Lowry, Meg Rosoff, Coe Booth, Elisabeth Partridge, and more! A ‘Who’s Who’ of kid lit! And they did not disappoint. Many of the new books Monica and Roxanne chose in 2009 are classics now: The Graveyard Book, The Hunger Games, Octavian Nothing Vol II, We Are the Ship, etc.

I created graphics for the micro site. My plan was to keep them simple as a personal challenge, and also as a practical matter! So I drew anthropomorphized books that were basically rectangles with skinny arms and legs, and I made them in Adobe Illustrator, using a mouse. Here, at right,  is the first BoB logo from 2009.

And although the artwork has gotten more elaborate from year to year, they’re ultimately still the same rectangles with appendages.