Introductory reading

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Here are introductory reading lists on designing reading materials for children. They cover legibility and typography, history, and designing for screen.

Legibility and typography

Watts, L. and Nisbet, J. (1974), Legibility in children’s books: a review of research. Slough: NFER Publishing Company Limited

  • This provides a good summary of legibility research relevant to the design of children’s books; it has a good bibliography of articles on legibility research.

Lund, O. (1999), Knowledge construction in typography: the case of legibility research and the legibility of sans serif typefaces. Unpublished PhD thesis, Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, The University of Reading.

  • This PhD thesis provides a more detailed summary of some of the material referred to in Watts and Nisbet (above). Its focus on sans serif types means that it provides a comprehensive bibliography in this area, though not all material covered is relevant to children’s books.

Zachrisson, B. (1965), Studies in the legibility of printed text. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wicksell

  • Zachrisson carried out a number of studies with school-age children that looked at various aspects of typography. Some of his studies are similar to those being carried out in the Typographic Design for Children Project.

Raban, B. (1982), 'Text display effects on the fluency of young readers.', Journal of Reading Research, vol 5, no. 1, pp.7-28

  • This article considers the effect of line breaks on children’s reading performance.

Sassoon, R. (1993) 'Through the eyes of a child - perception and type design'. In R. Sassoon (ed), Computers and typography. Oxford: Intellect Books

  • Rosemary Sassoon’s typeface ‘Sassoon Primary’ (and its variants) has had considerable impact within the field of educational publishing. This article refers to some of the research undertaken by Sassoon to show that Sassoon Primary is preferred by children in particular reading conditions.

Heller, S. (1995), 'Type play for kids.', Eye,vol.5, no. 19, pp.44-53

  • This short article reminds us that designing for children can be fun. It has many examples of inspired designing for children.

Walker, S. (1992). How it looks: a teacher’s guide to typography in children’s books. Reading: Reading and Language Information Centre and Department of Typography & Graphic Communication.

  • This basic introduction  draws attention to some of the issues that teachers should be aware of when they choose books for children to read

Edwards. V. and Walker, S. (1995), Building bridges: multilingual resources for children. Clevedon: Avon: Multilingual Matters

Walker, S., Edwards, V. and Blacksell, R. (1996), 'Designing bilingual books for children.', Visible Language, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 268-83

  • This book and article look particularly at problems in designing bilingual texts for children. They are concerned with texts that combine English with non-Latin scripts, such as Urdu, Panjabi, Bengali and Gujarati.


There is no comprehensive historical survey of typographic practice in children’s readers. Ian Michael’s The teaching of English - from the sixteenth century to 1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) is essential contextual reading, and it provides a comprehensive bibliography. R.L. Venezky ‘The history of reading research’. In D. Pearson, R. Barr, M.L. Kamil and P. Mosenthal, Handbook of Reading Research, 1, London:Longman, pp. 3-38, provides a good overview of work that has contributed to research about reading.

The following are helpful in getting a picture of some of the material being produced in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries:

Mason, J.H. (1913) 'The printing of children’s books.' ,The Imprint, no. 2, pp. 87-94

Morss, R.D. (1935) 'The neglected school book.', Monotype Recorder, vol. 34, no.2

Warde, B. (1950) 'Improving the compulsory book.', The Penrose Annual, vol 44, pp.37-40