Typography for Children
by Ilene Strizver
Most children learn to read going letter-by-letter, learning which sounds go with which shapes until they can blend the sounds together to form words. This is why new readers proceed slowly and sometimes struggle with pronunciation and syllable stress.
The efforts of new readers can be supported by making sure their texts use inviting, easy-to-read typefaces, set in the most readable way.
When selecting a typeface for a children’s text, look for a warm, friendly design with simple, generous letter shapes. The counters (the enclosed shapes within characters) should be rounded and open, not angular or rectangular. Avoid non-traditional letterforms. A good example of a typeface with these attributes is Sassoon Primary, designed specifically for children.
Typefaces with larger x-heights are generally easier to read than those with short x-heights, and this is especially true for children. For very young readers, select designs with one-story ‘a’s and ‘g’s (also called infant characters), since these are the lowercase shapes preschool and school-age children learn to write. Save the two-story versions for more experienced readers.
Either sans or serif designs can be used as long as they avoid any extremes that could impair readability. For example:
• Don’t use condensed or expanded typefaces, which make character recognition more difficult.
• Select a book or medium weight; stay away from hairline or very bold weights.
• If you plan to use italics, make sure they too are easy-to-read, and not overly condensed or stylized.
Both the serifed Bembo Infant and Plantin Infant, as well as Gill Infant, a sans serif style, have been designed for children and exemplify the principles above.
Making the text readable
New readers have to learn to follow words from left to right and “jump” their eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. To make this easier, set the text large (14 to 24 point depending on the typeface and age of the reader) and with very generous leading (4 to 6 points).
Keep line lengths short, and don’t put too much text on a page. Dense blocks of type can be very intimidating to young readers. Avoid all cap settings, which are difficult for readers of any age!
Make sure there is ample contrast between the type and the background. This is especially true when setting light type against a dark background, as is common in heavily illustrated children’s books. When setting more than one paragraph on a page, consider using line-spaces instead of indents to separate paragraphs. This gives the text and the reader a visual break.
Headlines and Titles
Headline or title type gives you the opportunity to be more playful in style, color and layout, since there are fewer words to read. Decorated typestyles, lots of color, and curved and jumping baselines can all be used to attract and entertain the young reader. Keeping it light and fun is the key to keeping a young reader interested and turning pages.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.