A Lovely Vintage Children’s Concept Book About How the Imagination Works, Newly Discovered and Illustrated
A poetic game of possibility in the language of shape and color.
By Maria Popova
In the late 1950s, children’s book author Ann Rand collaborated with her then-husband, the graphic design legend Paul Rand, on a series of unusual and imaginative children’s books — Sparkle and Spin and I Know a Lot of Things. Even after they divorced in 1958, they continued working together and published the loveliest of their collaborations, Little 1, in 1961.
After Rand’s death in 2012, a marvelous unpublished manuscript of hers from the 1970s was discovered — a most unusual concept book, partway between graphic design primer, Norton Juster’s The Dot and the Line, and Umberto Eco’s vintage semiotic children’s books, exploring how our imagination combines lines and shapes to build an entire world.
Four decades later, this forgotten masterpiece is brought to life as What Can I Be? (public library) with stunning illustrations by painter and architecture professor Ingrid Fiksdahl King.
It is hardly a coincidence that King co-authored the 1977 architecture and urbanism classic A Pattern Language — a pioneering inquiry into how the elements of urban design and their arrangement form the patterns that compose the language of community livability. It is our ability to imagine, after all — to combining basic elements into a language of the possible — that makes life livable.
With simple, inviting words, Rand constructs a poetic game of possibility.
I’m thin or thick
but always straight as a stick
What might I be?
the mast of a ship
a jump rope held tight
the trunk of a very young tree
or the stem of a flower?
There are a hundred things
you could make of me
If I’m a line that’s not straight
If I wobble and weave
What could I be?
I can easily make
a splendid snake
or curl into a big lasso
I could be the ruffled edge of waves
on a stormy sea
But let’s see
what you can do with me
Complement the wondrous What Can I Be? with Shapes for Sounds, a visual history of the alphabet.
Illustrations courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press
Published May 10, 2016