Motifs - Notebook Paper

by Edie Ziebel

We all know the saying “a picture paints a thousand words”. I think a motif has even more to say! A motif is a sort of graphic shorthand. An element that brings other associations to mind. It not only reminds us of other things, it can evoke powerful emotions, often without the acknowledgement of the “perceiver”.

Tactile paper is familiar to us all, even in this ever-increasing digital age. Notebook paper evokes so many things. School of course, and lots of other learning associations. Some good. It’s the canvas we used when learning to write! Some less so - tests!

Growing up, I remember it was a big deal to “graduate” through the stages of lined paper. Starting from learning to write in first and second grade with every other line dashed to reign in those wayward x-heights. From there onto what we referred to as “regular” notebook paper with evenly spaced light blue lines. When or when would our hand writing be under enough control to fit into the “college ruled” with the narrower lines?

While working on the Hello Reader! line of leveled readers while an art director at Scholastic, Inc. we often developed new sub-lines (such as Hello Math Reader!, Hello Science Reader!) or published mini “series” within the line. Scholastic, with its red bar logo on the front cover on all its books (save the high-end jacketed hardcovers) took its logo seriously.

For the “First Grade Friends” series, written by Grace Maccarone and illustrated by Caldecott honor winner Betsy Lewin, we used a strip of notebook paper across the top of each cover. The notebook paper extended behind our Hello Reader! logo. It holds the series logo together with the line logo, helping them work together as a unit, giving a cohesion to the series. The use of notebook paper sets the scene, the kids on the cover are in school.

MISS ALAINEUS by Debra Frasier is a unique picture book whose artwork is made to look like its been created by a student, on notebook paper. You can see the lines on the light areas. The artwork uses primary colors in magic markers with a bit of cut-and-paste. The story told is school-based and our heroine is learning all the way!

Perhaps the most familiar, popular, and oh-so-current use of the notebook paper motif is the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series. I consider this series an ultimate example of the DIY impulse that is so prevalent in today’s design and especially publishing venue. In this case the notebook evokes not just school and learning, but obviously the hand-written diary as well. It’s used on every page! Further, on the covers, we see more motifs - hand written fonts! torn edges! binding element! transparent tape! We’re tapping into our inner scrap booker!

About the Author


From baby books, to chapter books, through middle grade readers and young adult books, Edie Ziebel has designed and art directed over 1,000 books. Edie has worked at several major publishing houses and has always been a freelance designer throughout her career. She has collaborated with outstanding, award-winning illustrators as well as newcomers to the field, helping them to create compelling books for young readers. To help nurture talent, Edie volunteers with the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference, which she has co-chaired for the past 3 years.

With experience in trade, mass-market, and educational publishing, Edie will bring the appropriate design to your project. Specializing in books for very young children, Edie can help you develop illustrated books, guiding the development of the artwork itself, as well as the layout and pacing to make your story jump off the page. Edie’s also has collaborated on many different types and formats of novelty books, she can really think "outside the box".

Her experience working with licensed properties can help you create a character that stands out in the crowded license marketplace. She can develop style guides to help keep characters consistent whether you continue to create  their books or have others extend your line.

Edie’s time in educational publishing helped develop her informational graphic skills, helping authors bring home their point to readers in a clear, graphic manner. She’s also designed books and materials targeted towards teachers. 

Bringing a sensitivity to typography and layout to all her book projects, Edie Ziebel can bring the best out of you!


"She is intelligent, concise, has a good eye for detail and a great sense of humor."

"Edie one of my favorite art directors ever. We worked on a number of wonderful books together at Cartwheel, a Scholastic imprint. She is imaginative, creative, inspirational and a pure pleasure to work with. I repeat, one of the best!"

"Edie is a phenomenal organizer who’s able to juggle many projects at once, and she manages schedules and people with ease. She was well-loved by her staff, and all the freelance designers and artists she worked with. I was lucky to have her on my team. A strong designer of both upscale trade and mass-market children’s books--a rare combination—I don’t think I ever once saw her lose patience or become flustered."

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