The Flight 1-2-3 Trifecta

Colby Sharp's blog is the first stop on your Flight 1-2-3 itinerary. 

The Nerdy Book Club is the second stop on your itinerary.  Author-illustrator Maria van Lieshout is today's nerdy blogger. 

Mr. Schu: Scenario: A Twitter-obsessed school librarian asks you to booktalk Flight 1-2-3 in 140 characters. 

Maria van Lieshout: One little boy, two parents, three airline tickets. 20 cool signs on 32 colorful pages. Countless adventures for readers aboard FLIGHT 123!!

Mr. Schu: Please tell us about your interest in signs.

Maria van Lieshout: My son Max actually started pointing at signs when he was just one! I had always loved road signage, and when I started researching them, I discovered babies love simple, high-contrast graphics with bold, primary colors, which is why I believe he had such a strong reaction to them.

I also learned that most traffic signs were designed by a group of AIGA graphic designers headed by the famous American designer Seymour Chwast and that they received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence from President Reagan. We don’t usually give much thought to the signs around us, but if you study them, you will find they are incredibly well designed! They communicate so clearly and are so simple and elegant. Like all great design, they feel like they belong, like they are an integral part of their surroundings.

Seymour Chwast actually sent me an email after the publication of Backseat A-B-See to tell me how much he liked the book. I was so excited about this email! It felt like the thing that Max started had come full circle somehow.

Mr. Schu: Three reasons I enjoy visiting airports:

a.   I am fascinated by which children’s books are for sale in airport bookshops.

b.    The departure/arrival gate is the best place to check out what people are reading in the wild.

c.    It is the perfect place to eavesdrop.

What do you enjoy about airports?

a.  The signage! Every airport’s signage is slightly different and its design says a lot about the sensibilities of that country (or city).

San Francisco Airport has a Yoga Room (of course they do!). There is a pretty cool sign for this!

And Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam has the world’s first Airport Library! They also have an Annex of the city’s RijksMuseum with paintings by the Dutch Masters. Check out the signs for these!

b.  When I am with my son, I love riding the airport train (SFO has an awesome train). He loves watching the planes land and take off from while riding the train!

c.  Every airport has one of those cheesy souvenir shops. Whenever I visit a new place, I like to buy the gaudiest, cheesiest souvenir in those shops. I make Christmas ornaments out of them for our tree.

Mr. Schu: If we visited your studio, what would we see? 

Maria van Lieshout: The first thing you would see is a bold red STOP sign that I bought at a garage sale. The second thing is Lola, a vintage mannequin I bought from a shop that went out of business. Lola keeps me company during the long days when I work in my studio on my books.

One thing you would not see much of is my walls. We live in 2-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, and my studio (which is part of the living room) is crammed with artwork, books, shelves, Pantone color chips, paint swabs, brushes, computer prints…

I usually fill my walls with artwork from the book I am currently working on, and by the time I am working on the last stages, all my walls are filled!

Mr. Schu: I am a huge fan of Flight 1-2-3’s unique spine. It is the first thing my students pointed out when I booktalked it.

Maria van Lieshout: I LOVE that spine. I wish I could take credit for it, but my awesome Chronicle Designer came up with that idea. 

Mr. Schu: Please complete the following sentence starters...

Picture books are often ahead of their time. I recently went to visit the Ezra Jack Keats exhibit here in San Francisco with my pal Lisa Brown, and we were struck that he was so ahead of his time. Not just by what and who he chose to paint/write about, but his use of mixed media/collage was so innovative. We realized it was like stuff we are doing today with computers and Photoshop, but he did it before anyone else...without a computer! 

Of course it's impossible to say (yet) which of today's picture books are ahead of their time, but I will venture to say that Jon Klassen's books make us rethink the genre and its rules (actually, he reminds us there are no rules). To me they are a perfect example of Mac Barnett's Picture Book Manifesto
Reading is my lifeline.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me…

"Maria, will you meet us for coffee, an almond croissant and some questions at the corner bakery?" But I forgive you, as long as you agree to meet for coffee when we find ourselves in the same place sometime.

I am giving away a copy of Flight 1-2-3

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 3/17 to 11:59 P.M. on 3/19. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Borrow Flight 1-2-3 from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


  1. Thanks for always providing such amazing information! I am so happy that I went to LACUE, heard Leslie Fisher, started tweeting, found YOU!
    Groovy stuff.....even groovier people who love to share the LOVE of reading!!!!


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