Project updates

Non-fiction November: Marie Neurath flying high

The Federation of Children’s Book Groups theme for Non-fiction November is ‘Transport and Travel around the World’ and this seems an ideal opportunity to share some of Marie Neurath’s work.

I became aware of non-fiction November at the IBBY conference ‘A world of information: children’s non-fiction books in the digital age’ in London on 9 November 2019.  I was delighted to give a paper about ‘Creativity, colour and collaboration: designing information books for children in the mid-20th century’. Marie Neurath was one of the designers I discussed and it seems appropriate to introduce some of her transport and travel images here.

What’s new in flying? published in 1957.

From the inside front flap of the dust jacket:

‘This book describes many of these new ideas, from a tiny collapsible plane you can pump up with a vacuum cleaner to the gigantic tanker plane which will refuel four fighters at once in mid-air.’

‘How these strange aircraft work is explained in the famous Isotype drawings which use colour to help you to understand, and in clear and simple words – and greatest care has been taken to make them correct.’



Marie Neurath: Picturing Science exhibition at the House of Illustration

An insight into the beginnings of information design [that] no doubt influence designers today. Design Week

A watershed in information design for children. David Benmayer

Listen to review by Alice Rawsthorn on BBC Radio London’s Robert Elms Show [Skip to 2.17.15]

The collection

The collection, given to the University of Reading by Marie Neurath in 1971, is the most comprehensive archive of the work of the Isotype movement, documenting methods of designing and disseminating data that have played a major role in twentieth-century graphic design thinking.

The exhibition

This exhibition is about the work of Marie Neurath and her colleagues at the Isotype Institute in London. They produced over 80 illustrated children’s books between the end of the 1940s and the start of the 1970s. The books are the result of close collaboration between scientists, illustrators and writers.

The process

Marie Neurath was involved in all stages of the work, as demonstrated by the remarkable materials in the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection at the University of Reading. The collection contains source materials, correspondence, drawings, and specifications for print that together show how the books were made.

The techniques

Visual techniques used by Marie Neurath include Magnification, Cross-section and Sequencing. Despite being unrealistic and seemingly fantastical, these techniques, used to break down complex subjects, are what made her communication of scientific subjects to children and adults so clear and effective.

Work in progress

The exhibition was curated by Sue Walker and Eric Kindel from the University of Reading, Anne Odling-Smee from Design Science and Olivia Ahmad and Katie Nairne from the House of Illustration.

House of Illustration

The exhibition at House of Illustrationwill display books from several children’s book series, including ‘Wonder world of nature’ and ‘Wonders of the modern world’, and materials that explain the process of designing. Also on display will be materials created for use in schools today, based on Marie Neurath’s illustrations.

The exhibition will run 19 July – 3 November 2019.

Designing the books . . .


Our project draws on material from the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection.  This collection holds copies of all the children’s books produced the Marie Neurath and her team when they were working in London in the 1950s and 1960s.

We are also fortunate to have archival material that tells us how the books were designed.  We know, for example, that it involved teamwork – writers, editors and illustrators working together. This table shows the roles and some of the people involved in the making of the Visual History series (1948):

 VH process table

The archives contain correspondence, notes, sketches, dummies of books, often annotated by Marie Neurath, that evidence the stages in the design process. We will display some of this material at the ‘Picturing Science’ exhibition at House of Illustration in summer 2019.

You can read more about Marie Neurath’s working method in this paper by Sue Walker:


First project workshop with teachers


At our first workshop the project team met with teachers and trainee teachers from Reading’s Institute of Education to look at some of the books produced by Marie Neurath and her team.

We wanted to find out from teachers how the illustrations in the books could be used in primary classrooms today.

We had an excellent and fruitful brainstorming session.  In small groups, we looked at  books including from the Wonder World of Nature, Visual Science series. Groups identified images or design approaches that could be explored further. Each group came up with examples of teaching materials that would benefit from the illustrations.

We are now using the ideas from this workshop to develop resources for testing with children and teachers in our pilot schools in the new year. Our ‘teacher group’ will be on hand to comment on and advise throughout the project to make sure that what we produce takes account of what is needed in the classroom.