As an artist and book designer, Ellen Raskin supervised every aspect of the book’s production, working very closely with the art director, Riki Levinson. Raskin took special care to make her novels readable and inviting to children by assuring there was a lot of white space on each page and by making certain that her books never got to be more than 200 pages long.
When The Westing Game was first printed, the binder mistakenly trimmed it 1/4″ short which made the printed pages look very tight, especially to an artist’s eye. The original first printing was completely shredded and the book was reprinted at the binder’s expense. These two scans show a comparison of the way the same page looks in both printings. The difference is also noticeable in the cropping at the top and on the upper right side of the jacket that’s been cut to fit the smaller size book.
Page Design Sketches
Raskin specifically designed her books with young readers in mind. She firmly believed, for example, that the width of side margins should equal the length of an average eleven year old’s thumb, so that a child could easily hold a book open without covering up any type. She also planned plenty of page breaks so that their eyes would have a chance to rest. Here we see samples of sketches she made for the art director, showing exactly how she wanted the pages to look, with different types of breaks such as bullets, excerpts, and chapter headings.
The typographer submitted sample pages to the author so she could see how her specifications looked in print. Raskin made corrections in red pencil and changes in blue.
Once the type was set, Raskin had one more chance to improve the design when she received the galleys, or page proofs, showing how the final printed pages would look. On the proof of page one shown below, you can see how the author actually did some minor rewriting at this point, simply to avoid multiple line breaks in the middle of words, which she felt looked awkward and were hard for children to read, and to avoid having the same two capital letters at the beginning of the first two lines. While most authors don’t make changes in wording at this point in a book’s production, Raskin did so in order to enhance design and legibility. Page one from the published book is also pictured here for easy comparison.
Title Page Designs
The sketches below show three different approaches to title page design. The one on the left uses typographic symbols, one of Raskin’s favorite illustrative devices. The sketch in the center echoes the jacket art by showing a detailed black-and-white drawing of the Westing house. Raskin finally chose to combine the two ideas in the sketch on the far right, by using the house and by playfully extending one of the typographic symbols across the double-page spread. It was the sketch on the right that became the basis for the final title page.
Jacket Art and Typography
Raskin’s working notes show that from the time she first began working on the novel, she was already thinking about how the jacket would look. A very early sketch of the jacket, shown below at the far left, does not vary significantly from the first full-color sketch (below, second from the left) she submitted later to her editor, Ann Durell. This sketch, in turn, remained pretty much the same in the finished jacket (below, far right). While Raskin continued making changes in the type that would be used on the jacket, she always maintained two central images: fireworks exploding above a house made of money.