The National Book Festival began in 2001 as a joint project of former first lady Laura Bush and the Library of Congress. A career librarian and a native of Texas, Bush proposed a national literacy event building on the success of the Texas Book Festival. Her idea took off: the National Book Festival has taken place every year since 2001 in Washington, D.C., attracting more than a million visitors in total. This year’s festival will take place on September 2 at the Washington Convention Center.
One much-loved feature of the festival is the unique poster commissioned for each. Texas artist Lu Ann Barrow painted a folklore-style poster art for the first festival. Designed with children in mind, it aims to convey the wonder of reading through a scene in which family, friends and pets enjoy one another and good books on a day out. For years afterward, festival posters followed that model—artists from diverse personal and stylistic backgrounds communicated a love for reading to kids.
In 2014, nationally acclaimed illustrator Bob Staake was asked to do something a little different: to design a poster with appeal to adults and children alike, one that bridged age gaps while being colorful and uplifting. He depicted a green quarter-moon with a stocking cap happily “staying up late with a good book,” the festival’s theme that year, setting a new standard for festival posters.
Until 2013, artists submitted their designs to the Library as physical works—paintings in watercolor, acrylic or oil. That year, Suzy Lee submitted the first digital design, a large tree hosting ladybugs, frogs, rabbits, bears and other creatures interacting with patterned books.
Below Library staff members comment on their favorite posters. Read their comments and then check out the posters on your own. Crowds of festival-goers have warmly welcomed each one of them, so you are sure to find something you like. Feel free to download and reproduce any of the posters!
Jamie Bresner, Art Director, Web Services
It’s tough to choose a favorite, but I really like Peter de Sève’s 2015 poster showing a young girl’s relationship with books and the story it tells of reading book after book.
Jennifer Gavin, Festival Director, 2010–14
My favorite is the 2010 oil painting by illustrator Peter Ferguson, showing a young girl curled up in a cozy armchair, enraptured by the book she is reading, while famous characters from world-renowned books gather all around her, reading over her shoulder. It’s the looks on these characters’ faces—fascination, puzzlement, astonishment—that make me smile: Frodo and Treebeard, Cyrano de Bergerac and Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn and Jim, Hester Prynne, Captain Ahab, the Dodo and the Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland” and several other lit-critters. But most of all, it’s me in that chair—me at about age 9. I could really relate to that poster!
Ashley Jones, Graphic Designer, Communications Office
It’s hard to pick a favorite poster. Each poster visually captures a celebration of the written word in a unique manner. But I really enjoy the whimsical imagery of the 2012 poster illustrated by Rafael López. The animals practically leap off the page.
Guy Lamolinara, Communications Officer, Center for the Book, Festival Co-Director, 2015–16
My favorite poster is from 2016, with the readers on a gondola. I especially like it because it has broad appeal for both adults as well as kids. It symbolizes how books can take you anywhere, and when I look at it I think of traveling to Venice—my favorite city in the world.
Faye Levin, Festival Volunteer Coordinator, 2005–07, 2010–17
My favorites include Gennady Spirin’s 2006 poster—the picture is perfect as books do take us to distant places, introduce us to new people and let us enter worlds we might never know. The fact that the poster also captures the magic of the National Mall (former home of the festival) is an added bonus. In terms of a sheer fun, Rafael López’s 2012 poster gets my vote. The children with their faces buried in books, the charming collection of animals and the hot-pink color make me smile every time I walk by the poster—the festival posters are all framed and line the walls of our pool-table room at home.
David Rice, Graphic Designer, Copyright Office
Rafael López’s 2012 poster is a harmonious blend of vibrant illustration and functional graphic design. The colorful and fanciful characters guide the viewer from the giraffe’s nose sniffing at the Library of Congress logo, down to the National Book Festival information, onward to the three kids immersed in their books. I’m sure every kid and adult has a creature on this poster that he or she is drawn to.
Natalie Buda Smith, User Experience Supervisor, Office of the Chief Information Officer
The 2016 poster, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, is my absolute favorite. Her work is very graphic and contemporary and quite different from the styles chosen previously. Our team created some animations from her illustrations that were very fun to make. We also created many of the graphics used on the book festival app. It was a pleasure to use Shimizu’s engaging work. I have the poster hanging in my office to remind me of the wonderful and meaningful work we do at the Library.
For more about National Book Festival posters, check out our Pinterest board!