Great Illustrated Books

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors

By Chris Barton, Illustrated by Tony Persiani

Charlesbridge, 2009
Pages : 42
Suggested Ages: 8-11
ISBN: 157091673X

Just when you think you’ve read about every possible subject, someone comes up with a biography about someone you never heard of who did something groundbreaking. Think Wilson “Willie” Bentley (who was the first person to photograph snowflakes, as described in Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, which won a Caldecott Medal for illustrator Mary Azarian). Then there’s Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (who was the first person to build life-sized models of dinosaurs, as described in The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, which won a Caldecott Medal for illustrator Brian Selznick). Now meet the brothers, Bob and Joe Switzer, who wanted to be a doctor and a magician, respectively, but ended up inventing Day-Glo paint. And it all came about because of an accident.

In Berkeley, California in 1933, 19-year-old Bob Switzer, working at a pickle and ketchup factory for a summer job, fell and hit his head. It affected his memory, so there went his plans for medical school. He had to stay home for months in the darkened basement. Joe, 15 months younger, was trying to jazz up his magic act with ultraviolet light that would make things glow in the dark. The two began to experiment with paints, secretly mixing them in their mother’s new kitchen mixer. “The results? Splattering, gooey, glowing paints. And once, when Mrs. Switzer surprised them before they could clean all the paint out of the mixer, a peculiar-looking angel food cake.” Kids will laugh at the picture of the boys’ mom, proudly holding a peculiarly pink confection (though the text doesn’t mention if anyone actually ate it). In 1935, they hit upon a formulation that didn’t need black lights to glow brightly. “By accident Joe and Bob had invented a totally new color.” They called it Fire Orange, the first of several colors they created.

This jaunty picture book bio provides an overview of their lives, discoveries, and ways Day-Glo colors helped the U.S. and its allies during World War II. The book, winner of a prestigious Sibert Honor for distinguished informational books for children, is itself illustrated in gorgeously gaudy Day-Glo colors and cheerful cartoon-style illustrations. In the back matter, you’ll find an explanation of how both regular and daylight fluorescence work, and an Author’s Note on how the author researched his two subjects. Readers will want to check out Popular Science, Joe Switzer’s favorite magazine, now online at

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Kerley, Barbara. The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins. Scholastic, 2001.

Krull, Kathleen. The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth. Knopf, 2009.

Krull, Kathleen. Houdini: World��s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King. Walker, 2005.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Snowflake Bentley. Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

McCully, Emily Arnold. Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor. Farrar, 2006.

Nobleman, Marc Tyler. Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. Knopf, 2008.

St. George, Judith. So You Want to Be an Inventor? Philomel, 2002.

Critics have said

"Barton clearly and crisply explains how the two young men managed to work together despite the fact that one wanted to be a magician and the other a physician. ... This engaging picture book makes a bright idea stand out even more."
The Washington Post