Book covers, oh my!


Cover A

Design’s a pretty amazing thing in the world of children’s literature. I don’t think I’ve seen an ugly book for a long time. You know what I mean; the sort of book that looks at you and dares you to touch it. The sort of book that doesn’t, quite genuinely doesn’t want to be read.

I’ve talked before how I think we’re living in a golden age of children’s literature. About how the books that are coming out these days are rich, vivid, wild things that demand to be read. And I think it’s worthwhile to recognise the role that book covers play in that. So.

Cover B

A book cover is a brilliant thing. It’s the first part of the story that we, in a way, read. It’s the first thing we see and quite often our first interaction with the actual text.  And as such a thing, it needs to be something quite special.

It needs to stand out. It needs to be palpably of its book. There needs to be something there, on that cover, that says, quite irrevocably, you are about to read this book and I am part of that reading.

Cover C

Cover C

And I think, that sometimes, somehow, that the best ones don’t even need words. There’s an element, of course, of familarity to them – you understand the front covers because you’ve bought into that series. You are committed to the reading. But I think in a way that a good front cover is still identifiable without that actual reading of the book itself. It is an appetiser, if you will, the hors d’ouevres of what’s about about to come. And then, once you’ve experienced the world, it is the dessert, the icing on the cake, the sealing of the parcel. It’s got to be everything to everyone, before, after, and during the reading.So here’s a test for you and a bit of a nerdishly exciting experimentat for myself. Can you identify all of these covers in this post? And if you don’t know them – what do they suggest to you? What sort of book do they belong to?

(And if you do know them, are they the covers you’d have chosen?)

The answers are here. In Invisotext! (select and highlight from this point on). Cover A: The Kindle edition of the Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins), Cover B: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Hard Luck (Jeff Kinney), Cover C: The Hesperus Press reprint of The Railway Children (Edith Nesbit) 

Cover Analysis : The 100 most wished for books on Amazon

So, slightly prompted by this, and by my wish to revisit this, I took a look at the 100 most wished for books on Amazon and did a little bit of analysis.

The facts: I looked at this list on 9th September 2013, over a several hour period (ie: once in the morning before work, and once after). Therefore the actual order of items may have changed and will have changed if you look at it now. Also, remember that this is a list of those that are most wanted – not bestsellers.

So, with all that out of the way, I found this list ridiculously interesting.


It’s in order (1-100) and does include duplicates. The obvious ones are Patrick Ness’ ‘More Than This’ and a couple of the Wimpy Kids. It was dominated by Cassandra Clare, John Green, Julia Donaldson and Veronica Roth. There were several ‘media’ books on there such as the One Direction annual, a Lego tie-in and an In The Night Garden boxed set. A couple of film tie ins featured – the Mortal Instruments books and also the Hobbit.

But have a look at the colours.

I was surprised, really, at the darkness of the covers and the preponderance of reds and blues. Note that this list covers comics and graphic novels as well as picture books, so it’s very much an umbrella view rather than drilling down to say the specifics of front cover design in middle grade literature.

So what can we tell from this (incredibly precise) research?

Firstly you can tell that I’m in love with John Green’s cover designs. Seriously. And I think Patrick Ness’ front covers are up there too for me.

Secondly, I think the importance of ‘brand’ needs to be recognised. Have a look at the Cassandra Clare front covers. I won’t tell you which they are because, I think, you can recognise them. They’re quite iconic in their styling and consistent – and they do bring your attention to it. This is branding, consistent and swiftly identifiable across the titles in the series. Once you know the branding of these books, you know them. Same goes for Ally Carter and her Gallagher Girls books.

Thirdly, I don’t think anything from children’s literature is *quite* ready to appear in Private Eye’s ‘Bookalikes’ column! The diversity in style is impressive. Though I acknowledge that the colours are, as mentioned, of a distinctly similar hue, I’m struck by the difference between say ‘Diamond’ and ‘Wonder – two front covers which bookend their respective lines. There’s a commonality in that they both feature faces looking out but where ‘Diamond’ has the vivid, almost childlike edge of Sharratt’s drawings, ‘Wonder’ has an incredibly dynamic and almost stark image.

Fourthly, I need to know more about book cover designers. I need to know their names!  I think we forget just how good they are and can be. Book covers are, in so many cases, the ‘entry point’ to a text and these have made me swell my Goodreads’ ‘Want To Read’ pile to mammoth proportions. Which is good. It’s very, very good.

And finally? Well, I’d be interested to see whether a similar sort of colour spectrum emerges from the 100 bestsellers (which obviously I shall be doing a post in the near future).

I’m also very, very interested in the absence of obviously gendered front covers on this list. I know through chatting with some of my excellent colleagues on Twitter that it’s very easy to view colours as a sort of semiotic shorthand for character attributes and preconceptions and that’s something I’m keen to avoid. It’s also easy to map these preconceptions and your own experience onto the world of literature (ie: you ‘see’ X, so you expect X to be everywhere – I’m aware this might not make much sense but I will be elaborating on it in the near future) so it’s useful to do an exercise like this to remind oneself of alternate perspectives.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and buy John Green’s entire back catalogue.

A Dancer’s Dream

I felt that she’d have been even more pleased with my arabesque could she have seen it today. The beauty all around me did something to me inside. I can’t describe what it was, but it made me want to turn my arabesque into something better than it had been before. I wanted to express in my dancing the lovely effect of the sunlight flickering through the trees in the wood, the delicate green of the larches, the grace of the foxgloves growing on the Roman Wall that marched side by side with the road just here.” A Dream of Sadlers Wells (1972:87)

These covers are movement. Fine, delicate, romantic movement with the ballerina ever en pointe. Note the use of shadow, both rooting the physicality of the dancer and also the construction of her surroundings. The shadows in Dream and Masquerade, flatly interacting with the scene and in Dream, reflecting up in a sharp right angle and highlighting the false construction of reality she dances in. These are constructed covers that say so much; Dream is full of winsome hope, a dancer with hands clasped girlishly together whilst her lower body rises with expectant joy. She is mid-movement, an exuberance unmasked. Masquerade sees a dancer, poised very precisely on two feet, full of edge at being discovered, one hand held up in supplication as if to say stop here, come no further.  The light holding the dancer on Back-Stage, both frames her and holds her, trapping her as both performer and perfomee. It acts both as sunlight and stagelight and, as she twists to face us, asks us to consider if a dancer a dancer without an audience?

The covers of the Sadler’s Wells series in this run (we’ll call the Pan reprints naught but a bad dream) are so very ridiculously beautiful

Something kinda ooooooooh

Two things made me go oooh today (apart from my envious leanings towards somebody else’s lunch).

The first was this: 

(from here)

Is it not Amazing? I don’t know about you but I’m checking this out as soon as I can. A good front cover sells the book before you’ve even read a word – and this does that in shedloads.

The second ooh worthy moment was discovering this. Similarly Amazing. I’m in love with it. Whoever got in charge of their online presence is a freaking genius.  The more I discover brilliant things like this, the more I edge towards something brilliant for my own job. I love being inspired by the work that others are doing out there – and this has inspired me no end.