Friday, March 25, 2011

What Questions Must be Asked & Answered, Before Creating a Children's Book Cover?

Part 1
by Aidana WillowRaven

When contemplating what is needed for the cover of any given book, some basic rules apply to every design or composition. You need to know what the title is saying. You need to know what the title isn't saying. And you need to know to whom the author is saying or not saying the title.

For example, I will use a children's Easy Reader, I illustrated and designed, about a little boy and his day at the zoo. What is the title saying? What isn't the title saying? Who is the author saying it to? Let's look at it (I’ll be using 4RV Publishing’s Being Jacob: A Day at the Zoo by Suzy Koch):

What is the title saying? It's saying this story is about what life is like 'Being Jacob' and what happens when he spends 'A Day at the Zoo'. It may seem pretty basic, but I still have to mention it. Obviously, we need to see Jacob, the main character of the series, and we need to see something that is typically only seen at the zoo. Jacob, an exotic zoo type animal or two, and the enclosure to the animal's habitat, clearly depicts a kid not on safari, or in his back yard, but at a zoo. There could be more elements, but be careful not to over do a cover with too many objects or characters, especially for kids. We want to get the point across without over shadowing the title.

What isn't the title saying? It isn't saying Jacob is excited about a giraffe. That is a visual hint about something specific in the story. Yes, giraffes are typical to most zoos, and, yes, I could have drawn a gorilla family, but I chose the giraffes, specifically the mother and baby giraffes, because of a special situation in the story. Think of it as a subliminal message, in a way.

To whom is the author saying the title to? Look at the font (which should also match the genre and story – It's part of the over all piece). It's written much like a little kid would write. A bit sloppy, some letters over powering other letters, etc. The author (and publisher) want the smaller kids to relate to this cover. It looks like it's 'written for them, by one of them.' Look at the scene's colors. High contrast. Bright against dark. Kid's are naturally attracted to high contrast. People often mistake this idea to mean primary colors. That works, too, for some pieces and styles, but when a realism style is being used, 'real life' colors, just maybe intensified, should be used, too. We want the reader to see this boy as a 'real' kid, like them, not a cartoon character. Primary colors that are used in excess will give that cartoon impression, and will attract more preschoolers, rather than 6-8 year olds. Which comes to the last point: This book is targeting Easy Readers (also known as Early Readers). That is ages 6-8 or sometimes 8-10, depending on word count and the main character's age. The artist must know what attracts readers of what ages. What colors, what styles, what themes. The artist also needs to know who is ultimately buying that book. A parent. So they have to know how to catch his/her eye, too.

Next time (two Friday's from today), we'll look at a more advanced reader/genre, MG/YA (middle grade/young adult), and go over 'What Questions Must be Asked & Answered, Before Creating a Children's Book Cover?'. I’ll be using another book I designed, and did the cover art for, 4RV Publishing’s Just Breeze by Beverly Stowe McClure, for the example. 

Aidana WillowRaven
Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing


  1. I love hearing about what goes into a cover design. Thank you!

  2. Great article, Aidana! It hits the mark.


  3. Both of these covers have always held my attention. It is interesting to hear how Being Jacob's cover evolved and I look forward to the next.

  4. Thanks, everybody.

    I think there is a special challenge involved in a cover illustration vs an interior page illustration. The cover has to say more than just one scene, sometimes. At least, that is what I try to accomplish ... saying more than the obvious.

    I have planned three parts to this topic, hope you guys keep a look out for the next two posts I do (I post every other Friday).

  5. I never realized how much thought and work went into the cover of a book until I met you, Aidana. You explain it so well. Now, when I look at a book, your words come back to me. Great article.

  6. Enjoyed your article, Aidana. Now the cover you did for our book seems even more special!

  7. Thanks, guys. I'll be posting the second part of this series of posts today. Hope you catch it.