The text is in, the pages are in layout, a friend of mine is making a trailer for the book, and I've found myself at the curious and challenging point of needing a book cover. I can't think of any part of this process that has caused me consternation or that I want more to get right.
I always judge a book by it's cover, especially kids' books. A cover could be the difference between "I Ain't Gonna Paint No More" and "I Like Myself." Same author, same illustrator, same style (single character on a single-colored background, two cute little kids in rapture of childhood. But the former is engaging and the latter turns me off. Why? It's the background color. Kind of sickly magenta-mauve. Also, the cover gives no indication of the little girl's main storyline. She could be jumping with glee for any number of reasons.
The book market is just that -- the place where people make choices about how to spend their time and money and what to invest in emotionally (especially with books). So making a cover is an emotional choice. The options about. Choose an image from inside the book and turn it into a cover? Make a new one? Do a close-up of an image? Have just the character and a few items on the cover? Make it busy in order to attract attention? Make is simple in order to get just a few ideas across?
"There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts." -- Charles Dickens
So I decided to take a look at some of my favorite recent children's picture books to see if I can notice anything important. This was no hard task. We are swimming in picture books. But I decided to pick just a few that I love that had one over-arching idea or element: A character who drives the story of the book and its images. Here's what I came up with and what I took from each book.
Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi
This one has been a real winner in our house lately, for its perfect, simple rhymes and full-color images of bugs. This cover works for me because of the googly-eyed gaze of the bugs at the reader. As in, you may think you're watching the bugs, but they are watching you, too! Extra points for the author and illustrator name looking like field notes.
Cake Girl by David Lucas
No one I meet seems to know about Cake Girl, but it is my all-time favorite picture book. It's about a witch who is having a party for herself for her birthday so she makes a girl out of cake to do all of the chores and to eat when she's finished. But Cake Girl is clever, teaching the witch about loneliness and happiness and how friendship can soothe the soul. The cover is perfect -- it showcases the gingerbread loveliness of the author/illustrator's style, the curiosity of the witch, the slight fear of the Cake Girl. Also, cake on the cover. Made out of a person. Perfection!
Sparky ! by Jenny Offill
I adore this relatively new release by Jenny Offill. it's the most simple cover I have in the lot, and it does a lot of work. The contrast between the name, Sparky!, and the wet blanket sloth is enough to illicit a snicker. It might have worked more for me if the main character, such a strong presence in the book, also had a role here; but this cover seems designed to appeal to people who love sloths. And these days, that's a lot of people!
Where's my T.R.U.C.K. by Karen Beaumont
This book gets a lot of action in our house, mostly because I am obsessed with its illustrator, David Catrow, and will read absolutely anything and everything his work has touched. So while I'll likely never get David Catrow, I will say that the character's face (Tommy, in the book) has exactly the expression on his face that launches the book's quest. It's a simple move, but a powerful one. Who hasn't lost something he/she has loved? The setting is clearly defined as well: At home, lots of toys, weird, weird toys at that, and missing the one toy in the world that matters.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
This one takes place in a stark snow-covered landscape, mostly neutral tones except for the yarn. So it makes brilliant sense to have the book's title be in the same texture and colors as the little girl's sweaters and cozies. She spends most of the book covering everything around her, people, objects, pets, weird neighbors, with cozies. It's adorable. Cover perfection.
Hush Little Dragon, by Boni Ashburn
This one, about a mother-son dragon attack on a sleepy castle, was a hit for three straight years in our household. I love the character's expressions -- note to self: Have the character feeling a specific emotion on the cover that could entice people to follow their journey.
Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
I don't love this cover, but I find it compelling. I love the shades of greens and the brightness of the orange tiger. I adore the incongruence of the tiger in a top hat in a jungle setting. It makes you wonder just how this tiger is going to let loose! Yes, perhaps that's it -- all of the questions this cover poses for the reader, inviting you to turn the page.
So what have I learned from this exercise? Well, I know I want Tessa on my cover, and I want her to have a specific emotion on her face, maybe that of elation. Hence: Tessalation! I need her to be in the setting where the book takes place, perhaps in the house at the beginning of the book, or maybe in one of the natural settings as the book progresses. I'd like the cover to pose a question that the story will answer. And I want something in the cover to surprise, to look like nothing else. Perhaps there is a way to capture the main feeling of the story on the cover!
I was on the fence about asking my illustrator to do a cover image for me, but I think there's no question now. Back to the drawing board!
What would you like to see on the cover of Tessalation!? A tessellating pattern, a close-up of Tessa, Tessa in an environment?
Emily Grosvenor, author of Tessalation!, a children's book about tesselations and patterns in nature.