Words have always mattered to me. They are conjurors, sparking thoughts, images and connections in our minds. The way they are assembled together makes a difference, pivoting tone and meaning in a moment and, despite their objectivity in themselves, can be interpreted differently by different people.
In this way words are both immoveable and changeable in the same breath. Pretty fascinating, in my opinion.
Words are woven into the very fabric of our existence. They allow us to express our inner invisible selves and give us a way to connect with others. It is in this way that words overlap with art. Art, although it often includes words, is a visual or sensory expression that goes beyond the written or the spoken. It embraces colour, taste, light, shadow, vibration, texture and scent.
For me, the combination of words and art to capture our imaginations and tell stories is a glorious thing, and that is why I love book art and illustration.
The old saying of never judging a book by its cover has always, in the context of actual books, fallen a bit short for me. Call me shallow, but I pretty much always see the cover of a book first, and whether or not I dive in further is down to what that cover has conveyed to me.
Book covers which have visually excited me have, so far, never let me down. They have made good on their promises and started me in on a story which I have held onto long after.
So this blog is a celebration of book covers which made me buy the book.
* Please note, this blog contains affiliate links which, if clicked on, will cost you nothing but help to support my creation of free content on this website. All images are linked to the books if you'd like to buy them - not all specific covers are now available, so I have linked other pretty covers in those cases!
>> Pssst: Read down to the end to claim your FREE Print-At-Home Book Notes
Northern Lights | Philip Pullman
I still remember the feeling I had when I saw this book cover in the book shop. My tiny mind was magnetised towards it, with it’s vibrant colour and intriguing compass-type-wotsit (which later I would know as the Alethiometer). The thing which really stuck out to me though? That it had no title or author. It’s so simple, but I was soooo pulled in by the mystery of it. To this day, whenever I take this book out to read it, I am always struck by how the art was allowed to take the full stage. It was given the full space of the cover to express the story, and it does so beautifully. The rest of the covers in this series (The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) turned out to be just as stunning too!
The Lost Words | Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris
The first unusual thing about this book is its size, and it definitely has an effect in terms of getting the book noticed. It is large - and difficult to fit on any bookshelf - but that’s part of its joy. This book, with its stunning artwork by Jackie Morris, has a quietness and a calm about it which sings from the cover and all the way through the book - but its size turns up the volume and owns the space it takes up. The creamy background of the cover is simple and lets the artwork and title wave at you unobstructed. The poetry inside is beautiful, using words to their fullest, most joyous and rhythmical extent - and the illustrative artwork elevates the subjects and pulls them directly into your focus.
The Wind In The Willows | Kenneth Grahame | V&A Collector's Edition
There are multiple titles in this V&A Editions series which have been given a cover in this style, but I’m highlighting this one because it is the first one of them I purchased. It is small in size and thereby feels like something to treasure, and the cover is lightly textured with a vibrant but natural leafy yellow-green tone all over. It feels like the tones of the sun through the trees. The artwork is so simple - highlighting Ratty, dipping a paw in the water from his boat with a dragonfly overhead - but by allowing the leafy background to show through the boat, (and the ripples of the water to be equally against the same leafy background) the design feels cohesive and fresh. Whenever I look at this cover, it makes me want to visit Mole, Ratty and Badger by the river again.
The Red Tree | Shaun Tan
This book was my first introduction to Shaun Tan’s artwork and I went on to seek out plenty of his other titles afterwards. In seeing this cover I was full of intrigue, especially because this is a children’s picture book and it shrugs off any genre obligation to use bright colours or bold lines. The colours are soft and subtle, the focus is on a young girl who looks sad and alone, and the title is pushed right to the bottom, giving the artwork the full frame. Only once you have read this beautiful book can you appreciate the full intricacy of what the cover promises - and if this cover isn’t enough to convince you, I urge you to try it!
The Invention of Hugo Cabret | Brian Selznick
While the colourful front cover of this book certainly stands out and invites attention, it is the spine which sold this book to me. So often the spine is forgotten as a selling point, and artwork is missed from it - which is a shame as not all books can get front-facing shelf-time in bookshops or libraries. This book, however, gives the whole spine and back cover over to an artwork - one which very much echoes the illustrative tone throughout the book (which is like a graphic novel, with the story predominantly told through pictures). I walked past the bookshop shelf, and the eye looked out at me from the spine - and I just had to slide it out and delve deeper.
Harry Potter Series | J.K. Rowling & Jim Kay
Harry Potter doesn’t need much of a push to gain readers, and when you’ve already got copies of the books, do you really need illustrated editions? My answer to that is Yes. Most definitely. Jim Kay is, at the time of writing, working on the tail end of the series now, having completed books 1-4, and with number 5 releasing in October 2022. I have chosen The Prisoner of Azkaban to highlight here (being one of my favourites) but all of the covers so far have done justice to the adventure that awaits inside. I love detail and intricacy in art and Jim Kay creates artwork which makes sure to pick up on elements you may have previously not thought of or missed. The Azkaban cover hums with darkness and mystery, and yet sums up the humour that inherently fizzes from the idea of the Knightbus.
Pure Dead Series | Debi Gliori
Sometimes gimmicks work, and they very often work on me! If someone tries something a bit different with a book cover, I am here for it, and this series tried something super simple. The publishers made the covers look and feel velvety. The design work on all of the books in the series is actually very simple, (just the title and a small illustration), but it is realised in silver foiling against a plushy velvet coloured backdrop. And it brings automatic drama. These books are for a younger audience and when I see them in my collection I remember how much I enjoyed them back when I bought them. Huggable covers? Oh yeah.
Sabriel | Garth Nix
Another series which utilised similar design styles on all of its books, but this is the first of them, and the one which grabbed my attention. Sometimes you don’t need much to get a message across and this pared-back artwork does the job admirably. Maybe I’ve just not noticed them, but in general I don’t see too many bright white book covers - so already this one felt like it was glowing at me across the bookshop. The central fiery symbol made me wonder what it meant, and the title name hovered above it like it should all make sense. So I read the book, and got hooked.
Pandora | Victoria Turnbull
As a deep lover of children’s books, I am always checking out the picture books when I’m in a bookshop and this cover just stole my heart. Look at it. Isn’t it just lovely? Focussed in on a soft, dusty toned fox and bird, against a creamy background, it’s clear who Pandora is…but the edges are full to the brim with junk. And not just any junk - intricate, eclectic, interesting junk! It forms a protective frame around the central character and creates a weirdly cosy feeling, which becomes understandable as you start to read. Beautiful artwork which digs deeper.
The Knife of Never Letting Go | Patrick Ness
This cover was interesting to me because it was messy. It felt chaotic - it had a knife silhouette in the centre, with no other explanatory factors apart from the title. But all around it, creeping into the frame from the edges, were scribbled words. Random words, messy words. They buzzed in red font and felt urgent, but as if urgency was normal. I found it particularly interesting because the book had a clear plastic cover on top of all this - and the words had been printed onto the plastic. This extra layer of words created a doubling effect, and caused the words to shift a little whenever you moved the book. Having read the book, this strikes me as such a clever artistic decision, because it entirely echoes the frenetic feeling the words create inside the pages.
Most of these books I bought quite a while ago now - back when I thought I could buy books and magically generate space to store them in 😁 Despite dreaming I will one day own my own tiny library, these days I buy less books because I’m saving money and I don’t have anywhere to put them. I will always cheer on the brilliance of libraries, which supply me with most of what I read now. But I treasure the books I have and I still wander through bookshops, enjoying the pull of the beautiful book covers that grace the shelves.
Thanks for reading!
Keep making to make happy!
Love Gem x