Exercise: A Children’s Book Cover

This exercise requests the eventual creation of 3 colour visuals as possible alternatives for a book title “Animals from Around the World”.

I plan to research existing children’s book cover illustrations for this age range (7 to 11, which is also known as “Key Stage 2” in UK, although there are other ways to measure the reading abilities within that).

I will then generate ways to do the illustration (composition, style, media) then select three approaches that I deem to be the most likely to succeed… somewhere I’ll need to be clear about what ‘success’ entails!… and create the three colour visuals indicating how they would proceed to finished artwork by giving examples of existing work – either by me or other practitioners.

From the millions of titles on Amazon I’ve found a range that are likely candidates…

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Richard Platt (Author)
Rupert van Wyk (Illustrator)

This is a story centred around a child of a tribe who live in the rainforest. The central character is presumably the one pictured, a girl named Remaema. The cover image is in the same style as every page in the book where the text is printed over the image, and the artwork covers every inch of every page. There are no borders.

The way that the story works is that many issues to do with logging are introduced into the narrative which involves the tribespeople and are discussed amongst them. The illustrations bring the discussions to life by showing the loggers at work and the home and surrounds of the tribespeople.

I’m struggling to identify how the pictures are made… I first thought pencil or charcoal but I think now that it’s paint, maybe oil paint. The book is old and Rupert’s blog doesn’t cover it. The images are full of texture and based very powerfully in Greens and Reds. This high colour contrast could be an echo of the issues at stake in the story. The textures make it rich and ‘alive’ – a living rainforest – and make many angles unlike a cityscape where horizontals and verticals might dominate. There are lots of dark nooks where mysteries could be waiting.

The illustrator uses other styles in other work and has a more whimsical approach for humorous topics… for example in a book of collected poems by Michael Rosen… another approach is employed successfully but you can see how this book’s illustrations have helped to build in an air of seriousness.

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I cannot find a synopsis of this story but it comes up as a KS2 book so it is presumably educational in nature and might follow a similar idea of a fictional story that allows the introduction of topics for discussion about the time of the Tudors in the UK.

That it is called a ‘Tudor spy story’ is slightly at odds with the picture on the cover in this case as there is little to indicate the type of thing you’d expect from a ‘Spy’ story: tension, concealment, daring [an Aston Martin and a lethal biro], risk-taking etc… it [the cover picture] all seems quite happy and normal.

Despite this the picture invokes an historic period – an objective illustration of a young boy and girl at the hour before sunset arriving at a house. They wear clothes of the style, ride in a cart and the house architecture is suitable. The similarity with the previous book is that children of a similar age to the reader have been shown, rather than any of the (presumably) more numerous adults in the story, and this will be an attempt to help the reader to identify with the story.

I presume the scene on the cover is also recognisably described within the text. It has a warm tone to it which also suggests ‘old fashioned’ rather than contemporary.

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The Street Child series are used in schools to generate topics for discussion (I know this because my daughter did it!)… there seems to be a pattern for books for KS2 being ones that generate topics for discussion… it’s probably not the only reason that books are written for this age group but seems to be high on the agenda!

The cover illustration shows two sisters holding hands and running. They look happy and are running in step with each other. They are in a town which looks to have industrial roots, on cobble stones, but all of the background is in pale monotone peach colour. The town could be a memory… either the one that is ‘home’ of the title or the one that is ‘far from home’ of the title, that they are running away from.

The effect is to present the two things separately – the two girls and the town, although shown in context together, the girls stand out and you could take the context to be notional – they may not actually be in this setting as you see it but the town is a backdrop to the story, perhaps.

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I found that a series, the ‘Halfpenny Orphans’, which uses photography rather than illustration for the front cover… a photomontage in effect as the background looks like a London street from 1940s (railings gone from in front of the houses to support the war effort) but the two children are added from a contemporary photo.

As it’s not an illustration maybe it doesn’t count (!) but this composition could have been done illustrated and it might be personal preference that sees it done using photography. The particular era in question lends itself well to the use of black and white photography as imagery as show is readily available.

The composition includes features such as a street with perspective where the end (ie: vanishing point) is not in sight (hidden)… the characters look over their shoulders (‘the past’ perhaps)… and they look straight at the viewer/reader engaging them in a direct manner.

Judging this book by its cover I would expect it to take the reader into the world of theses children in order to experience the choices, mistakes, hurts and joys that they encounter in their search for a better life… the blue sky and fluffy clouds might just be hope.

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I included this cover because it has a very straight, posed photograph. Maybe it’s a bit weak… but it’s actually the book of three TV episodes of Dawson’s Creek so the people in the photo are actors from the TV show… probably still dressed in character (I don’t watch it so I con’t tell!)… which puts a different perspective on the whole thing. Illustrations are often done for movies where the lead characters are portrayed as recognisable celebrities. Where a work exists only as a text an illustrator can ‘make up’ the actual look of a charcter.

This is an example of ‘expectation’… sort of in reverse. Whereas we, as image creators, are familiar with the the question ‘does the illustration give you a good idea about the contents of the book’, this is an example of ‘does the well-understood and predictable contents of the book lead us to expect the inevitable cast-photo for the cover’? Dawson’s Creek fans may actually be disappointed if they do not get the cast photo that they are expecting!

It does point to the wider genre of children’s book though – they do all look somehow familiar and there is an expectation that the contents that we are expecting will have a cover-style that we can predict. Is children’s literature very limited in scope? Does it require an equally limited scope for the cover illustration?

Thank you, Dawson’s Creek for opening a whole new avenue for discussion!

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‘My Sister the Vampire’ is a series of stories recommended for ages 9+ but the main characters are 13 years old (I suppose there’s some latitude in the possible age of the vampire one… but as they’re twin sisters, near enough.). The style of the illustration reminds me of ‘Bratz’ dolls – very big eyes – lots of eye-lashes.

The covers are almost all bright pinks and blues with a darker tone to represent the vampire half of the siblings. Billed as having ‘innocent paranormal romance‘ (what?!) the cover illustrations hint lightly at the paranormal in their colour but frequently, as this one, include a coffin, or a coffin shape, or other accoutrements of the graveyard like sinister railings, bats or just more coffins. It’s a slight juxtaposition to mix the two – or certainly would be in some Vampire contexts – not here, possibly building on the cult growth of vampires in teenage social life (Buffy, Angel, Twilight). I’m going to stick my neck out and point out a similarity between this and Bewitched…

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…and sitcom that evoked a playfulness around the paranormal that we came to regard as… just normal. Bewitched was a family show.

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How the leopard got its spots [and its hat?] published 1993, the second cover belonging to a 2013 book – a 20 year gap. Does it show?

The 1993 book belongs to a series including Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales all of which are arranged around the square ‘window’ on a white background. This style of presentation has not disappeared – it is common still to find collections of children’s stories presented as sets with matching design. These are often more colourful, but the neat white boxed arrangement has a ‘classical’ appeal used for things such as Beatrix Potter as late as 2002 and newer books use it to emphasise the word ‘Classic’ in the presentation.

The newer  book cover is more familiar as a contemporary design. The animals are even more stylised in presentation – boxier with legs more like modern tables than living creatures – and presented in more vivid colour. There is no white space left – no sense of framing or of an edge to the design which moves away from the separate appreciation of the illustration as a ‘Plate’ or ‘Framed Print’ or an exhibited painting… and more towards the integration of the illustration into the fabric of the narrative. It’s become more common for the words of the story itself to be a part of the illustration rather than a separate graphic process.

The newer illustration also may serve as a contents page… I’m not sure if the 10 or so animals shown are the ones whose stories are told but I would perhaps jump to that conclusion upon seeing this cover.

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AUTHOR: LEMONY SNICKET (Daniel Handler)
ILLUSTRATOR: BRETT HELQUIST

Every word of blurb for these books warns the potential reader about the unforgiving misery of the stories and the main characters, the Baudelaire children. There are thirteen books in the series.

This illustration features, I think, the Baudelaires’ new guardian who is bent on ridding himself of the children by some unfortunate accident so that he might receive the fortune that is held in trust for them. The caricature and composition work together to communicate these things… his features are like a bird of prey – sharp eyes, beak-like nose; and his finger is poised pensively as if plotting. There is a hint of a frown and a grave, downturned mouth that all create instant unease. The children are seen in the background outside – as if unaware of the plotting… there is a sinister eye just glimpsed on the left past the guardian. The starched, white collar and jacket present a respectable outer. The curtains around the window billow of their own accord.

This whole image is in a gothic-window-shaped frame, set on a textured, dark background and the spine has the effect of tooled red leather and trim like this book is ancient.

Unlike the sense of ‘Classical’ that was invoked by the Just So Stories this design creates a reverence – a sense of ‘only open if you’re worthy’ by being dressed up so elegantly. It’s a sense that children might have felt a century ago upon entering father’s study and looking in awe at the small collection of priceless tomes that held who-knows-what infinite wisdom.

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A level 2 reading book the cover is furnished with tactical information about its educational deployment. There is a ‘Level 2’ mark, the words ‘Reading Leader’ and a ladder on the orange part of the spine edge. No doubt all of these things are carried across a whole host of books of every level with numbering and colour coding as appropriate.

The remaining space contains the title, a ‘Logo’ which is reminiscent of the Beano or Dandy – a circle with the character’s head sticking out – and an illustration of a happy event from the story. The title seems part of the overall illustration with, ironically, the 3D effect of the lettering giving a sense of flatness like the title character.

Flat Stanley is also drawn not completely flat, not paper-thin, but more like a uniform thickness of 18mm. This too emphasises that he is flat… by showing exactly what his thickness is, it is not completely flat, but it is undeniably an unusually small dimension for a child and quite visibly out of the ordinary. I think if you tried to draw Stanley as completely flat like paper it would impact on the ways that he could be drawn as you would have to find poses that help the viewer to see that he is flat. By allowing an 18mm thickness more different poses are possible without losing the perception of his neatly trouser-pressed anatomy.

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Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake.

It’s a little hard to stand back from this illustration and see it as a brief for a book cover because of how infused into popular culture Quentin Blake’s illustrations have become. I think this style has informed the development of many others over the years.

The drawing has both a looseness to it where the lines are as a sketched but fleshed out by a mixture of deep and paler colours. The looseness belies the accuracy of the perspective and the 3D shading. All this said… the characters are exaggerated – oversized noses, skinny limbs, tiny knobbles of shoulders, knees and elbows and beady eyes. It sounds ‘orrible but it ain’t… it’s so far from objective as to be new but not alien.

This book cover’s illustration bleeds of the edge and reveals the title character on a tea chest surrounded by magnificently high piles of books. She looks small compared to the tea chest (feet don’t touch the ground) which makes her vulnerable in a physical sense but she is reading. Perhaps she has read half of these books, maybe all of them, which gives her an intellectual strength – there could actually be a ‘fortress of books’ around her.

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Georges Rémi’s (Hergé’s) hero of Belgium and legend Tintin is shown here in a kilt, in a boat with his dog (Snowey?) powering towards “The Black Island”. The viewer is looking in the same direction as Tintin – so we are accompanying him on his adventure, looking over his shoulder. The horizon and water are a flat, solid feature but the sky’s broken cloud cover tilts in towards the island, Tintin’s boat enters the visual from the corner and the island itself defies simple geometry in favour of a ragged, towering but uncertain shape. Its sides are unassailably steep so. There’s a sense of falling towards the island rather than travelling towards it and we are as intrigued as Tintin about its inhabitants. The birds fly counter to this on the opposite diagonal as if warding us off.

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Author: Andy Stanton
Illustrator: David Tazzyman

This image is a riot! Mr Gum… presumably the fire-bearded 60-year-old skateboarder… is an angular figure with over-pointy knees, shoes and head. There’s a gingerbread man walking along gleefully carrying a biscuit barrel full of money. There’s some kind of story behind all of this (perhaps the one in the book?!?!?) but the illustration doesn’t reveal what’s going on… only cryptic hints.

The more I look at the cross-section of illustration for children’s books the more I start to see something in common – there’s an accessibility about the work that is completely in spite of the skill required to produce it. Mr Gum has components of ‘scribble’ and parts where colour texture has been applied as if with a felt-tip pen from a supermarket colouring set. This is deceptive as the expert application of the marks maintains the balance and dynamic of the picture… although it is reminiscent of a child’s drawing it has features that are far more exact, and lacks childlike qualities of drawing like impatience, not using the whole space, excessive detail or obsessive re-drawing where imperfection is detected.

Holding both those sets of qualities in one picture might be key to most illustrations for children’s books. I’m not exactly sure why that is at the moment… why is it better to have that particular combination? why not be more childlike in approach? why is that sophisticated composition still important even for a child? would a child not be more attracted to something even more familiar?

The answers to these questions in part seem ‘obvious’ – controlling the composition in order to create the desired effect is going to be better than using no approach at all. But who chooses these books? The bookstore? The Parent? or the Child? Who are these covers really aimed at? Is a successful cover one that looks good on the shelf in the book store, or in the window, or as a huge poster outside the store?

In any case… this illustration has great big blue stripes, like wallpaper, for a sky. A bit surreal, but it’s bold and makes for a nice ordered backdrop on which to apply the wilder image of Mr Gum. It’s like we all drew on the wall in a posh lounge.

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Stone Age Boy is square (I mean the book is square, not the boy). Written and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. It has a magical allure like “King Soloman’s Mines” or “The Lost World” but the treasure/dinosaurs are replaced with a boy from another age… or do the children adventure into the past? Have to read the book to find out. Anyway the cover sets us up for an exciting adventure by taking us to a threshold – the two characters peer into a cave holding hands for extra courage, his eyes look wide because of the glasses and they both look a little apprehensive about whether they should enter and what’s inside. I presume it will be a boy from the stone age – very exciting.

Then I read the blurb -he’s gone back to the stone age where he has met the girl who is an actual stone age girl. I thought her hair would be darker and more messy than his! Maybe they did hair care in stone age.

Again the protagonists pictured are for the reader to identify with – someone their own age and one of each sex.

There are some large compositional structures at work… the horizon and cave make several complimentary arcs which accentuate the focus on the characters and frame them. The colour use from the grey inside the cave and the green and blue outside make a strong, large shape at the cave entrance. Space for the title and author credit has been worked in and those words appear to be part of the illustration rather than overprinted or added at a later stage. If the title was not to be there the framing of the cave around the characters may have been tighter.

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This looks as if collaged and depicts a place that is idyllic… judging from the blurb – Anne does not want to leave ‘Green Gables’ and this illustration depicts not the details of that perfection but ideas that are associated with happiness – birds and butterflies, green grass, blue skies and fluffy white clouds, apples ripe on a tree, flowers, a white ‘picket’ fence (maybe not ‘picket’ but carries that idyllic idea with it) and a safe-looking house. A book is left momentarily half read on a pic-nic blanket. There are no scary corners and no woods. Nowhere to get lost. There’s a duck or goose – a family friend perhaps. Everything is soft, rounded and fluffy.

The lettering is a little playful – not too perfect, more natural and just how it fell on the page.

The colour pallet of Greens with highlights in Red (slightly surprised to notice that the word ‘Green’ is actually red!) is calming and joyful.

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The syle adopted for this is the reverse of the classic Just So Story – the illustration takes up the whole page but a panel has been added to accommodate the title and author’s name.

It is like the text is in the frame now rather than the illustration which makes the text come forward to the reader and the scene recedes but become more 3D.

The egg is seen on a bed… the boy’s bed perhaps… with a bookcase behind. there is a hint of magic in this with the sand timer and the leather bound books on view.

This is also the opposite of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by having none of the warm, summery comforts depicted there. These days we’d think of Hogwarts. The moonlight makes moonbeams in the air and a warmer light uplights the boy and his book from behind as well as the book case. There is a cold/warm contrast cutting the composition diagonally nearly in half. Overall there is a spooky expectation

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So this cover does for me what the Tudor spy book didn’t – here’s a chap on a ledge outside a window… definitely a bit dangerous, he probably risks discovery as much as falling. the red pallet with yellow touches helps emphasise the danger as does the character’s stance – knees bent, arms out, ready to react to the next problem.

Animals from Around The World – Existing Titles

I think this book is factual, perhaps like this Dorling Kindersley book… “A visual encyclopedia of life on Earth”:6546924aae104a4bb1b253882dbdcab8

Whitespace is their style… most things in DK books are cut out and placed onto a white background.

The approach they’ve adopted is exactly as you’d expect from DK and perhaps from a title like this… pictures (high quality photos) of lots of animals to represent different places. There’s also a popular selection process going on – penguins for the south, but no Polar Bear for the North. Could be a question of being more colourful too.Animal World fr_cover

Here;s another in a very similar style. A greater diversity of animals which perhaps does not look as good.615oKOjzpCL._AC_UL320_SR268,320_.jpg

This one takes another approach – the animals are collected in a hatching egg to create excitement.Animal-World_bljlks

Another collection of animal photographs that has been arranged in a ‘clump’

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I was thinking about picturing the planet – this is the planet but it’s not about animals exclusively and shows an odd collection of containers and a spider!

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These animals all look fierce – a snake has been chosen as the centrepiece.

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In this case a tiger has been chosen as the focus.

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Here a child is drawn with a cute cat and a map effect

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This time the explorer is an adult

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I’ve had something like this in my mind only because it’s a globe and some animals together.

Illustrations of Animals

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Amy Hamilton

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These drawing are along the lines that I would expect for this kind of book – more the life-like end of the scale in order to represent accuracy. The ‘Can Stock Photo’ image is the most simplified but it has only removed detail rather than exaggerating characteristics.

Amy Hamilton’s illustrations are still objective-looking images but they have the most style of these images – you can see some of the brushwork and artefacts of the process. I personally am a fan of this kind of expression and since the animal’s natural appearance is present through the work it would be possible to use this style if needed.

The monkey picture is skilfully observed and drawn but reminds me of a scientific plate in a very factual book rather than anything aimed at children… although they might like the realism… again, who chooses the book? I’m starting to wonder if the child-like imagery is aimed at the adults as a cue that the book is for children.

My Covers

From my research into book covers I’ve accumulated some safe conclusions… which are:

  • There must be pictures of many animals on the cover in order to accurately depict what the book is about.
  • The animals could be drawn in a style that is reminiscent of child-like drawings in order to cue the buyer that it is for children…
  • A4 3_Page_51A4 3_Page_27A4 3_Page_49

Colour Visual 1

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Animals come out around the world. The lure is both the exotic (animals) and the dynamic nature of the image.

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This image inspired the idea and I think the style of illustration here is also appropriate. It shows texture and detail in the animals and can be used to bring the dynamic qualities to life… perhaps even being a little scary.

Colour Visual 2

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I imagine this one finished in the following style…

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…which is quite ‘graphic’ rather than ‘painterly’ but will help keep the scene clear so that individual animals can be identified and not get lost in the background.

Colour Visual 3

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I found a use the for border!

I don’t want to ignore the inclusion of children in the image in order to attempt to identify with the potential reader so here’s a way to do it…

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The animals would be used to fill up the landmass spaces… perhaps as photographs.

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The boy is a cartoon-guide and could be very simple – perhaps as in the similarly-titled book above. I also have the style of Dora the Explorer in mind…

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The eyes are very engaging. Dora is apparently 10 years old… she looks a little young to me. I think this is the ‘Manga’ quality. The inclusion of a cartoon character alongside photographs means that the ‘guide’ has some distance from the subject so the subject (the animals) could be made more appealing to more children using an intermediary…. for those that don’t just automatically love animals!

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