You’ve got less than fifteen seconds to grab a bookstore customer. That’s it. Your cover must lure them to the shelf. The title and design must call to them. Fail this instant judgment test and lose a sale. Yep, they really do judge a book by its cover.
So do kids. My Kindergartener cannot read, but she knows what books she wants. Last week she came home with a list of book fair titles she had selected on her own, solely by the covers. I decided to research the books before deciding whether to buy.
Without exception, every book cover featured a pony or a dog. Yes, she loves both animals. But the one book that she begged for the most? My Chincoteague Pony by Susan Jeffers.
How could a horse-crazed little girl resist? A black-and-white filly seems to be smiling as waves splash around her. The two-toned pink background and glitter on both the letters and the water seal the deal.
The story inside proves to be just as charming as the cover. Julie works hard on the family farm all year, earning money to buy her own pony at the annual Chincoteague auctions. The cover exudes a certain promise to the reader, and it delivers.
In contrast, another horse-themed picture book attracted my attention, but my daughter passed it by. The brown, muted tones of Twenty Heartbeats by Dennis Haseley reflects this story’s more mature vibe.
A wealthy man commissions a master artist to paint a portrait of his favorite horse. Years pass without word from the artist and the man grows angry. Yet the artist does not deliver until he feels the painting is the best he can produce. The book’s message is one of hard work, patience and perseverance, but the lesson needed to be explained to my child whereas she immediately grasped Julie’s work ethic in My Chincoteague Pony.
There could be several reasons for this, none having to do with the cover. For instance, the main character in Jeffers’ tale is a young girl from present time, easily relatable. The main characters in Twenty Heartbeats are adult men from ancient China.
In the end, I purchased both books, although I admit, Twenty Heartbeats was more for me than it was for her.
I wonder if publishers design some book covers to appeal more to the adult-gatekeepers than to the direct audience. This would make sense if a book contains mature themes and universal lessons that parents wish to teach their children.
There are some book covers that both my daughter and I agree upon. Here are just a few that we would like to read together. (Please note that Savvy is a middle-grade novel. But what a gorgeous, eye-catching cover.)