Awesome Children’s Book Cover Design 2

Between my love affair with books and my life of design, I am always keeping an eye open for cool book covers. Here’s another selection of interesting children’s book covers, this time focusing on the use of unusual materials with the six Penguin Threads covers and the Hitchhiker’s Guide DIY Sticker Covers. Enjoy!

Penguin Threads:

Penguin Threads: Emma, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden

Penguin Threads is a beautiful series of books where the cover art was created through embroidery. The first three books—Emma, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden—were commissioned from Jillian Tamaki (read her blogpost on this project). They detail is absolutely beautiful, and I feel like sitting there and just staring at these covers for a half hour, absorbing every little thing. It’s almost a little bit overwhelming! And while I love the color palette and design, I must admit the Emma cover reminded me a little bit of Milton Glaser’s famous poster of Bob Dylan, which is an amusingly strange connection to make.

Jillian Tamaki embroidering

Penguin made an effort to make the covers as enjoyably realistic as possible by both embossing the thread design, and on the inside of the covers showing the back of the embroidery:

The Secret Garden: Interior cover with the back of the embroidery

The Penguin Threads series is described on their website: “Commissioned by award-winning Penguin art director Paul Buckley, the Penguin Threads series debuts with cover art by Jillian Tamaki for three gift-worthy Penguin Classics. Sketched out in a traditional illustrative manner, then hand stitched using needle and thread, the final covers are sculpt embossed for a tactile, textured, and beautiful book design that will appeal to the Etsy(tm)-loving world of handmade crafts.”

And for those who have already seen and loved these first three, there’s good news. Penguin has continued the series with three new titles—The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, and The Wind in the Willows—this time with embroidery illustrations by Rachell Sumpter. If anything, these compositions are even more crazily detailed; I’m still trying to decide if I think the chaos in the Little Women cover, inspired by embroidery samplers, is fantastic or too much. Despite the chaos, they are definitely still gorgeous book covers. Tempted to get the whole series!

Penguin Threads 2: The Wizard of Oz
Penguin Threads 2: Little Women
Penguin Threads 2: The Wind in the Willows

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy DIY Sticker Covers:

I first stumbled across these on Faceout Books’ great blog on the process of book design (read their post on Hitchhikers). These Hitchhiker’s covers, designed for the books’ 30th anniversary, have a simple concept: the title and author are printed at the bottom of an empty image of the universe. Inside the cover are a sheet of awesome/ridiculous stickers that relate to the book’s plots in various ways, and readers are encouraged to make a “DIY” cover by creating their own layout and design. Totally awesome. What a great way to get people, especially kids, to get excited about reading (and hopefully get hooked on a great series of books!).

As if it was needed, these DIY covers come with an added bonus. They have been incorporated into the ebook iPhone app, so for those of you into reading your books digitally, you can still have fun playing around with these awesome interactive covers. Unfortunately these seem to only be available the UK, as far as I can tell. Hopefully it will be available for American audiences soon!

Hitchhiker's iPhone app with DIY cover

Blink and You Missed It

I was browsing through‘s collection of vintage items on sale this morning, and discovered this awesome set of Milton Glaser designed Shakespeare plays. Already Sold Out! Super bummed (although I probably couldn’t have afforded it anyway, but still…)

Here they are for your viewing enjoyment, and to help make sure I’m not the only one out there disappointed that they’re not mine!

The Merchant of Venice and Richard III, covers by Milton GlaserKing Lear and Richard II covers by Milton Glaser


Wish I’d Thought of That!

I first stumbled across Mikey Burton’s cover design work for To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee when his cover design was featured on a cell phone case by Out of Print which was in turn being featured on the wonderful design deals site, (*Out of Print no longer seems to be offering that specific product). My first that was I WANT THAT. I didn’t end up actually getting it in the end, but I first looked into exactly what this Out of Print store was, and who had designed the book covers they used. Turns out that Out of Print is a store selling a range of products including t-shirts, bags, notecards, etc., all featuring images of book covers. Beautiful book covers. An old fashioned illustration for Pride or Prejudice, or the classic cover design for The Great Gatsby that F. Scott Fitzgerald said he actually incorporated into his storyline because he loved it so much. But also some more updated covers, including the work of Mikey Burton.

So I looked into Mikey Burton. Turns out that he did a whole series of book cover designs for classic children’s stories such as To Kill A Mockingbird, and also included Animal Farm, The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, and The Outsiders. And he did them for his MFA Thesis project! The goal of his thesis was the creation of, as he describes,

An integrated branding campaign based around the illustrative reinterpretation of classic book covers directed toward junior-high-school students.

My first reaction was No Way! WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?! Because that really would have been fun. I was trying hard to think of a good MFA project involving book design, without much success, and here was a fantastic idea that also involved getting children more involved with literature, something I care a lot about. Unfortunately my thesis project also has to be original, so I can’t just copy the idea, and his covers are so well designed that I can’t really hope to out-do him. Oh well. (Check out his thesis project, overall portfolio, or read an interview with him if you want to know more.)

However, definitely want to give him some kudos for an awesome project, and might still buy a t-shirt from Out of Print featuring his work. Or a notepad. We’ll see.

Awesome Children’s Book Cover Design

First off, check out these awesome redesigns of the Harry Potter series! M. S. Corley designed these inspired by both Moss and Spacesick, and retro Penguin covers in general. All the covers make sense with their plots, and yet feel so retro; I did a double take at first—”Harry Potter’s not that old, is it?”.

Harry Potter retro covers


Next up, I’m super bummed I only found out about these a year and a half after they were released. Puffin Classics (the Penguin children’s division) had six famous architects including Frank Gehry design children’s book covers to celebrate their 70th anniversary. The titles include James and the Giant Peach, Little Women, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, Around the World in 80 Days and The Secret Garden. Check out the website for more details (UPDATE: the Puffin Classics link no longer works, but you can find more details in this article from Vogue).

Temptation Strikes, Again (Thank You Chip Kidd)

Yep, I’m doing it again. Buying a book (or possibly three) based on its cover. But the covers are so cool!!! Check them out (click on them to see a bigger version):

Blood on the Moon     Because the Night     Suicide Hill

They were designed by Chip Kidd, book cover designer extraordinaire. Were I to achieve half of the ability and fame of Chip Kidd, I’d be pleased. I’m doing a project about him for my type class, so I bought myself the book Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006, which in addition to having a veritable plethora, a smorgasbord if you will, of awesome designs by him, it also has a fair bit of his delightfully tongue-in-cheek commentary that is actually very informative about his design process and experiences. I’ve just skimmed through it so far, gorging my eyes on the delightful, ridiculous, and (almost always) amazing images, but I looking forward to take the time to go through and carefully read what he has to say about everything. Can’t wait!

Oh, and I’m sure the books will be fun to read too. Detective stories are always good for a read, and I have a plane flight to Tennessee coming up in a couple weeks.

Judging By the Cover

Yep, I’m doing it. After going through the entire Penguin 75 book, I’ve been seduced by The Manual of Detection, and yes, I’m buying the book based on its cover. But its such a delightful cover! If I called it obtaining design samples for later inspiration, would it be more acceptable?

The Manual of Detection
Beautiful! Love the typography, love the images, the atmosphere, love it!

Other books I may get in the next month or so:

Zadie Smith On Beauty
Zadie Smith on Beauty
The Shadow of the Wind
The Shadow of the Wind
The China Lover
The China Lover

On My Wall?

On my morning commutes I’ve been continuing to work my way through the Penguin 75 book that I wrote about in my last blog post, and enjoying the creativity and beauty that I’ve come across. In the WoodsI’ve been surprised with how often I’ve been completely surprised with what they’ve done, perhaps especially with their Graphic Classics Series where they created comic book covers for classic literature. But there were two covers in a row that made me pause and think. The first was In the Woods by Tana French, designed by Jen Wang on page 140, followed by The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor and designed by Matthew Taylor. They are two very different covers, one a black and white sketch of letterforms turning into branches, and the other a medley of ravens, tigers and butterfly erupting from an anime-looking pair of pants and unlaced sneakers. However I was struck by how similar the two author’s comments on their covers were.

Tana French, who is Irish, said

Covers on the European side of the Atlantic are so different from American ones that, to me, this looked nothing like a book cover. It was a truly beautiful thing. I could have looked at it for hours, and I’d have loved to have it in any one of a dozen forms—as an art print, a wall poster, a T-shirt—but if I’d seen it in isolation, I’d never have guessed what it was. I think I still see it that way: First as a thing I love looking at, and only second as the cover of the book.

I The Island at the End of the Worldcould appreciate that the cover was a little unusual, although I’m curious about how European covers are different. I’ll have to look into that. Turning the page to The Island at the End of the World, I read about how this cover was the result of a design contest. The author Sam Taylor’s comment on the design for his book was

I must admit my first reaction on seeing the winning cover was: WTF? It was gorgeous and striking, but not at all what I expected.

Both authors were struck by the fact that their covers were gorgeous, but not at all what they were expecting. The unexpected aspect was probably chosen deliberately by the art directors, but the gorgeous part, the artistic part, that is what helps makes these book covers some of the best in Penguin’s repertoire.

As I read these responses I was reminded of a moment during the second week of my design class last semester, when we were getting feedback on our first assignment of the class. It was essentially a warm up exercise for the semester; we were supposed to take a poster by a famous designer that we were assigned (in my case Jan Tschichold) and redesign it in various ways using only the compositional elements that were in the original design. We brought in our new posters for feedback, and at one point, after pretty thoroughly criticizing everyone’s designs, our teacher asked me “So, Rebecca, which one would you put up on your wall?”

I was surprised by this question, as we were designing announcements for events and new movies and I was envisioning them on the street or posted on the wall of a movie theater, but definitely not hanging, framed, on my living room wall. It was an interesting, and I quickly realized, a good question. Because frankly, I wouldn’t have put a single one of my own designs up on my wall—they were ugly! And attractiveness isn’t a criteria I’d really been taking into account, but it made me think of the famous Fillmore concert posters that I’ve seen on teenagers’ bedroom walls across the country. Or of the beautiful posters by Otl Aicher for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Or the simple yet elegant advertisements for railways and state parks by Michael Schwab. And I’ve liked them because no matter what their original purpose was, they are interesting, intriguing, pretty, elegant, well designed, and in some way or another gorgeous.

So with this question in my mind, I went back to the drawing board. I kept in mind some of the design feedback I’d been given, and what other students had done that I thought had worked well. And I tried to envision them on my wall; I tried to make them artistic and interesting. In the end, I’m still not sure if I’d put them up on my own wall or not (they don’t really match the mood of my room), but I think my second round of designs was much more successful than those original submissions. And a couple of people I showed them to seemed to seriously consider taking me up on my offer to give the posters to them to hang in their apartments, which to me means success.

It’s fascinating to learn how to design, coming from where I do. Its unusual for me to be studying something that I have absolutely no formal academic experience in, to be stumbling across new and interesting ways of thinking about my discipline all the time. It’s absolutely fresh, not something I’ve been told about and taught for the last twenty years, and I’m really enjoying it. And I’m finding some amazing things to put up on my wall.

(by the way, for a very interesting insight into the process and design for the cover of In the Woods, go to the blog entry)

On Book Covers

To me, nothing seems like it would be cooler than being a book cover designer. Think about it. Not only would I be required to read new books for work, but then I’d get to spend my time being creative, and try come up with a cover that would both reflect that book and help be successful by getting as many people as possible to pick it up off the shelf. Well, at least if you’re me, that’s pretty much perfection in a nutshell.

And towards that end, I’ve been reading about book design wherever I can. I follow amazing blogs like, where they get book cover designers to talk about their design process and what their goal was and what they struggled with. I follow publishers on twitter and read articles about the future of the book industry (if you ask me, a book will always need a cover), typography on kindles, try to find jobs at publishing companies, and buy books on book design. Today I managed to combine two of those by reading Penguin 75: Designers Authors Commentary (the good, the bad . . . ) while commuting to my first day of work at a small publishing company.

penguin 75
Penguin 75

The book itself is an interesting, at times funny read, as each page brings a new book, and each designer or author brings a new voice to the discussion. While not quite as in depth about the design process as, the variety of covers, and the feedback from the author and sometimes the art director on how everyone agreed on a cover (or didn’t really agree) is interesting. Today, on my commute, I got as far as page 50, which was talking about the paperback cover designed by Tal Goretsky for The China Lover (written by Ian Buruma). The author opened his commentary with the declaration that

A good cover is not an illustration. It conveys the atmosphere, the smell, the color, the feeling of the story inside.

I thought this was a fantastic way of describing it. This last semester in type class, as we designed novel covers and coffee table book covers, our teacher tried to get us to think outside the box, think of perhaps the opposite of what the cover suggested, think of a design that was anything but what the reader would be expecting. And I think that thats an interesting exercise, but I’m not sure it necessarily results in the most appropriate covers. Buruma’s description above, of avoiding a direct image-based representation, but instead trying to hint at the subject, and create a mood or a subtle feeling about the book without telling the reader about everything that will happen in the plot, seems to be closer. In essence, be creative, but be subtle! Be intriguing. Be unexpected, but be exactly right for the book. Be that, and you are perfect. . . . I’m not setting easy goals for myself, but that is what I am for!

I was also amused to then read the designer’s comments. Tal Goretsky had come up with a gorgeous illustration that and picked a typography that felt vintage and time-appropriate for the 1930’s, but his favorite design was rejected, and instead the final design was one where the cover imagery from the hard back edition, designed by Gabriele Wilson, was used but with Goretsky’s type. Goretsky goes on to mention that “turns out Gabriele’s art was a photo she took of a poster hanging in her landlady’s frame shop, next door to her office.” Which is rather ironic, given how much love and labor Goretsky put into his own illustration, but it is a great reminder that a good artist steals. Not plagiarizes, but takes art and beauty and design from the world all around them, and incorporates it where it will be just the perfect touch. The image is a beautiful, perhaps slightly cliche’ Chinese young woman, on an old advertisement, which has been emphasized by photoshopping creases into the image and an oriental border that looks aged. That old illustration, taken from a frame shop, along with Goretsky’s vintage type, creates exactly the atmosphere for the book that Buruma describes.

I’m looking forward to reading more of the book tomorrow, and seeing what insights the designers or authors have. Hopefully someday I’ll be the creator of covers for famous books and make my way into books for famous covers . . . until then I’ll keep on reading! And designing, and reading, and designing.