100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Unfortunate Covers (#9)

The 3rd entry in the (nonexistent) 100 Scope Notes Encyclopedia of Children’s Lit defines an Unfortunate Cover as such:

A book that is held in high literary esteem, but features cover artwork which detracts from overall shelf appeal.

Just for the record, encyclopedia entry #2 was for “Reese’s Eggs” (added at 3:30 p.m. on Easter Sunday) and entry #1 was also, strangely, for “Reese’s Eggs” (added at 3:32 p.m. on Easter Sunday last year). Looks like the 100 Scope Notes Encyclopedia of Children’s Lit may not end up being the definitive resource I had planned.

Anyway, in plain terms, an Unfortunate Cover is a cover that’s bringing a good book down. Feel free to take a look at some of the past recipients:

#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8.

And now, the latest entry:


On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer.

For the record, I don’t enjoy adding this one to the pastures of the Unfortunate. Does the cover provide a good representation of what’s inside? Absolutely. Joel, racked with guilt in the foreground, the river in back. These are essential elements of the story. Is the cover making kids want to see what’s inside? It is not.

I’m speaking from experience here, having put the book cover out in my library for long stretches of time. Kids just aren’t persuaded to pick it up. A wonderful story. A story that deserves to be read. It’s just that the cover that isn’t living up to its end of the bargain. The paperback edition does sport a fresher cover, however – click here to see it.

Can I also mention that Newbery covers reside in a tricky place in the children’s lit world? They are the objects of conflicting emotions:

Perspective #1: You want to update the artwork to keep the book current.

Perspective #2: You want to keep the original cover, in effect freezing the book in time, making it an artifact of the era in which it was published.

A debate that I’m sure the outstanding children’s lit blog Collecting Children’s Books has already discussed with much more eloquence than I have in me.

I’m curious about where folks stand on updating the covers of Newbery Medal and Honor-winning books.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. As you have pointed out in your “unfortunate covers” posts, the cover can just kill a good story. What a horrible thing for the author of a good book – specially since most of them don’t get a say.
    I think:
    Perspective #1 is the way to go if you want kids to read the books.
    Perspective #2 is for the adults who, like Peter Sieruta says, forget that time has gone by and get nostalgic.
    Ideally? I say you keep one really pristine copy of the original (in the back room?). THEN buy new paperbacks every chance you get!
    If you can’t have ideal, I vote for Perspective #1. :-)

  2. Yeah, this just screams “dated.”

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