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Unfortunate Covers (#13)

As a school librarian, few things bum me out more than when a great book is passed over because of an unappealing cover. It’s unfortunate is what it is. In these pages, I’ve brought a few of these good book/bad cover cases up for discussion in the past:

#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12.

I don’t delight in the fact that the most recent addition to these ranks is a Newbery honor recipient, but so it is:


A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond.

With this one, I speak from experience. I tried for weeks to stir up a bit of interest in this title at my school library. I began with the simple act of placing it cover out on the shelf. There it sat. Then I stepped things up by moving it to the Recommended table at the entrance. No luck. I’ll keep trying.

Related aside: is it just me, or does part of this cover resemble a past Unfortunate Cover recipient? Which one was it? Oh yeah:

Am I imagining things here?

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. I’ve only lately discovered your blog so this is your first Unfortunate Cover I’ve seen and have just taken the tour of the other hilarious 12. Very, very funny and makes one wonder what the publishing industry is sometimes thinking (especially re. the newer editions, of course). It lends credence to Ed Spicer’s comment – in your recent interview – that our culture doesn’t value illustration as highly as words. Thank you for posting!

  2. I KNOW! I love, love, love A String in the Harp. It was one of my favorite books when I was in, like, 6th grade. And I can’t get a kid to pick it up to save my life.

  3. Scope Notes says

    A frustrating predicament. I felt the exact same way about #4 on this list Danny, the Champion of the World. I really want kids to get into it as much as I did, but the cover … well, it was not helping.

  4. Scope Notes says

    Well, thanks for reading. I think this cover suffers that Newbery time warp syndrome where the hardcover isn’t changed after it wins the award. At least, I’m assuming this is the original. I like that you can still get this cover, but an updated hardcover option would also be nice to see. There is a more updated paperback available.

  5. What, does the artist only know how to draw one boy? And one boy who kills books too. Suddenly photo covers don’t seem so bad.

  6. Oh man, no way would I pick that up as a kid. I’ve never read this one or even heard of it, either!

    I love this series. I wonder if you could fashion a new cover for certain books to fool kids into reading them…

    Here’s a YA book that was a pretty good dystopia, I thought, but had such an unfortunate cover that I don’t think a single teen read it: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Under-My-Skin/dp/006008989X/ (As is evidenced by 7 whole reviews on Amazon.)

  7. There’s not an afternoon I spend at my volunteer position in a children’s library that I don’t hear several comments about choosing books for their covers…maybe unfortunate, but true.

  8. hopeistheword says

    Sigh. Ain’t it the truth?

    (I’m here via the Comment Challenge 2010 for the Kidlitosphere. Neat blog!)

  9. Kate Tabor says

    I’ve always thought that it would be a great assignment for my students to take a great book with a terrible cover and have them design a new one. Perhaps it will still happen. In a journal last week one of my students was commenting about the same-ness of a certain set of book covers. It matters…

  10. I remember reading many of those books with those covers. I always enjoy the memories when you add them. By the way, your blog is one I always manage to read first, even when I get behind on my blog reading.

  11. Scope Notes says

    Thanks – that’s nice of you to say!

  12. Hello,
    This is the first time I have visited your blog and find it extremely interesting. I am not familiar with the book but how about taking an unusual artifact or item from the book and placing it next to the book on display to get kids talking about it. Harps are generally very expensive so perhaps an art class could create a large cardboard one for you and paint it. Kids love something eye-catching, and especially something out of the ordinary. Hope this helps!

  13. Scope Notes says

    Dang, that would work to stir up some interest!