Four Decades of Children’s Book Covers
Each decade seems to have certain cover hallmarks that define the era. I’m no historian, but here’s how I would describe the last 40 years in children’s book jackets.
Illustrations were the standard, with some surprisingly subtle artwork to be found. Covers of the 70s werenâ€™t afraid to be quiet. For the most part, color palates were muted and/or limited.
The 80s seem to be a time when realism was in. The Dell Yearling and Apple paperbacks were in full swing, each sporting realistic illustrations of the characters. Looking back, these got dated pretty quickly (see Unfortunate Covers #16, #12, and #1Â ). Even hardcovers of the day were getting real. Book covers werenâ€™t afraid to be, well, not perfect. Could you imagine a cover like Nightmare Mountain being released today?
After slowly transitioning out of the 80â€™s, things started to get noticeably more colorful and graphic. Cover type in particular seemed to get more interesting. Photos began popping up every now and then.
This decade (yes, crazy to think about it, but itâ€™s over) will likely be known for the rise of the photograph. Photoshop allowed for more creativity in using preexisting images rather than illustrations. Cropping also became wildly popular. Overall, covers saw a narrowing of focus. Busyness was out, bold images were in. The distinction between middle grade and YA also seemed to get more pronounced, with black backgrounds becoming a popular YA choice. Textures, effects, and materials came into play more than they ever have before.
We shall see. Early returns show a continuation of many trends from the aughts. Could this be the decade that covers lose some of their importance, as we move more toward digital realms? I doubt it â€“ youâ€™ll need to look at something on your virtual book holder thing (or whatever we decide to call it), right? Will illustrations make a resurgence? How about more mingling between photos and artwork?
What are your thoughts on the future of book covers? Any predictions out there (paging Chad W. Beckerman and Maria T. Middleton)?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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