I absolutely, definitely judge books by their covers. I’m always scanning the shelves (and the floor, and patron’s hands) for covers that are unique in design and childlike in sensibility. When a book’s cover catches my eye, I pick it up. That is how I choose the books I want to read. It’s not a perfect approach. But I have found that form usually follows function and more often than not, an interesting book cover contains an interesting story inside.
Here are five books I simply happened across in the children’s section: books I'd never heard of before, but which had graphically bold or visually detailed covers that I was drawn to. Once I opened up these books, I found stories and illustrations inside that confirmed what the covers suggested. Not all books should be judged by their covers, but it’s working out pretty well for me so far.
(Interestingly, all five of these books are by Japanese authors and illustrators.)
Issun Boshi is the first book I checked out as a librarian. I was sucked in by the cover illustration boldly rendered in orange, teal, yellow, and black with stark negative space. I picked it up partially because I couldn’t tell how old it was from looking at the cover. Like a lot of less familiar folktales, ISSUN BOSHI feels at once fresh and ancient. It is the story of a one-inch tall boy who leaves home to find adventure, armed with a rice bowl and a needle. The words and images create a striking picture book of unusual peril but also unusual subtlety.
This cover is densely patterned, boldly colored, and full of glaring dinosaurs—which makes its sweet title intriguing. Inside, we get the story of a destructive and violent Tyrannosaurus who learns about gratitude and friendship when the Elasmosaurus saves his life. I like that YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND is extremely aware of its audience, both in word and image. It feels like a story a child would tell accompanied by drawings a child would draw, but with the finesse and sophistication of a hugely talented adult author/illustrator.
I liked the careful little scene on the cover of Anno’s Counting Book and was rewarded with an exceptional presentation of natural mathematics inside. The development of a village and its countryside is depicted only with pictures and numbers. The landscape and its inhabitants change and expand and multiply in patterns and sequences throughout seasons of the year. Anno’s delicate little drawings are full of life and detail. Every plant, animal, person, and building is worth discovering because each countable feature (windows, branches, petals) is significant in relation to everything else.
Sometimes just the color of a book jacket or the typeface of the title or even the size of a book is enough to make me want to pick it up. This slim little pale pink book fit so nicely in my hands - how could I resist? KUMA KUMA CHAN’S HOME is a tiny book, sweetly and simply rendered, about an imperfect but ultimately nice visit between friends. The story, like the cover art, is understated, gentle, and minimal.
The childlike drawing style featured on the cover of HOW TO DRAW ALMOST EVERYTHING feels similar to Anno’s, which is probably why this book caught my attention. Invitingly simple but engagingly specific, this “Illustrated Sourcebook” teaches the reader how to doodle just about anything you might need to doodle. The step-by-step illustrations are encouraging and accessible and the book really does cover a huge breadth of subjects: animals, plants, faces, clothing, foods, vehicles, emotions, actions.