As a child, I developed my love for reading. I think most adults who love reading caught the bug as children. But when I think back to those days, my tastes were all over the place. They seemed to change drastically from year to year. This is not uncommon. In fact, it's something to keep in mind if you're looking to create an excellent children's book cover.
Any parent knows that children grow up fast. And as they do, they are attracted to different kinds of books. This explains the many different age ranges for kids' books. So what makes a good book cover for one age group won't necessarily make a good one for another age group.
Luckily, that's what I'm tackling today. First, I'll go over some of the best children's book covers of all time. Then I'll discuss what makes a good children's book cover for each age group!
- All about the best book covers
- What makes a good children's book cover
- Tips for getting the best cover for your book
Top Children's Book Covers
It’s good to get a feel for what makes an exceptional children's book cover. And the following covers are some of the best out there, with samples from all age ranges.
1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Most people are familiar with this book. It’s one of the most widely acclaimed children’s books of all time. And with good reason. But purely in terms of cover art, there’s a lot to be learned from this book. The use of pastels, the unique artwork, and the fantastical creature are sure to catch a young child’s attention.
2. The Smart Cookie by Jory John and Pete Oswald
Pretty much any book by Jory John and Pete Oswald will have a great color scheme. Like this one, they all make use of pastels and feature an adorable character. Notice how the background is kind of washed out, preventing it from being overly distracting.
3. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
I can’t mention children’s books without discussing one of the many Dr. Seuss books. This one is a great example of using standard colors from the color wheel for younger readers. First published in 1960, this book is a testament to the timelessness of a great children’s book cover.
4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
In keeping with the classics, Goodnight Moon is another excellent example of a timeless children’s book cover. The solid colors and cozy setting make it one that’s attractive to both parents and children. Notice, however, that there is no character on the cover. This is rare, and an exception to the “rule”.
5. Everything is Mama by Jimmy Fallon and Miguel Ordóñez
Animal characters are favorites for children’s books — especially for those in the 0 to 5 age group. And these cute illustrated penguins are a great example. Their dark bodies stand out well against the pink-and-white background, making this an excellent example for anyone designing a children’s book for kids just beginning their reading journey.
6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This book cover is an example of doing less with more. It’s a simple cover, only featuring a caterpillar. Granted, the caterpillar is very colorful, and the artwork is certainly unique. The gray background and simple font help the caterpillar catch the eye.
7. Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug by Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck
What kid doesn’t like dinosaurs? And what kid doesn’t like hugs? This book combines both for an endearing story about a poor dinosaur who has arms that are just too small for a proper hug. The great use of font sizes and colors helps this pastel-colored cover stand out.
8. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
As you can probably tell, this book is for older children — aged 10 and older. It’s not a picture book, but it still falls into a children’s book category. The use of darker colors and the silhouette of a character conveys drama, which is common among books for this age range.
9. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
This classic children’s tale features a more realistic cover illustration than others I've covered so far. However, the topcoat Peter Rabbit is wearing, and the way he’s eating the carrots, indicate a character with human characteristics.
10. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf
The strategic use of color really creates a striking cover for this chapter book. The red backpack against the blue background is an excellent touch. Add the title in black and the author’s name in white, and you have all the makings of an excellent cover.
11. The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater
Many children’s books have seasonal or holiday themes. The Leaf Thief is a great example of one with a fall theme. Not only does the cover feature soothing fall colors, but it also features an animal character looking like he has just been caught stealing! It’s comical enough to catch a child’s interest, as well as a parent’s.
12. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin
One of the things that draw kids toward a book is a familiar character. And any kid who watches Sesame Street will recognize Grover on the cover of this classic book. The hand-drawn style of the cover design makes this book unique by today’s standards, but this book is still selling strong.
13. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson, Book 1)
As kids get older, they tend to seek out more adventurous books. And the cover of this first book in the Percy Jackson series does an excellent job of showing that. Notice that the scene on the cover isn’t straight-on, giving it a skewed appearance. Also, note the use of darker colors to signify danger and conflict.
14. How to Catch a Mermaid by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton
Many kids love fairy tale books, even if they’re modern tellings. Fantastic creatures like mermaids and unicorns are always favorites, which is partly why this book is such a huge hit. The vivid colors and placement of the mermaid combine to make this an intriguing book for young children.
15. The Bad Guys in Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey
It can be hard to convey the tone of a children’s book on the cover without the help of a professional (and pricey) designer. But if you take a book like this for inspiration, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to be too hard. This simple design conveys the goofy tone of the book while keeping things simple by only using a few colors.
Children's Book Cover Design Tips
Now that I've covered some excellent book covers, it's time to discuss what makes a great kids' book cover.
Make it Appropriate for Your Target Audience
The first thing to consider when designing a children's book cover is the age of the target audience. In the examples above, I've selected books from all different age ranges. But when searching for a design idea, it's important to only look at books that are similar to your own — both in age range and content.
What works for readers 10 and older won't be appropriate for kids 5 and under. So your readership age will determine your cover design choices. Also, keep in mind that parents buy kids' books — but this doesn't mean that you should focus on attracting just the parents' attention. They generally know a book in the appropriate age range when they see it.
Use the Color Wheel
Most children's books use bright colors to catch eyes. Young readers are attracted to bright colors, but that doesn't mean you should throw a rainbow on your cover. You want to make things easy to read so you don't overwhelm the reader. This is where the color wheel comes in handy.
Using complementary colors is as easy as looking at the opposite side of the wheel. Yellow and purple is one example of a pair of complementary colors, which can be used to provide some pop on your cover. Conversely, using colors next to each other on the wheel can make for a calming combination.
Choose an Illustration Style
If your children's book tells a story with the use of pictures and words, you'll want to use the cover to give potential readers a glimpse into the illustration style within. There should be a character featured on the cover, but the style of the cover will depend on the targeted age range for the book.
If your book is a text-heavy one for older kids, you'll definitely still want to put a character on the cover. But since you don't have interior illustrations to work from, you'll want to carefully consider your cover illustration so you end up with a great book cover.
Mind the Font
The font you use is perhaps as important as the illustration. The art of typography is not something you can pick up overnight, but by looking at other great book covers in your genre, you can get a feel for the kind of font that works.
You want it to be easy to read but also fun enough to catch the eye. Sometimes this means using a bright color for the font. Other times, it's enough to use black or white to make the title stand out against the background.
Children's Book Covers – Ages 0 to 5
Since most kids in this age range haven't yet learned how to read, it's best to focus on cover images. Simple is often better for books in this age group. Large font, simple words, and colors from the standard color wheel tend to perform best.
It's also important to ensure that any characters on the cover are familiar to young children. Bears, cats, dogs, bunnies, and birds are all good options. Cartoonish illustrations of these characters and their surroundings work well.
Soothing colors should be used for bedtime books, while brighter colors are best for those books teaching kids how to read, count, or identify animals. Here are two examples of great covers in this age range:
If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul and David Walker
With one simple glance, parents can tell that this is a great book for bedtime. Likewise, most young children will be able to recognize the cute elephants on the cover. The soothing blues and greens can promote relaxation when it's time to sleep.
Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
This children's book classic features a very simple cover with two animals every kid knows: a dog and a bird. The use of red on the dog's collar adds a splash that pops against the white and turquoise. Such a cover is likely to grab a kid's attention.
Children's Book Covers – Ages 6 to 9
Most kids learn to read around age 6, which is important to keep in mind when designing a book cover for this age range. The covers can be slightly more complex than those for younger kids. This means you have more choices when it comes to fonts and illustration styles. You can also branch out to pastel colors if it suits your book. Still, stick to vivid colors and combinations to draw the eye.
Characters on book covers in this range can still be animals, but you'll often see human characters, as well. The style tends to be a bit more real and less cartoonish, although that certainly isn't always the case. Check out these examples:
What Should Danny Do? by Adir Levy, Ganit Levy, and Mat Sadler
This cover showcases the more complex nature of book covers for this age range. It also shows human characters in a setting that kids this age will become familiar with: the classroom. It's still bright and colorful to help draw the eye.
Kindness is My Superpower by Alicia Ortego
This cover makes excellent use of slightly muted colors. It also uses longer words (kindness and superpower), as they're more appropriate for kids in this age range. Note the human character, as well.
Children's Book Covers – Ages 9 to 12
Kids in this age range are becoming individuals. They're starting to see more of the world, and they want to experience it. Adventure and personal relationships are often top of mind.
With this in mind, you can get a little more creative with your covers. Instead of sticking to simple fonts, you can branch out to more complex typography and longer titles. You can also use more abstract illustrations. Most of the time, kids in this age range will want to see a character on the cover they can identify with. You'll often see animated children — sometimes with animal companions — on these book covers.
You're also not limited to just bright colors or pastels here. You can trend toward darker colors and more complex combinations. Here are two examples:
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
This book cover is a great example of the possibilities for this age range. It's dark, stylized, and you can't see the characters' faces. Still, the use of color to draw the eye is well done.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston
This middle-grade fantasy book makes use of darker colors in the background. The swirls of white-blue signify the magical nature of the story within. And while most characters on the front of books for younger kids are smiling, that is not the case with this book and others like it.
Ages 13 and Up
The young adult genre is huge, including a wide variety of book covers and stories. Things are always changing in this age range, so research is doubly important. As teenagers become more individualistic while simultaneously trying to fit in with their peers, they'll seek out books with covers that resonate with them.
These covers are often dictated by their subgenre. A book aimed at teenage girls will have a very different cover than one aimed at teenage boys. An adventure book will have a very different cover than a teenage drama.
For young adult books, it's best to research the bestselling books in your subgenre to determine the best cover. You don't want to copy or chase fads, but let what you see influence your cover design.
Designing Your Children's Book Cover
With all the information I've covered fresh in your mind, it's time to take the next step: designing your cover. If you're doing the illustrations yourself, you may want to design your own cover. If you're going to hire an illustrator (or already have), then chances are they can draft a book cover for you.
Some children's book covers can be easily made from interior illustrations with just a few changes. You can find a particularly beautiful illustration in the book and use that as the cover, provided it hits all the marks for your targeted age range.
If you have no design experience, you can always work with a graphic designer to help you design a beautiful book that will help kids read, learn, and laugh. This is the best option for those who are new to self-publishing.
You never know, maybe your book will become a favorite book among children for decades to come!
For a look at different book cover design solutions, check out this article.