On judging books by their beautiful covers

I am about halfway through Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’, and finding it a lovely read.

What makes  this book more enchanting is the edition that I am reading. It is a beautiful illustrated version that I got for my tenth or eleventh birthday, with illustrations by Graham Rust. I have never read it – I don’t know why, perhaps I was in the middle of reading something else at the time and forgot about it and it has just been sitting on a bookshelf, gathering dust. I feel sorry for the poor book, having to wait ten years to be read.

Does a beautiful looking book make the story more beautiful? It definitely seems to help. Children’s books, especially children’s classics, often have the most wonderful covers. I have gotten into the habit of making a new display somewhere around the bookstore I work in several times a week, and on Monday my workmate Alison and I made a new display for the children’s section, showcasing some of our favourite children’s covers. (You can see the sign we made. I drew the branches and the leaves, Alison cut out the daisies. I love craft days at work). See a picture of the wall below.

Do wonderful books get wonderful covers because they are wonderful, or are the covers wonderful because they cover wonderful books? I found it interesting that the books I selected for having lovely covers are some of my favourite children’s stories, like ‘Toby Alone’, ‘The Apothecary’ and the ‘Milly Molly Mandy Storybook’. I know we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but can we really help it? After all, it is the first thing that we see of a book when we pluck it off the shelf. I think it is interesting that some books have a multitude of different covers, like ‘The Wind in the Willows’, or ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (we must have about a dozen different illustrated versions of Alice). What is it about these stories that have made illustrators and artists want to reinterpret them, and show what they see in their imagination when they read that particular book? Why do some stories lend themselves to new editions, new drawings, new images so easily?

Although I love the illustrations in my edition of ‘The Secret Garden’, I also really like the new edition that has been released a few months ago, which has a cloth-bound cover designed by Lauren Child. You can see it in the picture I took of the display below, sitting next to ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’.

I think that the beautiful books that are being designed today are a sort of push back against the cold, sterile e-books that are becoming more and more popular. To me, I couldn’t image reading ‘The Secret Garden’ off a screen, when I could be reading it out of a beautiful cloth-bound book, with the feel of the material cover on my hands as I clutched at the book, waiting to read what comes next.



  1. Pingback: On Children’s Vintage Classics « 1001 Children's Books

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