Posted by: Tom Triumph | January 4, 2014

Judging a Book By Its Cover

A fascinating and engaging project for the classroom is comparing book jackets. To the right are two real covers for Sylvia Plath’s classic “The Bell Jar”.  The one on the left is the original, while the right one is for the 50th Anniversary Edition.  Quite a difference.

Follow this link to an interesting discussion (and comments!) on the covers.  In response to these covers, some artists have created parody covers like this one:

If you go to the library, check your own shelves and put out the call among parents (and scour the Goodwill shelves!) you’ll find different editions of your favorite books. Science fiction is the best breeding ground for diverse cover creations. Check out “Ender’s Game”. I think this is original cover (or it’s something like it):

None of my students wanted to read it based on this cover, although the adults who love the book have a strong emotional attachment to this one.

Publisher’s are never quite sure what to do with Ender.   The original Orson Scott Card story was for adults, but it clicked with young adult audiences.  Now, it’s a staple of the Young Adult canon.  So, they created a cover that young adults would be drawn to.

Our library has this cover:

That’s just goofy. Of course, this cover is in reaction to the book becoming a YA staple.  Look kids, it’s about video games (not really).   My students who have read “Ender’s Game” hate it, and are even embarrassed to read it.  Those who have not read it do not feel compelled to based on this cover.  Awful.  There is, of course, the movie tie-in edition (with the movie poster).  Like the original adult version, it’s neutral but not much of a draw.

The assignment then becomes: What would YOU design as a cover to get kids to read the book?  Break out the glitter!

Laying any series of books out for students, you can have a great discussion about judging a book by its cover.  As I said, Science Fiction is a great source, mainly because publishers try different markets for the book (“Fahrenheight 451” and “Slaughterhouse Five” are two examples of books that wander the sci-fi, literature, pulp, anniversary, school-adoption, young-adult markets. Plus, the groovy ’60’s cover  is very different from the Reagan era one).

If you cannot round up the books, have students put together a visual presentation consisting of the different covers (see: Google Images).  Pick books that have knocked around for years.  For a rich source of book titles, have students talk with adults  about the books THEY loved as kids.  This will not only provide fodder for the assignment, but gets kids talking to their parents and other adults about reading.  Connections!  And, it will expand their knowledge of “good” literature.  So many great books lay unread because of their dated covers.  Judy Blume has run the gamete of covers, while those “Little House” books barely change.  Why?  Discuss.

“Harry Potter” is a special case.  You not only have the time issue, but also the United Kingdom  vs. United States gap.  When “Potter” first came out, adults in the UK were  embarrassed to be reading an kid’s novel (but it was awesome, so they were in a conundrum).  Knowing an untapped market when they saw it, Bloomsbury put out an adult version–same book, but with adult covers.

You can read an interesting article about different “Harry Potter” covers here.  Now that all seven books are out, Scholastic is putting out new sets with new covers.  Discuss.

There are a lot of good projects you can do with covers.  In the end, kids will connect with books in a way they did not when they just read them.  It breathes new life into the discussion, expands their horizons, and taps those non-reading brains in a new, creative way–bring on the visual learners!

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