When you’re a child there can be nothing more special than reading a book or hearing one read aloud to you by your parent. These books expand expand a child’s mind to new worlds while subtly teaching lessons about the one we all live in together. Linguistic experts have long touted that a young person who is read to has a leg up developmentally and emotionally as they grow.
The market for children’s books is massive—adults spend over $3 billion on kids’ books each year. If you’re a children’s book author, your book will be competing in a crowded, colorful, and busy marketplace. A modern children’s book needs to be playful but appropriate for its age group, as well as eye-catching and well illustrated to grab the parents’ attention. The covers outlined below will give you a good picture of some of the current trends that make will make sure your children’s book pops.
Picture book covers
A picture book is beautifully illustrated and has a low word count—think under 1000 words total—and usually clocks in around 32 pages. They are created for children who cannot yet read, or are in the early stages of learning to read. The general age range for picture books is three to eight years old. Each page should be mostly image, with no more than a line or two per spread.
Many of the books subtly center around moral or civic lessons we want kids to know—saying please and thank you, learning to wait quietly, sharing with others–while skipping the heavy-handed lecture. Some teach preschoolers basic counting and reading skills and invite them to participate and learn in a more active way. Others are meant to create a calm atmosphere before bedtime. Whether soft and water-colored, open and minimalist, or bright and busy, these covers should be appealing to young children and create a world they want to be immersed in night after night.
Easy reader book covers
If your book is aimed at slightly older children (4-8 years old) and blends illustrations with very short chapters of text, your book is probably in the Easy reader category. These books aim to show children the joy of reading a whole book by themselves and have 2500 words or less in the entire book.
These books almost always feature a fun, relatable main character, like Pippy Longstocking or Princess Soup. Around this age, kids will start to select their own books, choosing the character whose adventures they most enjoy reading about. Personality is important here—even if your book premieres an entirely new series, your cover must sell fully-formed lead characters. Covers for this age group are more cartoon-y, full of exciting colors and movement and evoking the animated movies and shows young kids are accustomed to.
Chapter book covers
Chapter books are longer with fewer illustrations and are meant for 7-10 year olds. Think of the most perennial children’s books—Stuart Little, The Secret Garden, Hatchett and Island of the Blue Dolphins—for the most popular themes. Action, adventure and fantasy dominate the market.
These are books for kids growing wild imaginations. Kids that love everything from pirates and space, historical quests and adventures, to fossils and time travel. If your book features an outlandish plot or wild setting, these are the covers to emulate. They should be fast-paced, quick reads with lots of chapters. With the chapters getting a little longer, these books often have black and white interior pages and illustrations. That means the covers have to do even more work, showing the fantastical worlds held within.
Educational and nonfiction children’s book covers
This category is pretty self-explanatory—if your book seeks to teach kids something, it’s probably educational! Just because a book is instructive doesn’t mean it has to be dry. Be sure your cover looks significantly different than the books used in school. Some educational books are filled to the brim with experiments, facts and riddles, while others tell profound nonfiction stories of some of the world’s most important people. Whatever the subject, make sure your cover tells kids learning can be appealing and exciting, they will be sure to pick it up.
Middle-grade book covers
Middle-Grade novels are for eight to twelve year olds. They feature longer chapters, more characters, as well as increasingly complex themes and plots. Instead of the basic adventure stories from chapters books, in a middle-grade novel a character will learn deeper life lessons through relationships with other characters.
At this age, the themes and settings become much more grounded in reality (think Jerry Spinelli’s work, Bridge to Teribithia, Number the Stars.) The most popular middle-grade novels are set in series with recurring characters and settings, set against realistic backgrounds (often school) that kids will instantly relate to. Though traditionally not illustrated heavily, the recent immense popularity of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other similar series, has given rise to more heavily graphic middle-grade novels. These covers usually present kids with visual clues that are familiar to them (school settings, fashion, sports, etc) but still need to present them in a unique way in order to grab the attention of kids who have increasingly busy schedules.
Make the magic visual
You’ve written and completed a children’s book! Like the protagonists of many of these books, you’re about to embark on a great adventure. The best children’s books capture the magic of childhood and are meant to be read and reread, cherished and passed down through generations. If you think you’ve written the next Goodnight, Moon or Where the Wild Things Are, use these guidelines to be sure your cover accurately and beautifully reflects the book you’ve crafted.