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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

That Covers It

While Waiting For Your Suggestions on How to Feature Non-Fiction

I thought I’d open up a related discussion: what makes for a great cover on a non-fiction book? For fiction, we’ve seen fashions come and go. In YA fiction, for example, the standard from the 1970s to the end of the 1980s was "realism." Did you catch this article, on the packaging of certain kinds of YA fiction? But what about nonfiction? Off hand I suspect there has been less change, less experimentation. Basically, in the younger ages you have the Seymour Simon look, A large, clear color photo showing the animal, or heavenly body, or exploding volcano that is the subject of the book. The more money the publisher puts into the book, the more spectacular the cover image. As the books get older, type takes over, until in the books like An American Plague it is all type (and those nice award medallions if you win them). 

But is this spectrum from single image to all type necessary? What could we be doing in our nonfiction covers to make for better displays, to catch the eyes of kids in the library? What could nonfiction seem cool to kids, not dorky, not "school-like" but fun?

Send in your favorites — with links so we can see them.


  1. Jeannine Atkins says:

    It seems that the rise in popularity of fiction for teens coincided with a change from covers featuring characters, often looking behind the times, to more sophisticated covers showing images, places, and maybe a part of a face or body, so I like your question and might add one about format. I see a lot of nonfiction for preteens and teens that, like nonfiction for younger readers, is often wide and flat, sometimes to accommodate photos, but it may also speak of books-for-school or even look too much like a picture book and be hard to carry about (and the expense keeps only a few from ever making it to paperback). Most of the popular nonfiction adults read comes shaped like a novel. Many of their covers have a simple small representative image, and if photographs of subjects are used they’re not smack in the middle, but cropped and framed with a more creative sense of design. At hand, I have Maria Mitchell and the (word deleted by spam-checker; can I subsitute gendering?) of Science by Renée Bergland, whose pleasant cover features a photograph of Mitchell and other nineteenth century astronomers in the upper third, the title in the middle, and below an avocado-colored band with brief description and blurb. I love the cover of The Man who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus by Joshua Kendall. The margins show a series of a hand writing with a feather quill; the black and white image is repeated like a the strip of photos from one of those old machines, with a small, round, locket-like painting of him in the center. It’s attractive. It makes me curious, as does the lovely cover of a book for younger readers, Through my Eyes by Ruby Bridges, in which the young Ruby’s face is dim in the black and white photo and runs into the margins: we feel both right there and wanting to know more.

  2. Nadine Kessler says:

    There is a particular series of nonfiction children’s books that I offer to many of my boy patrons who can’t find things they like. They seem to really enjoy them, mostly because they don’t “look” like the traditional books. There series is called, “You Wouldn’t Want To Be….” and then it’s either a Roman Gladiator, or a pirate’s prisoner, or at the Boston Tea Party, etc… They have a very “cool” graffiti-type font on the cover with a funny cartoon-like illustration. IT gets them every time. They are perfect for the 7-10 year olds, since they are both informative and just plain fun to read. They are also a perfect size – – I get lots of positive feedback from parents and the kids. It’s a great intro to a topic/interest. Take a look:

    You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Roman Gladiator! (You Wouldn’t Want To¿) (Paperback)
    by John Malam (Author), David Salariya (Author), David Antram (Illustrator)
    ISBN-10: 0531162044