How book covers can help improve literacy
We’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover. But in fact there are many reasons why teachers and parents should encourage children to do just that.
Book covers can be a gateway to improving literacy. They can:
✓ intrigue reluctant readers to pick up a book, and help to maintain their interest
✓ signpost eager readers to new texts, either in familiar or alternative genres
✓ welcome readers back to an old favourite.
Some may have thought the advent of ebooks would shift focus away from a book’s cover. However, as #bookstagram on Instagram shows, it has done the opposite. Print and electronic publishers alike must ensure their covers are ever more compelling in order to attract the attention of potential readers.
Bedrock has done exactly this, turning our ten-year literacy and vocabulary curriculum into a captivating library that draws learners into each topic.
How do book covers support literacy development?
A cover is the first thing a potential reader notices about both fiction and non-fiction books – whether a child is browsing in a library or bookshop, searching online, or is given a book by a teacher or parent.
Whether a cover needs to persuade its handler to buy or borrow it, or it has a more captive audience as a set text in class, a good cover acts as a window into the story inside. Often subconsciously, we all discern clues from a cover (title, author, image, colour, font) to help us guess what it’s about and whether it will interest us.
A good book cover acts as bait. Carefully balancing insight with suspense, it piques interest so it’s picked up or clicked on.
A book cover’s power to boost literacy doesn’t end there, however. Even as a reader becomes engrossed in a text, a compelling cover has the power to maintain interest by:
✓ making the atmosphere of a narrative more explicit
✓ providing visual representations of key characters
✓ holding suspense by teasing what happens next.
Occasionally a bookshop, library or online store will have multiple editions of the same text, with startlingly different covers. Some designs may be inspired by a TV or film adaptation. This a long-established trick of publishers, because they know that many readers find photos of familiar characters compelling.
Older children could enjoy exploring differences and similarities between such covers, seeing their evolution over time and judging which version is most appealing.
Finally, children of all ages can enjoy considering how specific elements of a cover influence reading choices. An enhanced understanding of why we make these choices could even inspire sharper decision making. They could also design their own book covers for favourite books!
Five features of a book cover that can influence its appeal include:
1. The title
This should convey whether the book is fiction or non fiction. A non-fiction title will typically be informative and factual (such as Feeding the UK, or Amelia Earhart: Queen of the Air from Bedrock’s library of texts), while a fiction title may hint at adventure or mystery to entice the reader (Bedrock’s The Mercenary or The Legend of Sun Wukong).
2. The focal photo or illustration
This should set out the genre and subject of the book and pique interest. It can either depict a specific scene from the book (as in The Girl in the Tower) or focus on the essence of the plot or subject (such as Alan Turing). There should be detail, but not too much – nowadays a cover has to appeal as a thumbnail on a website as well as in paper on a shelf.
3. The author
Often, books by established and renowned authors have their name in a bigger font than the title, to attract the attention of readers who have enjoyed their other books.
4. The font
This can be a cipher for the book’s genre and help contribute to the atmosphere a text conveys or the emotion it evokes. It can symbolise emotion (the jagged blood red of Shark! or the lightning flash in Bolt!), evoke a particular area, era or country (the style reminiscent of cave drawings in The Artists of the Caves, the cowboy font in The Wild West!, or German flag colours in The Berlin Wall). For extra impact it can even be incorporated into the image itself (becoming Muhammad Ali’s boxing glove, or the melting ice around The Polar Bear).
5. The colour
This is a simple way to convey a book’s mood. A non fiction title often conveys authority and insight, whereas a fiction title may hint at an emotionally engaging story. Red can denote danger or excitement (Revolution), black can hint at mystery (The Highwaymen of England), and yellow has connotations of happiness (King Midas and the Golden Touch).