Monday, October 26, 2009


We don't see it very often, but it's striking when we do. A book cover with no title on it, and a children's book at that:

The minute I saw this new picture book at our indie kids' book shop, I flew across the room to have a look at it. It's Jerry Pinkney's nearly wordless adaptation of Aesop's
The Lion and the Mouse, and trust me, this image just doesn't do it justice. (Incidentally, I just made it my new desktop background, which I downloaded here). The back cover is equally scrumptious:

They are eye candy, aren't they? And the fact that there was no title, no words at all on the cover is what first drew my eye to the book. Jerry Pinkney talks about the books in interview here and an audio clip here.

It's rare to see a cover without text, but there have been other picture books which have left words off their covers.
The Red Book*, another wordless book by Barbara Lehman is one:

You'll have to imagine it without the Caldecott Honor seal, though. There's this Puss in Boots*, which came out a few years ago, illustrated by Fred Marcellino:

Whoa! There's another Caldecott Honor. I may be onto something. Or not. Anyway, here's Bryan Collier's eye-catching illustrated cover for Doreen Rappaport's
Martin's Big Words*:

In a post on the School Library Journal website, children's non-fiction author Marc Aronson says about this cover, "I remember first seeing MARTIN'S BIG WORDS. Bryan Collier's painting is direct and accessible and beautiful. But what made it stand out most of all is that there is no type on the cover, it's just the portrait. You can't consider that treatment for too many subjects, but it's a strong book cover now muddied somewhat by the string of awards decorating it. The price of success."

Is it true that you can't consider this treatment for too many subjects? How does a book designer know when it's going to work? Maybe the subject has to be someone or some character who is instantly recognizable. How do design people feel about leaving the title off the cover? What about leaving
all text off the cover? Is it bold and daring? Is it warranted? Is it an insult to typographers? Is it okay as long as you've got identifying words on the spine? Questions like these have generated some discussion on blogs about other titleless book covers, grown-up book covers that is, but I haven't found much out there about children's books. Picture books are unique in that the illustrator/creator of the book's interior art also makes the artwork for the cover, so we can presume they have a little more leverage in cover design. But one has to wonder what sort of conversations took place in the publishers' hallowed halls when these covers were first proposed:

Francesca Lia Block's book of short stories, Blood Roses*:

Okay, so it's a collection of short stories and that alone makes the title somewhat less necessary . . . and, let's just say it, it's Francesca Lia Block. Nothing would seem too unusual when it comes to the cover art for her ethereal work. I bet it wasn't too hard to push this one through.

Then there are the rebus-like covers of several Jerry Spinelli books:


. . . Love, Stargirl (okay, there's a word in there--so sue me), and the next title is . . .

. . . what else? Eggs. This one was produced by a different publisher from the Stargirl books, though (Little, Brown). Betsy Bird of "Fuse #8 Production" comments on this cover at the end of her review.

Lauren Myracle's cover designer had some fun with this, too:

This is Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks* published by Dutton. What's the appeal of the pictures? For me, the rebuses make the potential reader feel as though once she decodes the title she is included somehow, that she's in, that she gets it. Or maybe they're just fun.

I'm sure there are more title-less covers in print out there. Let us know if you think of any.

Oh, and special thanks to Sarah Goldstein for the topic idea. And double special *thanks to Jill Santopolo for coming up with so many titles for me. You guys are made of awesome with meringue.


  1. I'm going to be surprised if Jerry Pinkney doesn't get the Caldecott Medal this year. The book seems to be at the top of everyone's list, and I don't think the wordless cover hurt it in that respect - it's like a magnet, it pulls you in. Can you imagine if that lion (and that mouse on the back) had been reduced to about 25% of the current size to make room for title across the top and the author-illustrator at the bottom? It wouldn't have been anywhere near as intereting. People would have said, "Oh, another story from Pinkney. Neat." But they wouldn't have said WOW!!!! from across the room.

  2. It's not quite wordless, but the cover for I AND I: BOB MARLEY is a portrait of Bob Marley with just "I AND I" - it doesn't say Bob Marley, or the names of the author and illustrator.

  3. Love the cover. Love Marley. Lee and Low is the publisher and it just came out this year--thanks, Miriam! I shall try to post a link here but you'll probably need to copy and paste it into your browser:
    See also, Bryan Collier's John Lennon pb, which has just the faintest of text reflected in John's round glasses:

  4. One I recently discovered:

  5. Ooh! Doreen Rappaport again. A luminous cover image that fits Eleanor's bright presence--and let's face it, the First Lady has never looked so good.

  6. Rappaport's ABE'S HONEST WORDS is title-less, too.

  7. Meant to add: Sendak has two title-less covers, too - WE ARE ALL IN THE DUMPS WITH JACK AND GUY and MOMMY!

  8. Thanks for sharing other title-less covers. They do give a person reason to stop and read more about the books.