It’s true. A lot of expertise goes into creating a cover so that it conveys genre and age-appropriateness, and hints at the content. If you’re looking for your child’s next favourite book or series, you can start with the fonts, colours, and images of the last one they loved. Scan the virtual shelves of your favourite retailer and pick out any books that seem to have a similar design. Then use a guide such as the one available through my mailing list, or websites such as Common Sense Media or Goodreads to make a more detailed assessment on whether the title is right for your child.
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Fantasy & Magic
Look for swirling fonts – or occasionally jagged-edged fonts – and sparkles or glow to indicate magic. Blue, purple, and amber are common colour features. If your child enjoys books like Harry Potter, these are the elements to look out for.
Action & Adventure
Reds and oranges are common in action and adventure books. Fonts are bold, blocky, and often outlined in thick black.
Similar to Adventure with fonts outlined in black, but look for added creepiness in titles that look like they are dripping, oozing, scratched, torn, or the like. Red, orange, slime green, and black are popular choices.
Humour & Comedy
Look for bubble writing thickly outlined in black if your child likes slapstick comedy. For more subtle humour, take your cue from the cover image and hints in the title.
Mystery & Detective
A magnifying glass in the cover image is a well-known (ahem) clue, as is a partially-obscured face. Colours may be cooler than the warm tones of action and adventure stories, though these genres sometimes overlap. Fonts tend to be plain, clear, and straightforward, without the flourishes of Fantasy or the bold black outlining of comedy and action.
SF or Sci-Fi is not very common in children’s books, where Fantasy tends to dominate. Look for fonts that mimic computer text and cool colours with silver aspects or a neon glow.
Books that are literary often have stylised cover imagery, using symbols or silhouettes instead of a scene or identifiable character from the story. However, YA Fantasy has picked up the symbol trend, too, so check the blurb if your teen is not into magic.
Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle-grade chapter book The Convoluted Key, picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job.