I, like many others, developed my love for reading as a child. Although the general sentiment is to not judge a book by its cover, children’s book covers gave my mother and me a glimpse into the new worlds we’d both be thrust into the minute we open the first page. What we saw on the cover helped us decide whether this world was enchanting enough for us—but especially for me—to play around in and learn from.
The demand for children’s books is massive, with 250 million children’s books sold in 2022 alone. If you’re a children’s book author, your book will compete with many others on the shelves in a glorious burst of colors and illustrations. If you want to sell well, your children’s book cover has to stand out among the crowd (or should I say stacks?)
In this article, we’ll be exploring 10 children’s book covers and why they stand out.
Below are some of the best children’s book covers, categorized by reading level:
Picture books are intended for very young readers, usually aged 2 – 8 years old. As the name suggests, picture books mostly comprise illustrations that tell a story. Some picture books have minimal text that children can understand, but not necessarily read, e.g. greetings, animal sounds, etc. These words, combined with the illustrations, provide context and aid children in their interpretation of the story.
1. Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Brought to life by amazing illustrator, Vashti Harrison, this book cover features a dreamy and vibrant image of the titular character, Sulwe, surrounded by a celestial background of glimmering little stars.
The use of deep blues and purples, accented by the shimmering lights, conveys a sense of fantasy and magic—but the real star of this cover is Sulwe herself. Her eyes brim with curiosity and wonder as she reaches out to something (or someone). It’s as though she’s inviting the reader to come on a momentous journey with her. And what adventurous child doesn’t want to journey through the stars?
For parents, Sulwe’s cover carries a powerful message of confidence, inner beauty, and self-acceptance, which are important lessons to share with children. The celestial theme evokes a sense of hope and possibility, reminding parents of the boundless potential within each child.
2. Hey Grandude! by Paul McCartney
Nothing screams “adventure” quite like this book by Paul McCartney—yes, the same Paul McCartney from The Beatles. The book features a whimsical and lively depiction of a cheerful, older man (Grandude!) surrounded by his four energetic, imaginative grandchildren who look up in wonder at him.
With adventure-themed elements like a map, compass, binoculars, touchpoints, and the North Star, this book cover promises to take children on an amazing journey with Grandude and his crew.
For parents, this book cover conveys a heartwarming story of the power of imagination and intergenerational bonding. Grandude’s confident, yet caring, demeanor shows the special connection he has with his grandchildren—one that parents want their own children to have.
Fun fact: “Grandude” is the preferred moniker of Paul McCartney’s own grandchildren.
3. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Vashti Harrison works her magic yet again with the illustration of Hair Love’s book cover, which features a loving father and his daughter, bonding over the act of styling her kinky, coily hair.
For young children, this cover stands out because it portrays a gentle moment between a parent and their child. The father’s loving gaze and his daughter’s warm expression foster a sense of affection, connection, and security that all children want to feel with their parents.
Parents, on the other hand, can see just how strong a bond they can form with their children by doing seemingly mundane tasks like styling hair. This speaks to the universal theme of parental love, and the desire of parents to nurture and support their children.
4. Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
This captivating and evocative book cover features the central character, Lalani, in a small boat. Looming over her is a big tree with gnarled, scary-looking branches, and a vibrant, swirling sea around her.
The lush, fantastical setting invites young readers into an enthralling world of islands and sea creatures. And while that may sound scary to some, Lalani’s determined expression conveys courage and resilience that’ll carry them through the journey.
Parents will appreciate the sense of bravery and the spirit of adventure that this book cover provokes. Lalani’s posture exudes determination and strength, which parents want their children to have as they pursue their dreams.
5. A Kite for Moon by Jane Yolen
This book cover, illustrated with muted blue and green hues, features a mysterious young boy standing in front of a full moon, a kite in hand. This magical imagery evokes a sense of wonder and imagination, which can deeply resonate with young children (especially those who play with kites).
For parents, this cover embodies a universal message of hope, aspiration, and the power of dreaming big. It shows that children can achieve anything they set their minds to. The connection between the boy and the full moon also speaks to the larger theme of interconnectedness and the vastness of the universe, which can be both awe-inspiring and comforting for parents to share with their children.
Fun fact: A Kite for Moon is dedicated to Neil Armstrong and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
Middle-grade books are usually meant for kids aged 8 – 12 years old, i.e. middle graders. These books often use humorous, inspiring, and/or fantastical stories to explain what middle graders go through, including school experiences, happy (or sad) family dynamics, making (or losing) friends, physical changes, and a growing understanding of the world and its vices.
1. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
We’ll start this list off with one of the most popular fantasy franchises: Percy Jackson. There’s been several books, graphic novels, movie adaptions, and even a musical. But it was in the first book, The Lightning Thief, that everything started—with Percy discovering that he’s a demigod.
The cover of The Lightning Thief provides a glimpse into Percy’s crazy world as it depicts the young protagonist standing in the middle of a raging storm. Under his feet is a giant statue that resembles a man with a trident (presumably the god of the sea, Neptune), and in the distance are high-rise buildings with lightning bolts overhead.
This book cover reels children who love adventure and mystery, as it promises a dynamic and action-packed story rooted in the rich world of Greek mythology. Percy’s confident stance in the midst of a raging storm, even with the uncertainty of what lies ahead, suggests a hero’s journey, which is a trope that resonates across generations.
2. Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney
If you, like me, get confused with recipes sometimes, you can probably relate to Alice’s bewildered expression on this whimsical book cover. In it, Alice is standing in her scattered kitchen with a gelatin-like dessert in hand. She looks confused—and rightly so because in front of her is an array of cakes, pies, and sundaes. Behind her, there are several ingredients cooking utensils, and a big strawberry-filled bowl.
Young children, especially those who like cooking, are drawn to this book cover because of its relatable depiction of a child who doesn’t seem to know her way around the kitchen well. The abundance of desserts, ingredients, and utensils gives young readers a glimpse into the fun and excitement of cooking, which can be fascinating.
For parents, this book cover conveys a sense of family, togetherness, and the joys of shared experiences. It promises a story of creativity and connection, wrapped up in a delightful culinary adventure. This is especially intriguing for parents who use cooking as a means to bond with their children and pass down family traditions.
3. Starfish by Lisa Fipps
This book cover features a close-up picture of a smiling plus-size girl named Ellie floating in a body of water with her arms and legs outstretched. The happy expression on Ellie’s face conveys determination, joy, and strength, which can inspire young readers, especially those who love water and/or get bullied for their weight.
For parents, this cover speaks to the universal theme of happiness, inner strength, and self-acceptance. The image of Ellie in her flowery bathing suit floating in the water reflects a sense of freedom, empowerment, and the courage to face adversity—which are qualities parents want to instill in their children (especially if said children are getting bullied like the main character in the book).
4. That Thing About Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar
This vibrant book cover features a young girl, adorned with shimmering jewelry, striking a dynamic Indian dance pose. The warm yellow background shows halo-like images of other Bollywood dancers with purple flower petals falling around them—a scenery that is reminiscent of Indian cinema (Bollywood).
The girl’s energetic dance move and happy expression immediately convey a sense of fun and excitement that can engage young readers’ imaginations, especially children who love music and dance.
For parents, this book cover reflects the cultural richness and exuberance of Bollywood (and India, by extension). It evokes a sense of nostalgia for those familiar with Indian cinema and introduces it invitingly to those who may be new to it. The cover also suggests that the story celebrates cultural heritage and self-expression through music and dance, which can resonate with parents who want to instill in their children a sense of appreciation for diverse cultures.
5. The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
A character in a wheelchair put front and center on the cover of a book is not something you see every day. But Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz took this a step further by portraying the young, disabled girl as a theater-loving kid who loves singing (if the microphone in her hand and the joyful expression on her face are anything to go by).
This book cover draws children in because it captures a sense of strength and positivity even in the face of challenges. It also shows children that they can pursue their dreams and achieve their goals no matter the setbacks they experience.
For parents, this cover not only sends a powerful message of empowerment and possibility, but it also celebrates diversity and inclusive representation. This is especially important for parents with disabled kids, as they can show their kids that, regardless of the challenges they face, they can develop themselves and pursue their passions.
Design Amazing Children’s Book Covers
Nothing beats a well-designed book cover to get children and parents to take an interest in and buy your children’s book. The key to a great book cover design, however, is to try and see your story and the world you’ve conjured through the eyes of a child.
If you’re a good illustrator and/or designer, you can design your children’s book cover yourself. But if you don’t have great design skills, you can hire an illustrator or book cover designer to design a book cover that is enthralling and accurately represents the book’s contents. This is the best option if you plan to self-publish your book.
If you’re a self-publisher and you want to learn what makes a good book cover, check out this book cover design checklist. Not only will you learn the elements of a great book cover, but you’ll also get a checklist to know if you hit all the right points and a workbook to narrow down the options.