From a tiny copy of the Divine Comedy and a once-illegal birth control guide to a Bible the size of a stamp, these strange artifacts are masterpieces writ small.
A miniature book containing The Lord’s Prayer is displayed at London Christie’s in 2006, that measures five by five millimetres. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
It is known as the “fly’s eye Dante”: an 1878 edition of the Divine Comedy which is so small – just 11/4 by 13/4 inches – that it is said to have taken 11 years to print, and to have damaged the eyes of both its compositor and corrector. Bound in red leather embossed with gold, the world’s smallest edition of Dante’s classic poem, which was printed by the Salmin Brothers in Padua, is one of almost 50 officially designated miniature books housed in the London Library. Nomenclature is important here: according to the US-based Miniature Book Society, a miniature book “is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness”, and while the London Library has some 350-odd “small” books, of less than five inches, it has only 47 true miniatures. The library decided they were being overshadowed by their larger cousins, so now they are gathered together in a glass-fronted cabinet.
The ‘fly’s eye Dante’ in the London Library. Photograph: Alison Flood
Alongside the Dante, there is the smallest AuthorisedVersion of the Bible, first printed by David Bryce of Glasgow in 1896. Bryce said that when he “descended to the miniature, mite and midget size” he had “many a scoff and jeer as to the absurdity of the production”. This edition of the Bible, just an inch across, comes with a tiny magnifying glass tucked into a pocked in its cover (unlike the Dante, which is small but perfectly legible, this book would be impossible to read without one). There is also a miniature edition of Kate Greenaway’s Alphabet from the 1880s, and Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, who looks after the London Library’s collection, points to the 1828 edition of Horace’s odes, the second book to be published using Henri Didot’s microscopic type. In a display of virtuosity, the text also contains a number of ornamental lines, the centre of which is formed by the letters “Henri Didot” printed even smaller than the type of the main text. I peer over the pages attempting to spot these; at last, using the zoom function on my phone, I find them.
“In its quality, it’s unparallelled,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “He’s showing off. It was published in the 1820s, that’s quite early. I’m not surprised people called it a miracle.”
The earliest miniature books in the collection date to the 16th century. Books were often made small, according to Garcia-Ontiveros, because they were religious texts – so people wanted to keep them close as they felt emotionally connected to them – or because they were controversial and had “to be secreted about one’s person”, such as Charles Knowlton’s 1832 guide to birth control, The Fruits of Philosophy.
Jagadish Shukla holds miniature copies of a Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/EPA
But miniature books have a much longer history. The British Library points to two small cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia. Both concerned with trading information about animals and provisions, one is dated to around 2325BC and measures 15/8 by 11/2 inches; the other is dated 2200BC and measures 17/8 by 11/4 inches. In AD770, the Japanese empress Shotoku gave orders for the printing of 1m copies of a prayer scroll a mere 23/8 inches tall, the D’harani prayer. These writings were made miniature, writes the British Library’s Annalisa Ricciardi, “so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract”.
Technological developments in the 1800s made it possible to print text even more. “That’s when you get the truly mind-bogglingly tiny books,” says Garcia-Ontiveros, citing everything from the Horace to Bryce’s Bible to a complete set of Shakespeare’s plays that can be held cupped in two hands.
Simon Garfield, who recently published In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World, says his favorite is the Sherlock Holmes story How Watson Learned the Trick, which was written in the 1920s by Arthur Conan Doyle. “It’s bound in red leather, measures under 4cm by 3cm and contains 503 words. That’s about one page of a regular book, but it’s handwritten and extends to 34 pages,” says Garfield. (The original can be found in Queen Mary’s Dolls’’ House in Windsor Castle.) “The title’s ironic: the story, composed almost entirely of dialogue, begins with Watson thinking he’s mastered the art of elementary detection, only to be deflated by Holmes proving him wrong on every count.”
Around the world, collectors coo over the Salmin Brothers’ 1896 copy of Galileo’s 1636 letter to his friend Cristina di Lorena, which Louis Bondy writes in his history of miniature books “was considered the smallest printed from movable type” for many years: it is half the size of a postage stamp. A copy is in MIT Libraries, in Massachusetts, alongside a handful of other miniatures: four addresses by Abraham Lincoln and extracts from Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography. Both are as small as the Galileo, but neither were set from movable type. The National Library of Scotland has one of Bryce’s most famous publications, a miniature Koran printed in Arabic around 1900, copies of which, it says, were often given to Muslim soldiers fighting with allied forces during the first world war, the metal locket allowing it “to be easily worn around the neck of the soldier”.
“The 19th century was absolutely the golden age, the heyday of miniature printing,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “They were saying, we want to push this to the limit and see how far we can go.”
Those limits have gone from inches to millimeters to micrometers. In 1952, a Munich publisher produced a five-by-five millimeter book containing the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish (it sold for £1,300 in London in 2006). Guinness World Records lists the smallest reproduction of a printed book as Teeny Ted from Turnip Town, which measures 70 micrometers by 100 micrometers and was etched using an ion beam. Russian scientist Vladimir Aniskin believes he has beaten this with Levsha, his 70-by-90 micrometers book. The pages are turned using a sharpened metal needle.
What is it that makes the world of the miniature so appealing? “It’s the feeling that you can hold the entire works of Shakespeare in your hands,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “Miniature books were never seen as serious books, they were curiosities, seen as fun objects, not the kind of books that would make it into libraries. They were the books people would have at home, and because they are tiny and often printed on cheap paper they don’t tend to survive, so in any age miniature books are very rare. And they get lost! We ourselves had one fall behind a cabinet and it wasn’t until we had some building work done that one of the builders saw it behind a cabinet. We’d been looking for it for years.”
For Garfield, it is less about content and more about the skill that went into making them at all. “Their size ensures that the reader takes great care in handling and appreciating them. This is the trick of so many miniature objects,” he says. “The smaller they are, the more one looks.”
So you’ve decided to take Marie Kondo’s advice to heart and remove some of the books from your space. Congratulations! It’s a tough thing to do sometimes, we know. But now that you’ve made that decision, you might be left wondering—what do I do with unwanted books? Well, my friend, you’re in luck. I have just the list for you.
MAKE BOOK ART
You might not be the most crafty person in the world, but there are lots of crafts you can do with books you’re otherwise finished with. Try something ornate, like making a decorative birdcage out of books or go a bit easier and use book pages as the canvas for your latest print or drawing.
MAKE A SECRET BOX
You might have sensitive documents or meaningful trinkets lying around and while we can’t all have a secret room hidden by a bookcase, we can pretty much all have secret boxes that look like books—and were, in a former life—to hide small items in. (Alternatively, switch out the traditional ring box with a book box for a proposal to show your potential future spouse you get them.)
Libraries, prisons, shelters, schools, and certainly other places are often in need of books. Be sure they’re in good condition and not too outdated for maximum helpfulness! Otherwise, you’re just asking someone else to do the work of chucking them in the recycling bin for you.
Just because a book was no good for you doesn’t mean it’s not right for someone else. As long as the book is in good condition and you’re also giving it in good faith—not just to get rid of something—there’s nothing wrong with giving it as a gift.
BRING THEM TO A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY
Almost like regifting, there’s also the option of bringing unwanted books to your nearest Little Free Library. It’s a great way to get to know your neighborhood (and maybe meet your neighbors) while potentially even scoring some new books for yourself. Win-win! You can find official Little Free Libraries near you using their map tool. Meanwhile, you might also find similar, unofficial setups near your home just by going on a walk.
USE THEM AS A DOORSTOP
There’s a reason we call big books doorstops. And why not put something big and beautiful to use? It can be both an artful addition to your home and functional. Plus, imagine the conversations you’ll have in your home when others see it. “So, did you actually read War and Peace?” It’s only a hop to the woes of climate change from there—after all, you did reuse and recycle, thus avoiding more plastic packaging from an item actually meant to be a doorstop.
MAKE FURNITURE FROM THEM
Akin to crafting with books, why not make furniture of them? They’re already piled up around your home, and if you arrange them just so with a little added glue and maybe some additional wooden support, you’ve got yourself a new end table. More recycling—yay!
START A BOOK EXCHANGE AT YOUR WORKPLACE OR ELSEWHERE
Everyone likes free stuff! My library does an annual event around Valentine’s Day involving the exchange of romance novels and cupcakes. Why not encourage your coworkers or other groups you see regularly to do something similar? Do it in one big event where everyone gets a ticket for every book they take in to represent the number of books they can take out if you want to be exact about it or set up a system more like a Little Free Library in your break room. One person’s unwanted book is another person’s next great read!
What other ideas do you have for things to do with unwanted books? Tell us in the comments!
Here it be: the List. Our favorite comics of the year. They may not be yours. The lovely thing about comics is that there are millions of them and there is something for everyone. We’d love to hear what yours were. In addition. Let’s celebrate the fact we all love this crazy-mixed up-free for all of a medium.
THE ADVENTURE ZONE: HERE THERE BE GERBLINS BY CAREY PIETSCH, CLINT MCELROY, GRIFFIN MCELROY, JUSTIN MCELROY, AND TRAVIS MCELROY (FIRST SECOND)
This year, I played D&D for the first—and probably last—time. As a socially anxious introvert, the game itself exhausted me. But I did enjoy the world-building and the choose your own adventure-ness of it all, and so I began reading comics built around D&D. This graphic novel based upon “The Adventure Zone,” a popular comedy podcast that follows a D&D campaign, blows them all away, mostly because of its fantastic sense of humor. I found myself literally LOL-ing on every page. And it didn’t hurt that the protagonists themselves were also gaming noobs. I eagerly await Volume 2.
AMERICAN CARNAGE BY BRYAN EDWARD HILL, LEANDRO FERNANDEZ, BEN OLIVER, AND RAFAEL ALBUQUERQUE (DC/VERTIGO)
Disgraced FBI agent Richard Wright is asked by the Bureau to infiltrate a white supremacist organization. Asked by his old mentor because he’s biracial and can pass for white. Once inside, however, Wright discovers he likes the power being part of such a group offers. Perhaps a bit too much. Hill’s brutal, honest writing is everything we need right now.
BINGO LOVE BY TEE FRANKLIN AND JENN ST-ONGE (IMAGE)
Franklin lives a couple towns over from me, so I get a kick out of the sense of familiarity I feel when I enter the world of Bingo Love. But more than that, I’m including this comic here because St-Onge’s artwork is to die for, and Franklin’s story shattered my heart into a billion tiny pieces. The story, at its most basic level: two young women meet at church bingo in 1963 and fall in love, only to be kept apart by both their families and by society. Decades later, they meet again. Dun dun DUN. This came out back in February, but Image just released a Jackpot Edition, containing a TON of bonus material.
BLACKBIRD BY SAM HUMPHRIES, JEN BARTEL, AND FIONA STAPLES (IMAGE)
Gods. Monsters. That color palette. A woman on a quest for the truth and for her sanity. When I interviewed Sam at SDCC before issue 1 dropped, he confirmed that Harry Potter meets Riverdale was an apt description and I have not been disappointed. This book is tightly written and absolutely gorgeous. I’m excited for each new issue and I can’t wait to see where it swerves next.
EXORSISTERS BY IAN BOOTHBY, GISÉLE LAGACÉ, KARI, PIA GUERRA, DAVID LAFUNTE (IMAGE)
I’m ashamed to admit Exorsisters wasn’t on my radar until I happened to notice the title on the Image advanced review list one week and decided to check it out. I’m really, reallyglad I get that email because I absolutely adore this tale of sibling exorcists, snarky demons, and secret deals with the denizens of the literal underworld and can’t recommend it highly enough. The art has that Chilling Tales of Sabrina aesthetic with a tiny bit of Emily the Strange thrown in for good measure and there’s one panel that’s currently the wallpaper on my laptop…I don’t want to ruin the hilarity but you’ll know it when you see it…
Deathcap is a mushroom battling mental illness. To this end, Deathcap engages in self-care, gets a pet, and tries to socialize. I love Deathcap so much.
INFIDEL BY PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE, AARON CAMPBELL, AND JOSE VILLARRUBIA (IMAGE)
I’ve mentioned Infidel many, many times on this site. And with good reason. I started reading as soon as the first issue dropped, back in March, and found it to be so well done I couldn’t stop. About an American Muslim woman haunted by evil entities that seem to feed off xenophobia, this comic’s social message may seem in your face, but actually contains many layers. When a full volume was released in October, I reread the entire thing, marveling at the ways in which the story came together, oohing and ahhing over the gorgeous artwork, and just generally enjoying the deliciously creepy horror of it all. Infidel is the best horror comic I’ve read, hands down.
We need light comics this year. And we need light comics that shows how we find light in the darkness, either literally or figuratively. Lucy is unpopular at school, at home, and even with most animals. Things start to look up when she auditions for a rock band in disguise, and gets a sweet puffer fish for a pet.
MAN-EATERS #3 BY CHELSEA CAIN, KATE NIEMCZYK, RACHELLE ROSENBERG, AND JOE CARAMAGNA (IMAGE)
Just three issues in, Man-Eaters is proving to be a delightfully fun commentary on the ways in which women are controlled by society. Cats and sparkles are also in abundance, which are two weaknesses of mine. I swear, every time I finish an issue, I want to plaster the walls with its pages. Except that I also don’t want to deface my copies. Maybe I need two copies of each issue? (Y/N?) The basic premise is that a mutation in toxoplasmosis somehow causes menstruating women to turn into ferocious killer wildcats. Society adapts by finding ways to prevent menstruation. By issue three, the young girls at the heart of this comic shift from powerless to powerful (and hella clever).
NANCY DREW BY KELLY THOMPSON, JENN ST-ONGE, TRIONA FARRELL, AND ARIANA MAHER (DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT)
This five-issue reboot of one of my favorite childhood heroines kicked off in June, and I loved every second of it. I already mentioned up above that St-Onge is one of my favorite artists, and I really dug how Thompson and St-Onge paired up to breathe new life into this gang of super-sleuths. Just pure fun, and I have my fingers crossed for a second arc. In the meantime, if you want to wait, the volume that collects all of these issues together—Nancy Drew: Cold Case—is available at the end of February.
Honestly one of the cutest and sweetest graphic novels I’ve ever read. His parents may be looking for his future bride, but all the crown prince really wants is the freedom to express himself—and if that means sometimes wearing a dress, that really shouldn’t matter should it? It certainly doesn’t to Frances, the seamstress he hires and trusts with his secret. The job turns into a friendship and the friendship maybe even turns into something more as they navigate what it means to be young and to be true to yourself. Honestly, just a feel good story with lovely illustrations that everyone should read if only to put a smile on your face.
RAINBOW BRITE #1 BY JEREMY WHITLEY, BRITTNEY WILLIAMS, VALENTINA PINTO, TAYLOR ESPOSITO, KEVIN KETNER
In this garbage fire year that has been 2018, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I needed a delightful comic about friendship that also drowned me in nostalgia and made my ‘80s-loving heart squee. Williams is one of my favorite artists and Whitley always creates comics about girls on adventures that just make my heart so happy. I can’t wait to follow along on Wisp and Willow’s adventures.
SAGA VOLUME 9 BY FIONA STAPLES AND BRIAN K VAUGHAN (IMAGE COMICS)
If you’ve been meaning to catch up with this FANTASTIC series, now’s your time. This latest collection is a gut-punch of emotions, full of heartbreak, violence, and the sweetest small moments that show what it’s like to be alive.
THE SANDMAN UNIVERSE #1 STORY BY NEIL GAIMAN, WRITTEN BY DAN WATTERS, KAT HOWARD, NALO HOPKINSON, DOMINIKE STANTON, AND SIMON SPURRIER (DC/VERTIGO)
I mention this one not because it’s the best of the comics that have emerged from Gaiman’s Sandman universe since it returned, but because it brought all of these writers and artists together. Sebastian Fiumara, Max Fiumara, Tom Fowler, Domonike Stantion, and Bilquis Evely are all featured in this stunning introduction, which featured seven variant covers. The return was exciting and anticipated, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the four different stories and threads that I first glimpsed in Sandman Universe #1.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
SNOTGIRL VOL 2. CALIFORNIA SCREAMING BY BRIAN O’MALLEY, ART BY LESLIE HUNG; WITH RACHAEL COHEN AND MARÉ ODOMO (IMAGE COMICS)
The story of fashion blogger Lottie Person is strange, bizarre, and occasionally even hard to follow, but the ludicrous personality of our main character, the mystery of the surrealist things that keep happening to her, the new best friend who is maybe murdering people? The bright, poppy art style combined with a plot line about influencers, gossip, and drama, kept me hooked all the way through.
December is here, which means you’re being bombarded with best of lists upon best of lists. Here’s another one you can add to the list, but this one comes with a bit of a twist: rather than focus entirely on the content, this is a round-up of the best book covers of 2018.
Criteria for the best book covers of the year were open to interpretation by contributors to Book Riot. Each contributor could choose up to two covers, ranging from hardcovers to individual comic issues. What emerged was a collage of beautiful, creative, and engaging covers.
Don’t see your favorite cover from this year on the list? Tell us about it in the comments!
As best as possible, cover designers and artists have been credited. In some cases, tracking down that information proved challenging, so if you’re aware of who the geniuses behind any of the uncredited book covers are, please let us know.
The digital version of this book cover doesn’t do justice to the real thing. The elegant draping of the stone dress, the stormy blue palette, and the metallic copper flecks that concentrate in a flurry of color on the spine are absolutely gorgeous. And then, of course, there’s the clever layering of the letters behind the folds of cloth. The overall effect is stunning and evocative.
This is a stunner! It’s gorgeous, and the reflection in her glasses is scary, and the use of fluorescent green is amazing. I mean, how often do you see fluorescent green on a book cover??? Spoiler: Hardly ever! It’s a bright, hot punch to your brain, just like the book itself.
INK BY ALICE BROADWAY, ILLUSTRATED BY JAMIE GREGORY AND DESIGNED BY ANDREW BISCOMB
The first in a trilogy from the UK—but published through Scholastic Press in the U.S.—this cover is absolutely stunning and the sequel, out in 2019, is just as eye-catching. Besides making brilliant use of contrasting colors, the images that are peppered between the orange and black use white space in clever ways. How many different features are there? I spot an owl, a giant feather, a snake, butterflies, and a hawk. I’m also smitten with how tiny the title of the book is, in an unassuming all lowercase font.
This one I love for several reasons. 1. The car standing balancing on its nose like a seal. It’s incredible! How often are cars facing any way but horizontal on a book cover? (Or in real life, for that matter.) 2. The vertical stripes make it trippy and fantastic, just like the novel! 3. The black-and-white stripes make me think of Beetlejuice’s suit. That pleases me.
It’s pink! The title is HUGE! And, hello, this illustration of reproductive system as a hand sign is dope. As. Heck. It perfectly encapsulates the book, which covers all things period with a political focus.
THE SERPENT’S SECRET BY SAYANTANI DASGUPTA, ILLUSTRATED BY VIVIENNE TO AND DESIGNED BY ELIZABETH PARISI
I could stare at this cover all day long. It’s bold and colorful, and has a brown Bengali girl wearing Desi clothes and holding a bow and arrow front and center!
WITCHMARK BY C.L. POLK, ILLUSTRATION AND DESIGN BY WILL STAEHLE
I love a cover with a flipped image, this one showing a well-dressed man and woman on one side and a bowler hat-wearing man bicycling on the other side. The colors and rainy arc of tree branches in the London mist makes me think of Mary Poppins (that scene with Mr. Banks, anyone?) and then all I want to do is put this book into my eyeballs.
DREAD NATION BY JUSTINA IRELAND, JACKET DESIGN BY DAVID CURTIS
The bloody sickle is held loosely, Jane’s stance is casual but cautious, as though she’s listening for a threat, but she’s also sure she can handle it. The dark folds of her dress, the smooth bumps of her braids, contrast with her bright face, all framed in front of a fallen American flag. It hints at so many parts of the story without giving anything away.
An active city scene catches colorful cars and buses at a bustling cross-section. The novel is active even before page one.
—Michelle Anne Schingler
THE HAZEL WOOD BY MELISSA ALBERT, DESIGNED BY ANNA GOROVOY AND ILLUSTRATED BY JIM TIERNEY
The cover is like the fairytale in the novel, with two circular paths running through the city and through the woods, and all the obstacles along the way. My favorite image is of the knife dripping blood. It perfectly sets up that this is no happy-go-lucky walk in the woods—the cover is as dark and brilliant as the book.
THE POET X BY ELIZABETH ACEVEDO, DESIGNED BY ERIN FITZSIMMONS AND ART BY GABRIEL MORENO
The cover is a work of art. THE HAIR. It’s gorgeous. I love the layer of words flowing from her mind through her hair and out of the cover. The paint splatters are vivid, Xiomara’s eyes are so soulful. It’s perfect.
I LOVE this cover—it’s so bright and eye-catching, but also so clean and fresh. Plus it tells you a lot about the protagonist, a former beauty queen with a love of martinis and a heart of gold. I also love it because my dog did a great impression of it. Good doggo!
Lookit! So pretty! The beautiful sky and landscape framed by the pointed arch and tiling is stunning, plus I love the shadow Arabic under the English title. A gorgeous cover perfect for a gorgeous novel.
SUMMER OF SALT BY KATRINA LENO, DESIGNED BY ALISON DONALTY AND MICHELLE TAORMINA AND ILLUSTRATED BY JESSICA SINGH
Two adorable girls snuggling on a beach. I’m sold.
Ahh, I love the cover for this. It shows a black superhero in a fitting costume, determined to take on the world and its ills. Absolutely gorgeous and paying homage to mainstream comic covers for trade paperbacks.
DRAGONS IN A BAG (DRAGONS IN A BAG #1) BY ZETTA ELLIOTT, ILLUSTRATED BY GENEVA B
Oh my God, this cover is super cute! We see our main character on the cover, with a dragon. What’s more, he is a black kid that is going on this wild, fun adventure! I’ve been waiting for this book for the past few years, and I want to join the ride.
I think the simplicity of this cover is what makes it so lovely. The cursive script overlaid on colorful text that almost looks like it’s being viewed through water is so impactful against the white background. It’s one of those covers I can’t stop staring at—it’s just so pretty!
MAN-EATERS #2 BY CHELSEA CAIN, KATE NIEMCZYK, LIA MITERNIQUE
Listen, there’s a tampon on the cover of a comic book, which is all I need to say!
TRAIL OF LIGHTNING BY REBECCA ROANHORSE, ILLUSTRATION BY TOMMY ARNOLD AND DESIGN BY NICK SCIACCA
Any time someone mentions this book—which is often because it’s awesome—the cover vividly pops into my brain. It’s like a movie poster for a blockbuster that you just can’t wait to see, and then after you see it you put the poster up on your bedroom wall!
The Reckonings is a collection of essays about the nature of justice, written by a woman who was raped and nearly killed by a former partner. The striking cover image—three birds in mid-flight—echoes Johnson’s essay “The Precarious,” in which she draws parallels between gun violence, photography, and vulnerability. She starts with a story about quail hunting with her father as a child and ends with a moment where she felt like a bird about to be shot. That image, along with the ideas from all the essays, have been circling in my mind since I read an ARC of the book in June.
This debut poetry collection centers on the author’s experiences as a young woman with Pakistani-Muslim heritage living in modern America. I love how this cover puts three women of color front and center, united in sisterhood and solidarity. The artwork perfectly captures the tone of the book, so if you likewise are drawn in by this incredible cover, give the poems a try (even if poetry isn’t normally your thing!). Also, check out this awesome photo of Fatimah recreating the pose with some of her friends on Instagram:
CIRCE BY MADELINE MILLER, DESIGNED BY WILL STAEHLE
This incredible retelling of the story of Circe and her banishment from her family of gods was a must-read for most bookish people this year. Miller’s language lends a strength and poetry to Circe’s tale that inspires sympathy, but not pity, for the famous witch’s plight. The bold metallic brass depiction of Circe, framed in a crown of leaves, gives the reader a glimpse into the unyielding character and the epic story within its pages. Mythology at its very best told.
The last two years have been huge for books about police brutality and Black Lives Matter in young adult lit, from The Hate U Give to Dear Martin to All American Boys. While those covers had their own strengths, nothing quite blew me away like Jay Coles’s debut Tyler Johnson Was Here. It’s totally genius from a marketing perspective, with a design that screams aesthetic (though the Instagram tag is woefully underused). But more importantly, the cover of Tyler humanizes its subject and plays with seeming contradictions in a way that the others do not. The look the cover’s subject throws over his shoulder combined with a floral print that brings Kehinde Wiley’s work to mind is striking and brings the potential reader to ask all sorts of questions. And those questions are what bring you to open the book and start on a heartbreaking and all-too-real story.
I saw this cover, died, and came back to life so I could read the book. The designers really mastered a balance of soft and bold here, with its rosé-colored background, inky black illustrations of the two main characters, and title in shiny gold lettering. There’s also plenty to be said about the positioning of the two subjects—back to back, comfortable, cell phones up—and their details, like Sam’s tattoo sleeves and Penny’s painted nails. The whole thing is a masterpiece and I won’t hear otherwise, particularly as it celebrates connecting through technology—just as the story does, which as a society we do all to infrequently.
This books is one of the best books I read this year, but also one of the prettiest! I think this cover is totally on point and perfectly matches the content of the book. The main character is a bisexual pop star and the cover model looks the part to a T. Not only so, but her hair is the colors of the bisexual flag and her purple lipstick is totally badass.
SADIE BY COURTNEY SUMMERS, DESIGNED BY KERRI RESNICK
With an inconsistent mother, Sadie must take up the role of protective provider for her younger sister Mattie. Then, when Mattie is found murdered, Sadie disappears without a trace. The tale is twisted and twisting and the sketched image of a girl with hair blowing in her face, a red jacket the only thing bright, is what one can imagine someone sketches of a person they don’t quite know, someone with a face they’ve never looked closely at, someone whose face is easily forgotten. Sadie tells the heartbreaking story of lost, forgotten girls and the front cover reflects this well.
Not only is this one of my favorite reads this year, it’s also just a joy to look at. The intricate illustrations spilling out over the border combined with the blue and metallic color scheme completely draws me in. Even as I look at it now, I can pick out more details from the stories woven in.
This heartwarming genderqueer love story/coming of age story/fashion extravaganza is perfectly represented by its cover. The close shot of Sebastian and Frances shows the trust and intimacy of their friendship, while Lady Crystallia is somehow simultaneously dominating the cover and blending into the background. That tension is a fitting introduction to this engrossing tale.
A unique cover for a unique book. The vibrant color scheme is congruous with the book’s adorable premise, and the textured teal background of algorithms is not only a shout-out to Stella’s penchant for numbers, but on a deeper level, speaks to Michael and Stella’s didactic relationship. Their chemistry is on point and they balance each other out, but really if we strip down the frills of their relationship (pun intended) and get down to the science of it (literally!), this cover displays all the ways Michael and Stella meticulously add up. Their love is as undeniable and irrefutable a fact as 2+2=4, and really it doesn’t get any more romantic than that. “The Kiss” in the title resulting in the couple’s union as the quotient is the icing on the top of the cake.
Kowal’s novel about an alternative world where a meteor hits the United States in 1952, expediting climate change as well as the space race towards colonization off earth, is a stunning rush of intersectional feminism. It took me entirely by surprise with its superb alt-history approach. Elma York is a Jewish ex-pilot and calculator struggling with anxiety who wants to fight for the space program to be open to all. Throughout the duology, she must confront her white privilege, and the diverse and constantly compelling cast shows the world as it really was in the 1950s while its characters strive to make their society better while struggling to escape the planet. This book was simple, but summed it all up for me: the women walking forward towards us, some of them appearing to be hand-in-hand, but all of them walking with powerful, long strides, off to conquer, off to insist, off to stand up to patriarchal structures.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
BLANCA & ROJA BY ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE, DESIGNED BY DANIELLE MAZZELLA DI BOSCO
I always saw the roses, but it wasn’t until I held the book in my hands that I saw the two swans, intertwined in the red and white of this stunning cover. The surrealism and beauty of the cover perfectly captures a tale that retells a mixture of Swan Lake and the fairytale Rose Red and Snow White—the roses, the forest, the swans. The novel is one of my favorite of the year, with its superb non-binary trans representation, its soft boys and tough girls, and its story of sisterhood, love, and magic.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
RAINBIRDS BY BY CLARISSA GOENAWAN, DESIGN BY JANINE AGRO
I love an image that makes you look twice. In this case, it seems like it’s obvious: goldfish. But the top goldfish is actually bright pink and the book itself recalls birds, no fish. The juxtaposition of these elements really brings the entire cover together for me.