It is often said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I would generally agree. However, I don’t think this applies to children’s books. The illustrations are a main aspect of these books which is why they are often called picture books.
“Pictures are worth a thousand words” is another old adage that comes to mind when thinking about children’s books, but this one seems more applicable since children’s stories are told through words and illustrations. The cover of these books is in a sense the first illustration of the story. The cover is meant to begin the story or engage the reader with the story.
Mo Willems is an author that comes to mind that takes this to another level. His books really do begin with the cover. Often a book begins with a few “extra” pages like the title page and the dedication page, and then the story begins with page one. Willem’s books (the Elephant and Piggie series and the Pigeon series) begin with the cover, “title” page, and “dedication” page telling the story with illustrations and words. The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L Stine and Marc Brown is another example of this. You don’t need to skip through the introductory pages to get to the story; the story begins on the cover.
When thinking about and discussing with the illustrator, Rose Anderson, we both asked the question “what do we want the cover to communicate to the reader about the story?” We both thought about this because we knew the saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” wouldn’t be applicable with this picture book. We expect the readers to judge the book by its cover because it’s purpose is to capture the reader’s attention by an illustration and words. I would even say it has the same purpose as the back cover blurb, that is, to tease and entice the reader to open the book.
Now I am no illustrator, but have many thoughts about art and would summarize my opinion in the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”