The Best YA & MG Book Jackets of 2013

You cannot have a conversation about the best YA/MG covers of the year without Andrew Smith’s Winger. I saw it long before publication and knew right away it was going to be iconic. Yes, it’s a big giant face, something the literati tends to look down upon. But instead of over-styling it to make it stand out, they went the other way—it’s an eff-you of upfrontness. 1) The model is overlit and staring directly into the camera. 2) It ain’t pretty, what with that bloody nose. 3) That font, so clean and centered, brutally focuses the eyes: Look right here, you.

(A worthwhile aside here is to mention gender. A lot of those aforementioned faces-on-cover books feature girls, in stories about girls, written by women. Too often male writers/designers/performers/etc/etc/etc get props for doing something that women have been doing for ages. Is there a cover out there that is the female equivalent of Winger? I bet there is, and I’d like to see it.)

Winger was a popular book, showing up in a number of previews and lists and roundups throughout the year. And here’s where covers matter. In a majority of those lists, Winger was used as the click-through image to take you to the full list. Did that mean Winger was every single writer’s favorite book? Of course not. It meant it had the most arresting image, and the result? Frequent face-time for Winger, which, I’d argue, significantly upped the awareness and conversation about the book. So, you know, designers and marketers, take note.

(By the way, even the spine is fabulous, shouting past any book it’s stacked alongside. I have it on my bookshelves at home, and when people enter, they gravitate right to it.)

The rest of my favorites follow.


The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, by Gregory Galloway

Looks like an adult literary/crime book, maybe something written by Richard Price. A great balance of text upon photo, and it makes you dwell upon which kinds of death we’re talking about here.



The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, by Shannon Hitchcock

There’s nothing here you wouldn’t find in an illustration from Little House on the Prairie, and that’s the cover’s brilliance: it merely provides an angle those illustrations would never dare, bringing a new intimacy to a familiar concept.



The Mermaid of Chelsea Creek, by Michelle Tea

The exceptional use of a muted color palette looks awesome on the physical book, which features no jacket; the art is printed directly upon the cover like an old textbook. The unusual-looking character and puzzling lack of mermaids makes this a big winner in my book.



The Twelve-Fingered Boy, by John Hornor Jacobs

For a superhero book (of sorts), it makes sense that the design would have all the stark iconography of a superhero logo. This one is nicely ominous, partially because of how those hands rise from so dark a forest.


The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick

This is a second entry from Carolrhoda Lab, which is no surprise to me, as they put out some of the best book jackets in the biz. This one is crime-scene-evidence-as-art: a yellowed letter, spattered with blood, and blissfully absent of any extra text or blurbs.


The Winter of the Robots, by Kurtis Scaletta

This gleefully embraces all things kid. Though it’s a long way from garish, there’s no trying to be subtle or evocative either. It’s a danged dinosaur! Made out of metal! In the snow! Hell yeah! There’s more fun in this than in fifty other covers combined.


Honorable Mention

The Symptoms of My Insanity, by Mindy Raf

This one comes with a caveat. The cover on the left is the published one—nothing  wrong with it. But, in my opinion, it backtracks from the Advance Reader’s Copies, which featured a colorful and thematically apt collage that I thought did an admirable job of being most things to most people. Oh, well, I’ll always have my memories.



About the Author:

Dan Kraus is Booklist's Editor of Books for Youth. He is also the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielDKraus.

5 Comments on "The Best YA & MG Book Jackets of 2013"

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  1.' Meghan says:

    I’m so glad Winger was at the top of your list. It was, by far, my favorite cover in 2013.

  2.' Akilah says:

    An old cover that does something similar to Winger is The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake. I love it.

  3. Thanks for mentioning THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. Congrats to cover artist Timothy Decker and designer Helen Robinson!

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