“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a phrase that librarians, parents, and others caution young readers with. I’ve always taken issue with that phrase because, for me, the cover is an introduction to what I will be reading, a reminder of the world I will be jumping into every time I turn a page. Thus, from my point of view, the cover is an important part of the reading process, and a degree of judgment seems only natural. A good cover draws readers into the story before they have even cracked the spine.
The goal of the publisher is to create a cover that both attracts readers and provides a window into what the book contains. Some artistic license may be involved in conveying the essence of what readers can expect to experience. Even though there is a photograph of Laura Ingalls with her hair loose down her back, when we released the cover image for Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, a “hair controversy” ensued. In general, some readers claimed, the real Laura Ingalls would have worn her hair up, but when I look at the artist’s rendition on the cover of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, I am immediately transported to the wind-swept West and the beginnings of an American writer’s journey.
The cover does a great job of what it should do: catch the reader’s eye and engage the reader’s mind. As Nancy Aguilera wrote on this website, “I imagine Laura walking away . . . with her bonnet on and hair braided, under Ma’s watchful eyes, and then as soon as she’s out of sight she takes off her bonnet and shakes out her hair, enjoying the feel of the warm prairie breezes blowing through her beautiful thick hair while she sits gazing at Silver Lake.” According to an Amazon reviewer, “The cover is beautiful, and not only does it look so much like teenage Laura, it also fits really well with the Garth Williams illustrations we are all familiar with.”
Deb Hosey White, in her blog on Goodreads, goes further: “If ever there was a book that felt special when I first held it in my hands and began turning the pages, this is the book.” The reader’s experience should begin from the moment they see and pick up the book, and that is what the Pioneer Girl Project production team aimed to do in creating this cover and the book it encloses. Based on the overwhelmingly positive comments and industry reviews, I would say they have succeeded. The New York Times Book Review even featured the cover along with their best sellers lists in the Sunday, April 12, print edition.
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography is a scholarly book (in fact, it has been called the encyclopedia on all things Wilder), but it is also the story of a woman’s childhood and adolescent experiences, and the watercolor painting by artist Judy Thompson illustrates this combination wonderfully well.