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Back to School: Our Top Throwback Picks

By Juliette Tulloch, Beccy Fish and Lucy Roberts


As the back to school season begins once more, the cover evaluation team couldn’t help but look back at some of the iconic books that influenced us the most when we were in school. We’ve chosen our top picks that are based in school settings with memorable cover designs.


Emily Windsnap, 8–12 years


Liz Kessler's fantasy series follows thirteen-year-old Emily Windnsap as she navigates life after finding out she is a half-mermaid. Emily’s trouble begins with her swimming lessons, school bullies and then spans her adventures discovering monsters and the King of the Sea. Sarah Gibb designed the original 2001 cover with its detailed watercolour style and gold embossing. Gibb has gone on to illustrate many well-known children’s books, including The Tiara Club series and several fairy-tale adaptations. This year a fully illustrated version of the series was released, illustrated by Joanie Stone, and it’s clear that the more recent cover designs seek to employ a younger age group than before.


Percy Jackson & The Olympians, 9+ years


What child didn’t grow up without an obsession for all things Greek mythology and found Rick Riordan’s stories? Originally published in 2005 with The Lightning Thief, it went on to win numerous awards and expanded into a pentalogy. It also went on to produce two sequels, film adaptations and a highly anticipated tv series set for a 2024 release. The series follows demi-god Percy as he navigates life from American high school to Camp Half-Blood, fighting against the Titans who seek to rise once more. The original cover design was courtesy of John Rocco and features Percy’s heroic battles across the world that becomes darker in tone as the series matures.


Wonder, 8–12 years


R.J. Palacio’s debut novel Wonder highlights Auggie Pullman’s exploration of school after being sheltered by his mother as she previously home-schooled him. However, because Auggie has Treacher Collins syndrome and has endured many facial surgeries, his face is disfigured and he encounters the challenges of his classmate’s opinions. But this does not stop him from being intelligent and funny whilst navigating the journey of making friends with Jack. The minimalist cover design illustrates our protagonist Auggie, with the only facial feature present being his eye, highlighted with the title above. This style suggests that the plot revolves around the character’s appearance and younger age with the hand-drawn design. The typography chosen is whimsical and decorative to match the connotations of the title.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid, 8–12 years


No schoolbook throwback article would be complete without the mention of the iconic Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. With the first instalment in 2007, the series has continued to book seventeen, Diper Överlöde, set to release in October 2022. The first volume depicts Greg Heffley’s first year at middle school where his ambition is to climb up the social food chain and drag his bumbling friend Rowley along with him, which will become their ultimate friendship test. Each issue of the Wimpy Kid series has a bold statement colour as the diary background but is completed with Heffley's illustrative style in both typography and cartoon image depicting himself. These covers have become such a statement in children’s books with their instantly recognisable style.


Little Women, 10+ years


Little Women, written by Louisa May Alcott, occupies a special place on many young readers’ bookshelves. The book works perfectly as an early introduction to classic novels for young readers, and a nostalgic re-read for everyone else. Following the lives of four devoted sisters, this coming-of-age story lives through the Civil War, family struggles, and romantic tension. Each sister is unique, yet they hold the strongest bonds with one another. This beautiful cover depicts the four sisters, Jo, Beth, Meg, and Amy, surrounded by flowers and foliage. While the cover holds the sisters separate, the leaves and stems intertwine them together, supporting the family tie. The simple illustration of the girls still defines each of their styles and personalities, allowing readers to see the girls come to life throughout the book.


The Daring Escape of Beatrice and Peabody, 11–15 years


Kimberly Newton Fusco’s The Daring Escape of Beatrice and Peabody depicts the epic journey of Beatrice, an orphaned circus member, as she navigates the difficulties of looking different in comparison to her peers, and being left behind by a loved one. Finding companionship in scruffy pup Peabody, the pair make their daring escape from the travelling carnival to find a life of their own. The cover design contains a detailed illustration of Beatrice and Peabody sitting on a pastel loveseat surrounded by beautiful pink flowers and sage leaves. The cover denotes the beauty of the lives held within, while the deep red colour of the title forebodes that the characters featured inside may not have an easy escape ahead of them. As Beatrice and Peabody look at one another on the cover, it depicts the comfort they find in each other as they make their way into the world.


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