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Cover Design Through the Years: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

By Abbie Wright and Juliette Tulloch


For this issue, our team is looking at the changes in cover design for the iconic novel Little Women over the years. Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age story published in 1868 can be classed as one of the most famous books of all time, and this has meant that new and innovative covers have been needed in order to keep the novel alive for the modern audience. Below we have some of our favourite designs that pay homage to the classic novel.


Penguin’s Clothbound Classics (2010)


The Penguin Clothbound Classics Collection follows a theme of simplicity and elegance, with their edition of Little Women being no exception. The cover sticks to the repeated image of scissors, a key element of the novel, and creates a colour contrast with the pink and brown that makes for an eye-catching design. The designer’s decision to make the key image a pair of scissors signifies one of the most important parts of the novel, Jo cutting her hair off, and therefore encourages both new and old readers to pick up this particular version of an old classic. Designer Coralie Bickford-Smith said of her work that she wished to “hark back to the world of Victorian bindings and a golden age of book binding” and I believe that, for Little Women in particular, this plays perfectly into how the novel makes the reader feel and transports them to the era as soon as they pick up the book. The collector element of these covers also adds to the attraction, with the cohesiveness of all of the novels creating a stunning bookshelf when more than one is collected. Other Clothbound Classics include Pride and Prejudice and 1984. This version of Little Women is available in Waterstones. To find out more about the Clothbound Classics Collection, click here.


Puffin in Bloom Hardcover (2014)


Puffin classics launched a special edition series called Puffin in Bloom, featuring four novels that perfectly introduce secondary school readers to beloved classics. It includes Little Women, A Little Princess, Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. The cover illustration is courtesy of Anna Bond, artistic director and co-founder of the lifestyle brand Rifle Paper Co. Bond has also designed the 150th Anniversary edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and continues to use a playful and flowery style in all of her design work, stationery and book covers. The colour palette of this 2014 edition embraces the novel’s opening chapter set at Christmas, with warm greens and a festive gold embossed title. The four main faces, Beth, Jo, Meg and Amy, illustrate the key themes of sisterhood and friendship that binds this coming-of-age story together. Unlike the other novels in the collection, it does hold a darker background colour, which suggests it’s a more mature novel with darker themes. You can find out more about Anna Bond’s work on her website.


The Harper Muse Classics: Painted Edition (2022)


This beautiful hardback collector’s edition features wraparound artwork painted by artist Laci Fowler and gold sprayed edges with a matching ribbon marker. This edition of Little Women was part of a limited-edition collection of classic literature published by Harper Muse. The painting is simple and delicate, capturing the comforting essence of the story and placing the four sisters and their home in the centre amongst the picturesque winter scene. The vast white landscape scattered with fir trees and a snow-topped house is reminiscent of the opening chapters of the book which takes place during Christmas and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Another nod to the plot is the ice-covered lake on which you can even see scratch marks from ice-skates, showing a close attention to detail which would draw in long-time readers of the novel who are familiar with the story. The only characters featured on the cover are the four March sisters – the titular Little Women – who are central to the novel. Although their figures are small compared to the vast landscape, each sister has their own distinct personality. For example, Jo, deemed the “tom-boy” by her sisters, wears muted colours, trousers and a flat-cap whilst her sisters wear long colourful dresses and large hats, giving us an insight into their characters at a glance. They all appear to be holding hands as they walk towards their home, signifying the close bond between them which the novel revolves around. This edition would make an ideal gift for a classic lover and is the perfect way to attract first-time readers as the design by Laci Fowler has given the classic novel a new lease of life. This edition is available from Waterstones.

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