Kids do judge a book by its cover. Though a book may sound interesting to my students, they will not check the book out if the cover is old, worn-out or not aesthetically pleasing. Many of my students want a book to look brand-new, with shiny covers and beautiful illustrations.
I can see the appeal to this thought-process: an interesting cover invites you in, it intrigues you. But what about treasured stories that have worn-out covers that students scoff at? This was a challenge that I was faced with at the start of the year.
For example, a fourth-grade student came up to me during book exchange. She wanted a realistic-fiction book about families, friendship or animals. Right away, I pulled out the Shiloh trilogy, Because of Winn-Dixie, Tuck Everlasting, Black Beauty, Little House on the Prairie series, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables series. Most of the covers were older and in OK, but not great, condition. She took one look at the books and changed her mind.
We looked some more, and she kept pulling out the newer covers with glossy, beautiful covers that did not match her initial request. She took those instead.
During book talks, students are hyped up about a book I’m talking about, but when they get in line to sign up for the books, they will take one look at the cover and change their minds.
There are many classics in my collection that have not been replaced. One goal is to replace these in the next two-three years to keep the collection fresh.
At the end of 2013, I ordered some new versions of the classics: Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women, etc. A few weeks ago, I pointed students to the new book area, and immediately most of the newer classics were checked out. The covers were new, whimsical, cartoon-like and realistic-like. They appealed to my students.
I went down the line to ask students what they checked out. They showed me the covers. Some said they didn’t know what the book was about, but the cover made the story look interesting. I was excited to see that classics were finally checked out, but still a bit disheartened that they again judged books by the covers.
I will keep ordering newer versions of classics because the current ones in my collection are falling apart, but how can I better explain to students to not judge a book by its cover? I appreciate covers of books as pieces of art to be admired, but what about the story? Whatever happened to appreciating the soul of a book?
Information and data are constant changing. Kids want the best and newest of everything, maybe even books. I want to provide my students with the best materials and resources possible. Maybe this shift is something I need to accept more. Or maybe there are other ways to promote books with older covers more effectively, especially if there isn’t enough money in the budget for new everything immediately. Any ideas?