The Quest for the Perfect Cover: Life in Ancient Civilizations

By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press

Designing covers for a new series is always a challenge. One of Millbrook’s new fall series, Life in Ancient Civilizations, was especially difficult. How do you capture an entire culture on a cover? Each book’s cover needs to appeal to the target audience (grades 3-6) while also giving librarians and teachers a clear sense of the book’s content.

For this series, illustrator Sam Hiti provided artwork of each of the six books. He developed a unique color palette for each civilization. Sam’s style is grounded in the world of comic books and graphic novels, which sets this series apart from other Ancient Civ series. The interiors of the books also include about ten photos of key artifacts from each culture.

Early in the cover design process, we decided that the covers should have just illustrations, rather a combination of photos and illustrations. Then the book’s designer, Sam, and I did some brainstorming about possible approaches for the covers. Here are a few of Sam’s early sketches:aztec-coverAZTEC-cover2AZTEC-cover4aThese illustrations are striking, but none of them felt quite right. They do, however, all contain a beautiful shade of turquoise, which Sam chose as the accent color for the Aztecs.

We decided to try another approach. In the background is a cityscape. One of the culture’s key leaders is superimposed over the cityscape. And below are a few little scenes capturing common activities in the culture, showing the lives of women and children as well as men. Here is a sketch of the cover for The Aztecs using this approach:COVER-drat1The final cover for The Aztecs shows the city of Tenochtitlan and the Great Temple in the background. The great ruler Montezuma II is shown in his dramatically flowing robe. Along the bottom are women preparing food (and a chocolate drink) and a few warriors going off to battle (a common activity for the Aztecs).Aztecs final cover Here’s how the covers of the other books turned out:

Babylonians final coverChinese final cover Egyptians final coverGreeks final coverRomans final coverIf we’ve done our job well, readers will be sufficiently intrigued by what they see on the covers that they’ll want to open the books and find out more.