Case Study: Young Adult Novel Book Cover

A few years ago I was asked to prepare the cover of the hebrew version of the successful young adult novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The story is about a young boy who gets stranded alone in the Canadian Wilderness with nothing except his hatchet. There are a few english covers, all from different publishers, but the most famous ones are these:


I didn’t like these, much – they felt dated, and I’m not a huge fan of overlaying multiple images like this, except in certain circumstances. I wanted to try to use photography, and to try and capture the vastness and beauty of the Canadian wilderness while also giving a feeling of the loneliness the main character must have felt. Of the existing covers I found of the English version, the one I liked most was this:

There were a few things I didn’t like here though. The font choice felt random, inappropriate for the subject matter, and was not carefully done – see how the H of Hatchet is not in line with the baseline of the other letters? Also, the top half of the image and the bottom half felt like 2 different covers – There wasn’t much visual interaction between them. And while the mountains do give you a feeling of their vastness, the dark black and blue color scheme felt off to me. What I loved most about this book was that even though you would expect a gloomy book, the protaganist is actually quite resilient and hopeful. He is ingenious in some of the ways he manages to survives, and this cover seems to highlight the tension and gloom of his predicament, and the plane crash that landed him there. I was looking for a different direction.

The first place I looked was for pictures of Canada. I found this:

I liked this image for several reasons. First, the colors are gorgeous. The sunset over the mountains, their majesty, and the water, all give a feeling of the scope and power that our hero must have dealt with. It wasn’t enough to just show the mountains, though. I needed the boy in there, both to add some interest to the cover, and to attract the target audience, who won’t relate to a scenic cover. So here was my next find:

This was great because we have the silhouetted boy standing in the water, looking very much alone. But there were several problems here too. The boy was too young – this boy looks about 9, and the protaganist in the story was about 12 when it happened. Also, he needs a hatchet, and pants. He had clothes when he was there, and I wanted to stay as true to the story as I could. So I found a picture of a hatchet:

I then took it all to Photoshop and started hacking away the photos (pun intended!). I combined the first two photos, replacing the sky of the second image with the mountains of the first. Then I took the boy and shrunk his head. Shrinking his head made him look older immediately – the older a kid gets, the greater is his head-body ratio (a full adult is 7 or 8 heads tall, a baby is 3 heads tall). I drew a pair of pants in Photoshop and put them on him, since he was sihouetted, we only needed the shape. Then I darkened the hatchet and put it in his hand, using Photoshop to fist his hand shut. The resulting image was this:

For the font, I wanted something gritty and masculine – this kid deserves to be taken seriously! Not many people would be able to do what he did. At the same time, he is a kid, so I ddn’t want the font to be too serious and adult. So here is our final cover:

I added a dropshadow to the title, and in the final cover, both the boy and the title have a spot UV effect (shiny) effect applied, while the rest of the cover was printed in matte.

So what do you think of the cover? I would love to hear your comments!

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1 thought on “Case Study: Young Adult Novel Book Cover”

  1. Oh man Shanie, I love the cover you made! And I really appreciate being taken through your journey, figuring out each step and then Franken-patching it together to create just the look and feel for the book and the audience.

    Did you do any brightening of the color in the waves? That orange-y color in the water? Beautiful. And scary – I would have a freakout moment if I were stranded there with just a hatchet.


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