Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPIB: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

I am a huge fan of cover art.  Like…HUGE.  It’s no mistake that teen books have some of the best cover art out there and generally because most of our teens are looking for things that are visually appealing.  But some of the books that I read and fell in love with didn’t have the best covers.  When I would try to booktalk these books or hand sell them to my teens in the stacks, they looked at me like I was insane.  The conversation would go a little something like this:

Me: OMG I just read Bloody Jack and it’s about this girl who cuts off her hair and joins the Navy as a boy in disguise but then…she falls for one of the guys on the ship.  Except he doesn’t know.  Because he thinks she is a dude.  It’s awesome.
Teen: This book looks like it needs to go in the Children’s section.  That cover is stupid looking.
Me: But trust me…it’s really good.  And here’s a good book called Mare’s War about a girl who has to travel cross country in the car with her grandmother and learns that her grandmother was one of the first African-American women to participate in WWII.
Teen: Is it a picture book?
Me: ::jumps out of library window::

So you can see the dilemma.  And my teens aren’t the only ones who thought the cover was crazy.  It was changed for BOTH books on their paperbacks to a much more appealing cover.  See for yourself.
Older covers on top…new covers on bottom.  BIG difference.
So, I decided to take book speed dating and turn it into something else.  I created a book speed dating program of sorts and called it ‘Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover’.   I would then grab 20-30 books, depending on how long I had for the program, and type the titles and authors on a little worksheet I created. 

When the teens sat down, they received a worksheet and a book and then were asked to place a check in the column entitled ‘Front of Book’ if they would read this book judging only from the cover.  Then, they had 15 seconds (I timed them) to read the jacket flap and see if that changed their mind.  And then one full minute to read from any part of the book that they wished.  Some started at the end, others at the beginning.  When the time was up, they were asked to place a final check if they would read this book now, even with a cover they may not have liked or even a description that they thought wouldn’t interest them. Instead of discussing the books, they then passed them to the next person and the process continued until all books had been completed.

The end result?  Most of the teens were surprised to find out that the books they didn’t think they would like became the ones they were wanting to check out when they left the program.

When we were done, I would let them eat and talk while I made photocopies of their sheets of paper.  They were able to bring home a personalized ‘to-read’ sheet, and then I kept one on file because the chance of them making it home and keeping that sheet?  Exactly.  And many of the teens returned to ask to see their sheets so they could find another book.

This program did two things for us as a branch.  First, it helped the teens make a match with books that they might not have picked up while browsing.  But the second thing it did was for me as a librarian.  It showed me where I needed to strengthen my book collection.  After several months, I began to notice trends popping up with certain types of books: high fantasy, contemporary novels, and sports books.  Most of the paranormal reads?  They never checked them out.  So, I started to buy with my teens in mind.  Granted, this was only a small sector of my reading population, but most of us know that after a while, we don’t get to see many of the faces checking out the books and sometimes don’t get the interaction of finding out what our teens like and don’t like.

For more info, please comment and if you would like a copy of the original form, feel free to ask for that too and leave your email address!

— Stephanie


  1. What a great program! I know I am guilty of judging a book by its cover, even when I tell other people not too. I actually like the original Bloody Jack covers because I love books about pirates/sailing. Guess I am judging again!

  2. What a fun idea! Will have to try it out. I love making displays around book jackets. My colleague had the ingenious idea of wrapping books with lame-o jackets in brown paper and writing a thrilling description on the outside. It really worked!

  3. I love that idea too! We've done that for Banned Book Week and they are surprised when they see what has been banned. But it's perfect for Don't Judge!

  4. I am not a historical fiction reader and when the books were suggested to me by a co-worker, I immediately picked up the first book and said, “Oh no…that does not look like a book I'd like.” (Guilty!)

    Now, two years later…I have a blue anchor tattoo in honor of the books…

  5. Interesting subject! Did you by chance see my question for today's TGIF post? http://www.greadsbooks.com/2012/05/tgif-at-greads-65-show-me-your-cover.html

  6. Ha! Not until just now! Great minds think alike! (;

  7. I'm not a librarian, but this sounds awesome! I love how it got the teens interested in books they otherwise wouldn't have picked up! I think this is something us older youth and adults could do sometime too 🙂

  8. sounds like a great program! I plan on borrowing it for my teens – sounds like fun. I'd love the worksheet


  9. Sent! It's a lot of fun and it can be done during outreach visits to schools too on the fly. That's why I love it!

  10. Completely agree. I am one of the biggest cover judges when it comes to adult books…I could use the help there!

  11. This is great! Please send me a copy of the worksheet, too.


  12. Sent! Good luck with it!

  13. Love this idea. I often hide a book behind my back while I booktalk it. I would love to have a copy of the form. tamara_cox1@yahoo.com

  14. Lame covers on YA books are one of my biggest pet peeves! A fun tidbit that I just learned from our head of circulation was that hardcover book jackets are designed with librarians in mind while paperback covers are deisgned with the teens in mind. Maybe that helps explain some of the disparity!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Great idea! And the title is perfect!! I wish to recieve a copy of the spreadsheet as well. Thanks in advance. tishdenise@gmail.com

  16. I love the idea of the speed dating program. I would also really appreciate a copy of the form. My email is mrsjessicadossantos@gmail.com

  17. Love it! Could I get a copy of the form? Teintidole@gmail.com

  18. Hi there, could I get a copy of the form? kendra [dot] wgpl [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Stephanie, could I please get a copy of the form, as well? mhess@mail.owls.lib.wi.us.


  20. This is an amazing idea. May I have a copy of the cover please? lbowman@kckpl.org

    I just discovered this site and I'm so excited to have some fresh ideas!

  21. Great Idea. I am planning a BOOK SPEED DATING Event in the library this month and I am trying to figure out how I want to run it. I think your idea is it!!! May I please have a copy of the original work sheet?

  22. This sounds great, I had a question, How long would you say this takes. Did the program span a whole hour?

  23. I would love a copy of the form. hharden @ bhmlib.org

  24. Anonymous says:

    I'm planning my programming for 2013-2014 and just found this article…could I get a copy of the form as well? btotten@midyork.org…Thanks!

  25. I would love to do this. Could I get a copy of the form? emchildress@yahoo.com. Thanks!

  26. Planning to do this next week for Teen Read Week! Can I please get a copy of the form? shicklepcpls (at) gmail (dot) com
    Thank you!

  27. This sounds great! Could I please get a copy of the form?

    Thank you! 🙂

  28. I love this! I'd like a copy of the form as well, please! hmrapp (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

  29. I've done book speed-dating with my freshman, but with a little more direction-like your worksheet, I bet it would go even better. Can I get a copy?

  30. Hi – I'm a little late to this post, but could I get a copy of the form too? jamie (dot) daisey (at) gmail (dot) com. Thank you!

  31. Hi – I'm a little late to this post, but could I get a copy of the form as well? jamie (dot) daisey (at) gmail (dot) com. Thank you!

  32. Hello! This program looks fantastic, would you mind sending me a copy of the form as well? ccarter@carmel.lib.in.us


  33. Hello! This program looks great! Would you mind sending me a copy of this form?


  34. I love the YA book cover art! I've thought about doing something similar to this in the back of my mind. Thanks for sharing – now I'm motivated.

  35. I commented earlier, but forgot to ask for the forms. Could you please send copies? ddo3805@gmail.com I'm looking forward to using this program as a starter for a book club. We don't have enough books of one title, so this would be great.

  36. Mike Reynolds says:

    Sounds great for a program I am proposing. I would love a link to the form!


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