Five MG Cover Trends I’m Loving

As a designer and aspiring author, I think a lot about book covers. I daydream about my future covers, all the while knowing I may have little say in how they turn out. Reading for research, pleasure, and before bed with my kids, I take note of designs I appreciate.

These days, many middle grade books follow the same formula of an illustrated main character either facing the viewer head on or appearing in profile. The following books stand out for breaking that mold.

Below are five trends I’ve spotted from middle grade book covers released in 2023. I have not read the majority of these books (yet) but they stood out to me because of a specific design element I like.

Where available, I’ve given credit to the book cover illustrator or designer.

[Disclosure: I am an affiliate of and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.]

1. Abstraction

Book cover of "The Other  Half of Happy" with organic colorful shapes that look like paper cutouts including a guitar and flowers
Art by Nadia Hernández
Design by Alice Seiler
Cover of the book "Lasagna Means I Love You" with illustrated images of food and a person taking cell phone images of meals
Art by Julie McLaughlin
Art Direction by Suzanne Lee

Cover of the book, "The Town With No Mirrors" with a black background and bright yellow title surrounded by illustrations in red of eyes
Art by Tania Garcia
Design by Maryn Arreguin

The covers above showcase their titles front and center amid an abstraction of other images. Whether it’s organic shapes reminiscent of Matisse’s cut paper works, stylized dishes awaiting their close-up, or illustrated “windows to the soul,” each of these covers grabbed my attention.

2. Focal Point

Book cover of "The Night Animals" showing a girl and a colorful fox sitting on a tree branch in front of a full moon
Art by Sharon King-Chai
Cover of the book "Barely Floating" showing a girl in a pool in the middle of an artistic swimming star
Art by Steph C.
Book cover of "Sky Ropes" showing an illustration of a young woman walking across a ropes course ladder in between trees
Art by Chaaya Prabhat

As a photographer, I often employ “The Rule of Thirds,” a compositional choice to place the focal point of an image in the left-most or right-most third and not exactly centered. It’s a technique to draw the eye to the subject while also including some context within the composition. The artists who created these covers skillfully made their protagonists stand out by drawing the viewer’s eyes to them within their environments.

A full moon acts as a spotlight in The Night Animals, the main character in Barely Floating‘s streamlined arms complete the five-pointed star with her at the center, and all trees point to the protagonist in Sky Ropes, drawing the viewer’s eyes to the sky.

As a former ropes instructor (Go Vega Stars!), I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lack of a harness, helmet, or belay system but I’ll let it slide since it’s an illustration.

3. Pastel & Backward Facing

Book cover for, "The Labors of Hercules Beal" in which a boy, a cat, and a dog are silhouetted by the setting sun
Art by Jane Manning
Cover of book, "Catch Me if I Fall" with two people, one from the top of the frame, the other from the bottom, appearing to fall back facing the viewer
Art by Petur Antonsson
Design by Tom Sanderson
Cover of book, "Tethered to Other Stars" showing a girl sitting, back facing the viewer, surrounded by paper stars and a telescope
Art by Valentino Lasso
Design by Erin Craig

I’ve heard more than a few readers complain about how a beloved character has been portrayed on a book cover. I imagine it’s a daunting task for an artist who must interpret the character’s appearance solely from the text. That’s one of the reasons I am drawn to (no pun intended) these covers. Each gives us a glimpse of the protagonists be they human, feline, or canine, by showing them from behind, leaving much to the reader’s imagination.

In addition, each of these covers along with the next three, utilize a pastel palette, which makes me nostalgic for some of my 1990s wardrobe. Hypercolor t-shirts anyone?

4. Pastel & Organic Illustration

Book cover of, "Sail Away Home" in which an illustrated portrait of a girl shows her in blue tones looking out at the sea
Art by Peter Brown
Book cover of "The Remarkable Rescue of Milkweed Meadow" with illustrated hares running through grass
Art by Doug Salati

In addition to a similar cool pastel palette, each of the above highlights a distinct illustration style and I’m here for it.

5. Framing

Book cover of "The Musuem of Lost and Found" showing a building and various characters and artworks visible through the windows of the facade
Art by Jacqueline Li
Design by Chelsea Hunter

Book cover of "The Lost Library" showing an illustrated cat and mice sitting atop a wooden mini library filled with books and a picture of a boy and a mysterious house
Book cover of "The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet" showing sneakered feet behind a bathroom stall covered in stickers and the book's title
Art by Aishwarya Tandon

One of my favorite first year photography assignments in high school was to create a composition using a frame from the built or natural environment. Architecture works well for this—think archways, windows, and stairwells. These three covers utilize this approach to maximum effect with a museum, a little free library, and a bathroom stall framing each book’s title and protagonist.