Rule of Three

This arrangement may be  a design technique rather than a trend. The space here, is divided in three – usually unequal – parts.
This applies to all of the book jackets below, as well as many others. When you start looking for it, you find it everywhere.
In the examples here, the three segments fit into  a pattern. Segment 1: Some portion of a face, usually including, or highlighting the eyes and usually at the top. Segment 2: A strip for type (either outlined, or not) and Segment 3: A landscape or roomscape or other depiction of space.
This group of three, The Silent Room by Walter Sorrells (Dutton 2006), I’ll Sing You One-O by Nan Gregory (Clarion 2006) and The Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry (McElderry 2005) fit that pattern precisely.

Silent Room 2006Ill Sing You 2006Black Canary

Less commonly, segments bleed into each other,  with the title text providing the distraction from the two different photos fading into each other. The three below. Plenty Porter by Brandon Noonan (Amulet 2006), Night Fires by George Edward Stanley (Aladdin 2009), Unclaimed Heart by Kim Wilkins (Razorbill 2009) fit that category.

Plenty Porter 2006Night Fires 2009Unclaimed Heart

Rarely is the face at the bottom in this kind of cover (I searched!). And of course the 3- sectioned book jacket doesn’t always include a face. The Freedom of Jenny by Julie Burtinshaw (Raincoast 2005), Almost Home by Jessica Blank (Hyperion 2007),  Rooftop by Paul Volponi (Viking 2006) have the triple segmented jackets, the latter two without the face element.

Freedom of Jenny 2006Almost HomeRooftop

Sometimes this works, in my opinion, and sometimes not. I think Night Fires is a really strange bleed. The images on it, and also on Unclaimed Heart seem oddly juxtaposed. And the decapitated look of the people on Almost Home is a little unsettling. Maybe that’s by design…

Silent Room: Suffering his stepfather’s physical and emotional abuse, ninth-grader Oz is sent to the Briarwood School where his mistreatment continues at the hands of abusive and criminal school officials. Age 12+. Reviews: 1, 2.
I’ll Sing You: Reunited with her long-lost twin brother, twelve-year-old Gemma constantly tests the boundaries of acceptable behavior while relying on angels to help her connect with her new family. Age 8-12 . Reviews: 1.
Black Canary: As the child of two musicians, twelve-year-old James has no interest in music until he discovers a portal to seventeenth-century London in his uncle’s basement, and finds himself in a situation where his beautiful voice and the fact that he is biracial might serve him well. Age 10-14. Reviews: 1.
Plenty Porter: As she turns thirteen in the early 1950s, Plenty Porter–the youngest of eleven children–keeps some secrets and uncovers some dangerous ones as she tries to understand her place in her family, town, and the world. Age 12+. Reviews: 1.
Night Fires: In 1922, thirteen-year-old Woodrow Harper and his recently-widowed mother move to his father’s childhood home in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he is torn between the “right people” of the Ku Klux Klan and those who encourage him to follow the path of his “nigra-loving” father. Jacket design by Jessica Handelman. Jacket photograph of boy by Michael Frost. Jacket photograph of fire by Frans Lanting/Corbis. Age 8-12.
Unclaimed Heart: In 1799, having stowed away on her father’s ship sailing from Dartmouth, England, to Ceylon in search of her long-lost mother, seventeen-year-old Constance Blackchurch falls in love with a nineteen-year old French orphan they rescue from a nefarious pearl dealer. Age 12+ . Reviews: 1, 2.
Freedom of Jenny: The story revolves around Jenny Estes, who is born into slavery in the 1840s in Missouri. Through Jenny and her family, Burtinshaw tells the true story of the immigration of a small group of African Americans from the banks of the Mississippi to Saltspring Island, British Columbia, in the 1860s. (Publisher) Age 11-14. Reviews: 1, 2.
Almost Home: With rare candor and searing prose, the author introduces seven unforgettable teens living on the streets of Los Angeles, who form their own dysfunctional family, complete with love, belonging, abuse, and betrayal. (Publisher) Age 13+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Rooftop: Still reeling from seeing police shoot his unarmed cousin to death on the roof of a New York City housing project, seventeen-year-old Clay is dragged into the whirlwind of political manipulation that follows. Age 12+.

8 Responses to “Rule of Three”

  1. As usual, I like the way you look at jacket art! Just wanted to let you know I linked your blog to a post a few days ago–I found a recent edition of Tuck Everlasting with Winnie’s head missing and went on a riff (okay, a rantish riff), about the whole torso shot issue. So of course I had to cite you!

  2. The Damsels Says:

    I really love these type covers. Especially the first two sets. But then I love getting buildings or rooms on a book cover.

  3. My favorite is the RoofTop cover. It also sounds like a book I’d enjoy (bonus). I don’t know what they were thinking when they did The Black Canary cover, he doesn’t look biracial. Its like the producers of the Jefferson’s had a hand in that

  4. Hi, I’m Meggin :) Just wanted to tell you that I think you’re sight it really interesting, and I linked to it on my book review blog. Do you only do jacket comparisons (which is a really cool idea, actually…) or do you do book reviews and stuff?


  5. I love the perspective on the Rooftop cover. I never noticed about the 3 sections but I’m sure I’ll see it everywhere now!

  6. I’m a freelance book designer, and the rule of three almost always comes into play when I design covers. (I recently did my first YA cover, and the rule of thirds certainly applies to it). I think that you’re right about it being a design technique. It’s something that we openly discussed in my book design classes, as well as in other art classes. Dividing a space up into thirds–whether they’re equal or unequal–can lead to some very interesting design work. Thanks for highlighting this. I really enjoy reading your posts!

  7. Hmmm! I was interested to read your comments about the cover of my new book, NIGHT FIRES, published by Simon and Schuster/Aladdin. I really like it. Initially, the burning cross wasn’t included, and there were changes in the type used for the title. Yours is a fascinating site, though. Seldom, in the over 100 books I’ve had published, have I not liked the cover or the interior art. My SNAKE CAMP (Random House) was a bit of a shock at first (very cartoon-like) but I realized it absolutely fit the book – and students in elementary schools immediately recognized the style of the artist. Of course, I’m sure you know that writers really don’t have much say in who the artist will be but all my editors have been right on!

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