What Exactly Is the Value of Dust Jackets on Kids’ Books?

by Tom B.

Dust Jackets on Kids Books

Honestly, is all this paper REALLY protecting the books?

And now, I’d like to take a brief moment to talk about dust jackets and, specifically, the role of dust jackets on children’s books.  I’ve started this post several times before, but I’ve always found myself paralyzed with the fear that this mini-rant would turn into a bad parody of really awful 1990s stand-up comedy. “What’s the deal with dust jackets?” my hacky inner voice would ask. “Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one?” But, if this makes me sound like a bad Seinfeld clone, so be it. I just have to say this out loud – I really, really don’t get the point of dust jackets on kids’ books.

My wife and I have argued about this point from almost the first day we started reading to our daughter and I still don’t think we’ll ever see eye to eye about it. I’d sit to read with our daughter at bedtime and immediately take the dust jacket off and toss it on the floor. This drove my wife crazy. “Why are you doing that?” she’d ask, and I’d point to several other mangled dust jackets and say, “It just gives her something else to rip.” I loved reading beautiful, Caldecott-worthy picture books to my daughter long before she could speak and, as her questing baby hands enjoyed the tactile pleasures of touching those gorgeous picture books, inevitably, her hands would find the edges of the dust jackets and pull and rip and gouge and tear.

Eventually, when she could speak, my daughter started referring to the dust jackets as “wrappers” and she’d get FURIOUS if I left one on before I read the book to her. “Take the wrapper off, Daddy!” she’d yell. “I don’t like the wrappers!” After a while, since she had such an obvious aversion to the dust jackets, I just stopped putting them back on. We ended up with a pile of unloved dust jackets flattened down underneath her bedroom bookcase.  And I kept finding more and more situations where I would pre-remove the dust jackets from her books. Taking a book on a car trip? Just another piece to lose – let’s take it off. Planning on having my daughter read along with me? Let’s take off the dust jacket to give her little hands one less thing to worry about when she’s holding the book herself.

Again, this drove my wife nuts. “They protect the book!” she argued. “From what?” I’d counter. In my mind, they just made the books more fragile – they’re the most rip-able part of a book – and what exactly can a dust jacket protect the book from anyway? Dust? Is that really a big concern? Spills? Most paperbacks and hardcovers aren’t made out of newsprint. They have enough of a laminate finish that, if I spill some milk on the cover, it’ll wipe off pretty easily. I just don’t see how a dust jacket actually protects a book, particularly a children’s book, which is going to have a lot of wear and tear thanks to its target audience. If I’m SO worried about protecting the book, I’d almost rather pay the extra cash for a library binding edition of the book rather than putting my faith in a thin paper wrapper.

Dust Jackets on Kids Books

Just how dusty do they think our bookshelves are?

You know when you buy a DVD and they have that flyer with some of the DVD specs glued to the back of the package and you immediately pull it off and throw it away? That’s how I view most dust jackets. They just seem like extraneous packaging to me. And I think, particularly for kids 8 and under, the value of that packaging is completely lost on the book’s audience.

The ONLY reasons I can really see for the existence of dust jackets on kids’ books are aesthetic reasons. I’m a big fan of book design, so, if the designer has a really compelling, visually engaging vision for the dust jacket, I can kind of get onboard with that. However, the VAST majority of kids’ titles I see don’t really utilize the dust jacket as any particular form of artistic expression. Most of the time, if you remove the dust jacket, the physical cover of the book looks EXACTLY like the art on the dust jacket. In those situations, that’s when I normally just end up adding the cover to our ever-growing pile of dust jackets under my daughter’s bookcase and hoping my wife doesn’t notice.

So, dear readers, I’m putting this question out to you – can you convince me of the value of dust jackets for children’s books?

I am open to having my mind changed on this issue, so, please, use the comments section below, and explain to me how I’m COMPLETELY misunderstanding the issue. My wife is a very, very smart lady – much smarter than I am – so the fact that she’s on the side of the dust jackets probably says a lot. But I just haven’t seen any evidence that dust jackets really bring anything to the table for young readers.

If you can change my mind on this issue, I will gladly publish an “I NOW ADORE DUST JACKETS” love letter/retraction on the blog, but – if the only arguments in their favor are the standard “they protect the book” and “they’re pretty” rhetoric – I’m going to have to stick to my guns and continue my long-standing smear campaign against the dust jackets in my daughter’s home library.

Thank you for your kind consideration. (Down with dust jackets!)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody @ Mud Hut Mama May 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I agree that dust covers don’t make a lot of sense for children’s books and after the first few got torn to shreds I started taking them off. I now have quite a pile in the top of our closet, but I do think they may have a purpose. Once my kids are big enough to take better care of their books I can take them down, match them up, and give our library a facelift. All those teeth marks and milk stains will magically disappear and it will feel like Christmas. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

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Tom B. May 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I love this idea. And I think, subconciously, I’ve been saving ours for the exact same reason.

The thought that, one day – when it’s more practical – I’ll sweep in a reattach all those dust jackets and make the whole library sparkle like new. I wonder if that’ll actually happen…

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Heather D May 5, 2012 at 10:52 am

I can only think of two reasons for dust jackets. You can use the flap as a book mark if you have to stop mid read for whatever reason, and sometimes it does add to the aesthetics. (Who is Melvin Bubble? comes to mind.)
Other than that? Not really useful.

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Kate May 3, 2012 at 6:50 am

Oh, totally for aesthetic purposes. (Although now and again someone does something fantastic with them: Take a look at Tao Nyeu’s BUNNY DAYS!) Originally they wrapped around books completely, like wrapping paper, and you tore it off when you bought it. Then it was something to use for promotion/design when books were cloth-covered. Now they just make books look fancier than basic POB binding.
I LOVE the idea of framing the images on the book jackets, though! Perhaps I’ll start doing that… Could be a fun collage project!

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Tom B. May 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Ha! The Bunny Days dust jacket almost stopped me from writing this post originally. It was just too good of an example of a dust jacket done right. But, yeah, framing dust jackets…. I’m really liking that idea…

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Megan May 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm

They are totally dumb and useless. I save them though, and have thought about framing our favorites…

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Zoe May 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I’m completely with you on this one. I can’t abide them, and even when there’s a design reason to include them, I may appreciate the design/art, but still find it frustrating. Dust jackets are not kid friendly!

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DadQuixote May 2, 2012 at 11:55 am

I love having the dust jackets and my daughter loves chewing on them. So I keep them with Dad’s books for now and will recover them when she gets older.

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Dianna April 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm

They just get in the way for me too. I try to keep them with the book. I would complain if my husband just threw them on the floor, but he does not. If I were to use them for anything, I would likely use them for wall art for my son’s room. Sadly, our copy of “Skippyjon Jones: Lost in Spice” did not come with a dust cover. I would love to have art from that book for the walls of his outer space themed room.

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Mirthful April 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I’m with you, I remove them from my daughter’s books. Since they ARE pretty (sometimes), we use them for artwork, collages and creating “upcycled” greeting cards etc.

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Socal mom January 4, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Brilliant idea!

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pamela April 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Hilarious!! We had this same ‘discussion’ in our home for the first couple years of our daughter’s life but I have since abaondoned my fight for the dust jackets! I used to say that if we ever sold the book we would want it but the reality is that most of our books get really worn out and have even needed replacements for some favorites, so my argument didn’t stand. The only thing I can think of as to why they use them is to protect them during shipping?? Otherwise, I’m with you on this one.

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