Judging the Cover of a Book

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” it’s often said, but can you and will you be the judge for the cover for my new book? A short time ago I asked students at two California schools, Palo Alto High School and Castilleja, to help create the cover for my new book, Below C Level: Why It Pays to be Average in Public Education (and what WE can do about it).

The students submitted dozens of possibilities, and I have selected three finalists—for your consideration. Understand that these are drafts and can be changed, so I am NOT asking for an up-or-down vote but for your preference AND your suggestions as to how to improve the eventual winner.

Here they are. Please submit your vote and suggestions to the blog itself, so we can post your views. I ask you to remember that the designers are high school students who have put a lot of time and energy into this. They’re in the game, and they know they might not be chosen, but they deserve credit for their efforts, not snarky comments.

I am publishing the book on Amazon, meaning that there’s only one way to buy it—and it should be available for purchase in less than a month.

I’m donating a sizable portion of the royalties to Learning Matters, so, when you buy it, you will be supporting our in-depth coverage of education.

As for the book itself, here’s a snippet from the preface:

Schools are at the proverbial crossroads. Think of it this way: Just a few years ago, children went to schools (and libraries) to have access to knowledge, but today knowledge is everywhere, thanks to technology and the Internet. So why should kids go to school?

Just a few years ago, children went to school to socialize and be socialized, but today there’s an app for that! Kids have Facebook, Farmville, Myspace, Twitter and other powerful social media, so why should kids go to school?

I am asking the question, “Is School Obsolete?” And my answer is, essentially, “No, but…..”
As I will argue, many adults want schools to keep an eye on their kids and keep them safe. Those are not good enough reasons from a youth’s perspective, and so effective schools will teach young people how to evaluate knowledge, how to separate the wheat from the chaff—and how to choose the wheat. Yes, schools must teach values!

Good teachers will be like musical conductors, but the music won’t be classical. It will be jazz, full of riffs and tangents, and changing from performance to performance. Teaching will be tougher but infinitely more rewarding in these schools–if we are smart enough to build them.

Thanks for participating in this competition. I look forward to reading your ideas.

Below C Level Cover Contest

Cast your vote in the comments! We’ll be tallying the scores and sharing the results next week.

185 thoughts on “Judging the Cover of a Book

  1. #3 gets my vote if for general public

    #1 — too dull, even for policy wonks
    #2 — initially my first choice but subtitle to read


  2. Cover #3 catches my eye and draws me. I am unsure of the “see me” in the circle. May make one think it is mostly about children. Cover #2 makes me wonder about the book. All three are well done. Those who designed these should be applauded.


  3. John, here are two thoughts:

    1) Whatever cover you select, make it C- not just C. Adding the minus is a better fit with your tag line. It also sends a different and important message.

    2) The selection of your cover should be driven by the prime audience cohort you want to reach, not the opinion of those of us who are your fans. We will read the book no matter what you cover you select.

    If it is a lay audience, I suspect they will like #3. If it is a political-policy audience, #2 or #1. (And if you select #1, I could make the “C” a little less stylized. Even with a minus after it, the type is so slick, the potential book buyer may miss that it is a grade. I would keep the C in that fine line, but make it more like a straight forward letter grade.)

    All of these thoughts are worth what you are paying for them –nothing; use what is helpful and dump the rest. Good luck.


  4. numba three all da way!
    super eye catching
    number two’s pun is also eye catching and interesting, but too literal


  5. I vote for C. Although I do like the visual puns in #2 I think they will be lost on most people (actualy maybe I just imagined them).


  6. #3 – I love how the image itself is a “c” level type of project. Love also the word play of “see me” as a classic teacher proposal on how to fix work and reinforcing the title.


  7. John,

    #3 feels most authentic, has the strongest metaphorical message, and is visually the most compelling (i. e. would entice me most to pick it up…). Well done.


  8. Hmmm. All good covers. I think I like cover #2 most. If the chair was underwater that would be even better 🙂


  9. I also like the pun for cover #2, but this may change after seeing the revised/modified versions from the designers!


  10. I vote with #3; it makes me want to buy the book; it is unusual, has ‘real’ appeal. #2 too dark; #3 too corporate


  11. I just wanted to comment on the process that has played out on this blog over the past days. To me it is nothing short of incredible and demonstrates the wonderful possibilities we now have in our schools for students to publish and share their work with a diverse group of people for feedback. This is very different than my school days where work was largely done in isolation and shared with only one person. Dean Shareski blogged about student publishing recently in a post titled, “Are We Insane?” The post essentially talks about how crazy we are for not taking better advantage of the most powerful publishing platform that we’ve ever known in our schools.


  12. All three have merit- #1 is ‘intellectual’ – the facts are presented really well;
    #2 is ‘artistic’ – empty chair, below sea level, eye-cathching;
    #3 is a combination of both – and my choice. It is magnetic – I want to read what’s in this one the most. How could it ‘pay’ to be below average? BUY THE BOOK AND FIND OUT!


  13. I loved #1 – I thought it was sharp, gave the message succinctly. I felt compelled to run out and buy the book. It also provided a sense of nationalism and patriotism.


  14. The cover on the right–the scrawl on light background–seems clearly the
    best. Not only does it catch the eye first but the scrawl gets across the
    low level of students in today’s schools. The other covers are much less
    eye-catching and the lettering is a bit hard to read in the middle one.

    Good luck with the book.


  15. Clearly cover 3. Cover 1 looks like a government publication. Cover 2 is a clever visual play on “sea level”, but doesn’t convey the message well. Cover 3 conveys the message of lousy education. I would also suggest you change the title to “Why it only pays to be average in public education and what we can do to change that.”


  16. I’m drawn to cover 3. Like the “See me” … double meaning re: see the teacher, and to “see” John Merrow’s book for explanation. Clever kid who designed it … simple yet effective.


  17. Intriguing how one book’s title and subtitle can be presented in such clever and radically diverse ways. All three are great. My first choice is #3. I, too, would recommend a change in the subtitle. Bob C suggested “Why it only pays to be average….” I like that, and here’s a slight tweak: “Why it pays to be only average…”? Thanks for your excellent website and blog.


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