National Book Awards: Behind the Cover Art

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In the American book publishing industry, the National Book Awards are about as good as it gets. Established in 1950 by the National Book Foundation, this award honors only the absolute best works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and young adult literature published within a calendar year.

This year, Laurel Snyder’s novel Orphan Island (Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins) was long-listed in the Young People’s Literature category. Bright Artist David Litchfield illustrated the cover art.

We chatted with David about his artistic process for creating a this stunning cover for this book, which has the industry abuzz.


I think it’s important to have a strong cover that intrigues a reader, but does not give too much of the story away. It should visualize the general atmosphere of the book.

– Artist David Litchfield

The book itself is rather abstract — about a mysterious island where nine children live in harmony, except for one day of the year when a boat comes to take one child away, and replace them with another. To reflect the themes of loneliness, belonging, and the painful transition from innocence to awareness that dominate the novel, David created several possible versions for the cover:

Idea 4
Idea 6

Idea 7
Idea 1

Orphan Island was such a mysterious and intriguing concept and I really wanted that to come across with the illustration. I originally had some of the other characters standing on the island watching the boat come closer, but the art director and I decided to get rid of them. I’m glad that we did, as it conveys the loneliness of the character in the boat and also ups the suspense.

Idea 2
Idea 3

I wanted the colors to be very vibrant. The image is supposed to depict the island at dawn, when the light makes everything look very ‘other worldly,’ which I think also helps convey the mysterious nature of the island. I achieved this look by combining a number of water color washes. I then painted the tress and foliage in darker acrylics and layered these over the top of the washes.

The final artwork is evocative, emotional, and enticing; it’s just the first page of a truly marvelous adventure.

Read more about children’s book awards and why they matter here.


Some of David’s other fiction covers:



If you’d like to inquire if David Litchfield is available to illustrate covers, please contact his agent, Anne Moore Armstrong.


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