Books·Books of the Year

The best Canadian book covers of 2017

We judge books by their covers, sometimes.

These 12 books are beautiful inside and out. Check out our favourite Canadian book covers from 2017.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

With permission from the artist, Christian Morrisseau's painting Seven Fallen Feathers was adapted for the cover of Tanya Talaga's book by House of Anansi designer Alysia Shewchuk. (Christian Morrisseau/Alysia Shewchuk/House of Anansi)

From Alysia Shewchuk: "The art on this cover is by Christian Morrisseau and is entitled Seven Fallen Feathers, which is also where the title of the book comes from. In this piece, Christian pays tribute to seven Indigenous students who died in Thunder Bay between the years of 2000 and 2011, one of whom was his son, Kyle Morrisseau. This was already an existing piece of art, and I believe seeking permission to feature it on our cover was the idea of the author [Tanya Talaga] and the editor. We were honoured when Christian gave us his permission.

"From a design perspective, my biggest concern was making it work as a book cover without compromising the integrity of the art — and with the exception of a few minor adjustments to accommodate the title and the author type, I think we managed to keep the piece almost fully intact. Nevertheless, out of consideration for the artist and the subjects depicted, we also decided to feature it in its entirety on the back cover."

Sputnik's Children by Terri Favro

David Gee is a cover designer based in Toronto. Sputnik's Children was published by ECW Press. (David Gee/ECW Press)

From David Gee: "As this book by author Terri Favro covered a LOT of territory (comics, booze & pills, the creative impulse, unreliable narration) it was going to be a tricky thing to condense everything into one image. My reading of the brief sort of set this book, and its potential cover, somewhere between Valley of the Dolls and metaphysical young adult fiction — in outer space. What could go wrong?

"Initially I played around with an overhead martini glass as the centre of an imagined black hole, with lots of dynamic comic book typography swirling about, but the results looked almost like confessional nonfiction. Other attempts at using trendy double exposure images of a woman's silhouette full of stars made this seem a little too speculative, or 'genre' in the industry parlance of times. In the end, this punchy two-colour job, resplendent with holographic foil stars, won out. Littering the back and spine with all manner of dynamic comic book panels and typography ticked all the remaining boxes. Pow!"

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson & Julie Flett

Julie Flett received the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books for her work on When We Were Alone, which was published by HighWater Press. Robyn Woodcock at Relish Branding contributed to the cover design. (Julie Flett/Robyn Woodcock/Highwater Press)

From Julie Flett: "The image that was selected for the cover of When We Were Alone is one of the interior images. When the book first came out, one of [the author] David's friends sent him a picture of his grandmother and a friend with their uniforms on, in the fall, in the leaves, the two of them side by side on their way to residential school. It was taken in 1928. It's so much like the cover, the girls are a little older, but the way they are positioned on the grass together, side by side, is uncanny. This is the sort of connection we've had to the work in so many ways. For me, the cover image captures the feelings of warmth and connection. It's one of the few images of the residential school period where I bring in a brighter colour. Overall, it's a bit muted but the red is at the heart of it and I think it's tied together with the warmth and connection of the two girls, side by side."

Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

Jillian Tamaki is the author, illustrator and cover designer of her graphic novel Boundless, published by Drawn & Quarterly. (Jillian Tamaki/Drawn & Quarterly)

From Jillian Tamaki: "There is no unifying aesthetic to the stories in Boundless. They were produced over a number of years and each story's visual style reflects what I was interested in at the time or what I felt the story needed. I think the effect is akin to collage, where the simple act of pairing creates a new effect. So I extended that idea to the cover and design. I was happy my publisher let me put a standalone comic on the back cover."

Curry by Naben Ruthnum

Chloe Cushman is an illustrator based in Toronto, whose work has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other publications and publishers. Curry was published by Coach House Books. (Chloe Cushman/Coach House Books)

From Chloe Cushman: "This book is a critique of the narrative genre that [author] Naben calls 'Currybooks,' which immediately bring to mind bad stock photo book covers of artfully sprinkled spices, exotic textile patterns, burning sunsets and the fiery colours you'd expect to find in the dish itself. The challenge of this cover was to use those same cliched tropes, but with a satirical slant that hints at the subversive argument of the book. Illustration works particularly well here, since a photograph of that same spice cabinet might inadvertently be confused for the very thing the book is trying to critique."

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Designer Angel Guerra used a photograph by Wenzdae Brewster to create the cover of The Marrow Thieves. The novel is published by Cormorant Books. (Wenzdae Brewster/Angel Guerra/Cormorant Books)

From publisher Marc Côté & designer Angel Guerra: "Author Cherie Dimaline had the idea: 'What about the face of a young Indigenous boy?' We agreed, but suggested that half a face might be more intriguing. When Cherie emailed the photograph we eventually used for the cover, we knew immediately it was the right image. The funny thing was that this photograph was taken by Wenzdae Brewster, Cherie's daughter, for a school project. Angel positioned the photograph to give him room so that he could set the title vertically. Since then, we've had to shrink the image, move the title to its current horizontal position, in order to make room for the awards and honours: the GG, the Kirkus, Globe and Mail 100 and the White Pine Award nomination. It's wonderful when designer, editor, publisher and author all agree on exactly the same thing — and it's even more wonderful when a book carries an image that has long been missing from our bookstore and library shelves."

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom, illustrated by Kai Yun Ching & Wai-Yant Li

Wai-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching illustrated and designed the cover for From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, which was published by Arsenal Pulp Press. (Wai-Yant Li/Kai Yun Ching/Arsenal Pulp Press)

From Wai-Yant Li & Kai Yun Ching: "At the base of this project, are years of friendship, trust and shared community. When we first read Kai Cheng's story, both of us were struck by how evocative and powerful it was. Wai-Yant's mind was filled by dynamic characters running, playing and dreaming, while Yun Ching's was filled with lush watercolour nightscapes filled with rolling waves and stars. Our family and love pushed us to make it a reality. So we asked Kai Cheng if we could collaborate on the project together, and we were delighted when she said yes! We knew that it was definitely a risk! While we both had pursued our own artistic endeavours, neither of us had ever fully illustrated a children's book from start to finish, nor had we collaborated this extensively together.

"Before even laying brush to paper, we spent a good solid month, figuring out communication and trust, work dynamics, integrating our visions together and planning out the layout of the book. From the font to the pencil sketches, to the final watercolour paintings, every aspect of the images were reviewed together, reworked and finalised as a team. When we look at the pages, we see both our perspectives represented so strongly. Most importantly, we had a continual feedback process with family and loved ones. They provided invaluable support, honesty, and insight throughout the four months it took to paint and piece together the final product. This book never would have existed without our community."

Pemmican Wars by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Scott Henderson, colouring by Donovan Yaciuk

Scott Henderson illustrated the cover and graphic novel Pemmican Wars, published by Portage & Main Press. Charity Webster of Relish Branding also contributed to the cover design. (Scott Henderson/Charity Webster/Portage & Main Press)

From Scott Henderson: "We (HighWater Press and I) were looking for a cover design that was different from the graphic novels we had done before. I became inspired by various comic and novel covers that were simple, yet encompassed specific images or themes from the story. Making use of negative space and a very simple colour palette I focused on the titular Echo, evoking her emotions, her attachment to music and the Métis."

From Charity Webster: "When it comes to design, the Relish team has to decide whether or not to simply accent a piece or deliver something completely original. With the cover art for Pemmican Wars, we were more than happy to simply compliment Scott B. Henderson's beautiful portrait of a girl lost in thought."

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Jennifer Lum works at Penguin Random House Canada. Son of a Trickster is published by Knopf Canada. (Jennifer Lum/Knopf Canada)

From Jennifer Lum: "We wanted to use an image that communicates the idea of a raven without actually using a bird to represent the Trickster. To emphasize the magical aspects of Eden Robinson's novel, we used a pearlized stock for the jacket. The iridescent sheen adds a lustrous depth to the feathers, while making the fireflies appear to glow."

Brother by David Chariandy

Terri Nimmo is an associate creative director at Penguin Random House Canada. Brother was published by McClelland & Stewart. (Terri Nimmo/McClelland & Stewart)

From Terri Nimmo: "Reducing a complex novel down to size of a front cover is, in any instance, a challenge. In the case of David Chariandy's Brother, the visual solution for me was balancing the vibrancy of culture (the washes of colour), the quiet sophistication of the writing juxtaposed against the raw nature of its themes (the mix of elegant serif and bold sans serif typography), plus a visual iconic tip to specific elements/characters therein (the DJ's turntable)."

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

Designer Gregg Kulick works at Little, Brown in New York. The Last Neanderthal is published by Doubleday Canada. (Gregg Kulick/Doubleday Canada)

From Gregg Kulick: "Claire Cameron's novel The Last Neanderthal is a absolutely beautiful novel telling both the story of a group of Neanderthals and a scientist studying them. There is a scene towards the beginning where the Neanderthal family is in a cave, perched above a sweeping landscape of mountains. It is a really sweet and charmingly written scene and one that lent itself to the cover. I didn't like the idea of actually showing someone on the cover but rather sneaking them in with the silhouettes on the side of the cave. We did a lot of research to find just the right landscape that matched where the book took place. It was an absolutely pleasure to work on this book."

American War by Omar El Akkad

Peter Mendelsund designed the cover for American War, which was published by McClelland & Stewart. (Peter Mendelsund/McClelland & Stewart)

Peter Mendelsund, cover designer of Omar El Akkad's debut novel American War, has designed covers for books by Martin Amis, Stieg Larsson, Simone de Beauvoir and Franz Kafka. He has written two books on book cover design: Cover and What We See When We Read.