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English 105 Online Curriculum Module: Judging a Book by Its Cover: Home

Lesson Context


The Judging a Book By Its Cover unit sequence uses special collections materials to introduce students to the basics of primary and secondary source research, visual and textual analysis, and scholarly writing. The unit begins with an in-class exercise and feeder assignment based on a selection of mass-market paperbacks from Wilson Special Collections Library's Rare Book Collection, continues with a second feeder assignment where students work in groups to develop a publishing company and individually to write book proposals for a particular audience, and concludes with a unit project where students apply visual and textual analysis skills to design their own book covers. Students can watch the "Books as Cultural Objects" videos below for an introduction to analyzing visual rhetoric and materiality in mass-market paperbacks:

Part 2: Book Size

Part 3: Book Covers

Part 4: Typography

Part 5: The Book Spine

Part 6: Paper Quality


Unit Summary

Genre Purpose Audience Author Rhetorical Situation
Book cover. To get someone to buy your particular edition of a book, and to provide context to the book. Up to you! Graphic designer and copywriter. You are working in a publishing house, and your supervisor has tasked you with creating a new edition of a book to sell to a specific audience.

Frankenstein front cover​Individual Responsibilities

In this unit, you will create a book cover for a new edition of an existing book. You will also write an introduction for your edition of the book.

Group Responsibilities

Working in small groups, you will create a new publishing company. You company must have a clearly outlined set of goals — this could be publishing classic novels, appealing to a certain demographic group, publishing books that address similar issues, or publishing literature in a specific genre (for example, poems, short stories, or mystery novels). Although you will each be designing an edition of a different book, you will rely on your teammates to keep your edition on-brand for the audience your company is trying to reach.

Learning Objectives

As a team and individually, you will consider all aspects of cover design and book marketing, including: 

  • defining your target audience; 
  • developing a strategy to reach that audience; 
  • designing imagery and paratext for your book; and
  • presenting your finished designs to the class, along with your statement for what your design tells us about the book, as well as the audience you are marketing the book to.

Feeder One


For Feeder One, each student will select a novel of their choice from the ten digitized mass-market paperbacks available in the gallery at the bottom of this guide. Before class, students will use their novel selection to answer questions on the Visual Analysis Worksheet, which introduces concepts like audience, paratext, font/typeface, and materiality. 

In class, students will work in groups with two or three other students who selected a different book from the collection; first, they will compare answers, noting areas of similarity and difference in how visual elements are portrayed in different mass-market paperbacks. Next, they will choose one visual element (i.e. color, font, paratext, etc.) to research — they will consider that element across all the paperbacks in the collection, and briefly present their findings to the class.   

Out of class, each student will write a brief Visual Analysis Paper about the book cover they selected. In the paper, students will make a case for what readership they believe the book was intended for, based on both visual and paratextual details.

Instructional Materials

Possible Expansion: Visit Wilson Special Collections Library

Request a special collections instruction session to expand Feeder One with an additional in-library activity. Students will examine physical books from the Rare Book Collection and work in small groups to complete the Book as Artifact Worksheet. This lesson introduces students to materiality, from book production to provenance, and encourages them to consider the implications of writing about books as physical objects. 

Additional Resources

These resources may supplement the instructional materials provided above:

Visual Analysis

Scholarly Research and Writing

Feeder Two


For Feeder Two, students will work in groups of three or four on a group project and presentation. Each group will come up with an idea for a new publishing company that markets books to a particular audience of readers. Students must collectively decide on a company name, a set of goals, and a clearly defined target audience for the books they will publish. As a group, students will work together to condense of all of this information by writing a brief company mission statement.

Feeder Two will culminate with in-class presentations, in which groups share their company mission statements with the class. During the presentations, each group member will also make a brief individual proposal of the book they have selected for their company to publish.

Instructional Materials

Unit Project


Each student will use InDesign to make their own cover for a new edition of a book of their choice. These covers will be completed individually. In addition, each student will write an explanatory paper justifying their choices for the front and back cover design, including its relevance to the themes of the book and its appeal to the chosen audience.

Instructional Materials

Possible Expansion: Visit the Undergraduate Library

Request a design instruction session and an information literacy instruction session taught by librarians in the Robert B. House Undergraduate Library. In the design session, librarians can provide an overview of InDesign and how to get started on the book cover design project. In the information literacy session, librarians can help students search for secondary and primary sources to use in their book cover introductions; potential topics may include formulating keywords, searching in databases, evaluating print and online sources, citation, and other information literacy concepts.

Additional Resources

These resources may supplement the instructional materials provided above:

Book Cover Design

Scholarly Research and Writing

Additional Paperbacks and Teaching Ideas


Emily Kader

Rare Book Research Librarian, Wilson Special Collections Library

Cait Kennedy

Carolina Academic Library Associate, Robert B. House Undergraduate Library 

Liz Shand

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English and Comparative Literature 

Ashley Werlinich

Graduate Research Assistant, Wilson Special Collections Library; Ph.D. Student and Teaching Fellow, Department of English and Comparative Literature​

Discipline Areas

This online curriculum module is designed for use in the humanities unit of English 105; however, it could also be adapted for the business unit of English 105 or for English 105i: Writing in the Humanities, Writing in the Digital Humanities, or Writing in Business. 

English 105 Requirements

This unit sequence meets the following English 105 requirements:

  • Digital Literacy;
  • Information Literacy;
  • Multimodal Composition; 
  • Oral Presentation;
  • Primary Source Literacy; and
  • Visual Literacy.

Core Materials

Rare Book Collection

Mass-Market Paperbacks Collection 

Possible Adaptations

This unit sequence could be adapted to use a variety of other special collections materials from the Rare Book Collection, or elsewhere in Wilson Special Collections Library, depending on your research interests, desired learning outcomes, and other instructional goals. Contact the Special Collections to discuss other possible adaptations for your English 105 section.


Schedule an Instruction Session

If you would like your class to visit Wilson Special Collections Library, request a special collections instruction session.

Teach with the Rare Book Collection

If you have questions about teaching with the Rare Book Collection, contact Emily Kader.

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Emily Kader
(919) 962-4364
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Start a Conversation

To start a conversation about how future online curriculum modules can support your English 105 instruction, contact Jason Tomberlin, Head of Research and Instructional Services.

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Jason Tomberlin
Wilson Special Collections Library

Research & Instructional Services

(919) 962-3765

Mass-Market Paperbacks Gallery