Today, let’s embark on a whimsical journey through the enchanting history of foreign cat books and cover design, spanning 150 purr-fect years. Styles and fashions keep evolving to reflect cultural changes and that includes cat books.
I’ve curated and edited a quirky, international mix of cat book covers. With mixed emotions, I’ve added AI design since it will take its place in history.
American publishers copied mostly British styles initially but it’s always interesting to see how different design sensibilities evolved in foreign cat book design.
Tell me which one is your favorite.
The Genesis: A Feline Victorian Craze (1874-1900)
While the oldest cat book (still in print after 500 years) is Puss and Boots, my focus mirrors the time when more cats were becoming pets in the late 19th century, a time when the literary world was just starting to discover the allure of our feline friends. I will cover Puss and Boots in another post.
Apart from a few nonfiction cat book, most were picture books to entertain children. Books sported elaborate embossed covers, featuring intricately drawn cats in various mischievous poses. Books like Clever Cats (1885) mirror pop culture like the new craze for bicycles. The early designs set the precedent for the delightful marriage of literature and whiskered charm. We see the influence of anthropomorphic design from photographers and artists like Louis Wain.
The Golden Era: Wain’s World and beyond (1901-1920s)
As the 20th century unfolded, so did the popularity of cat-themed literature. British artist Wain ruled the world of whimsy and wasn’t afraid to satirize difficult topics like war and politics. The cover designs evolved to incorporate more vibrant colors and playful illustrations. Cats adorned in the latest men’s and lady’s fashion became the iconic mascots, capturing readers’ hearts and enhancing the visual appeal of these sweet literary gems.
Pre-war 1930s to WW2 1940s
Glossy, thick paper was a rarity. This Nazi type font gives a chilling vibe from this 1930s German book.
The era had muted colors like this Japanese cover reflecting the fashion of the day.
I’ve never seen such a cute but inhumane habitat for a frog.
I’d love to know what this Russian book is about. A cat mom with a mouse baby is intriguing.
Mid-Century Mew-sings (1950s)
The mid-20th century witnessed an explosion of creativity in cover design. Minimalism took center stage, with sleek silhouettes of cats dominating the scene. Titles like embraced bold fonts and clean lines, creating a sophisticated aesthetic. Cat-shaped cutouts and textured covers added a tactile dimension, making these books not just a joy to read but also a delight to hold.
The 1960s often have a flat, space age vibe with bright primary colors.
Photo covers were usually in black and white. The sans serif font is fresh and modern.
Nothing is more 70s to 80s than a instantly recognizable Kliban book.
The Digital Dawn: Cat Books in the Techno-Whisker Age (1981-2000)
Advances in printing offer more options. This Japanese cover from the 80’s could have been designed yesterday.
As we entered the digital age, cat books made the transition from physical to virtual realms. Cover designs, now viewed on screens, embraced pixel art and vibrant digital illustrations. Interactive e-books like allowed readers to tap, swipe, and even hear adorable meows as they explored the virtual pages.
Contemporary Cat Chronicles (2001-Present)
In the 21st century, cover design for cat books has become a kaleidoscope of styles. From whimsical watercolors, retro to photorealistic portraits, each cover is a visual feast for the eyes. Some authors and publishers have even taken inspiration from social media-famous cats, incorporating their adorable faces into cover designs, creating an instant connection with readers.
Needless to say cat lovers have enjoyed an explosion of cat books in the past decade from children’s to adult, fiction, nonfiction, picture book on every conceivable topic.
I’ve reviewed hundreds of cat books since about 2009 and have too many favorites to list here. After working closely with my book designer, I have a deep respect for how multi-faceted and complicated the process is. Amazon is flooded with horrid book covers, and I strongly suggest anyone self-publishing to hire a professional designer.
AI, the Future?
With the advent of AI, it’s inevitable we will see more AI generated art and ouch, cat books of every kind written by non-humans. It’s too soon to know how it will impact the publishing world.
Within seconds, I created this AI generated cat book cover with a selection of prompts. AI to my knowledge, doesn’t incorporate text into a design. I had to manually create to text design but all things considered it’s not bad. Of course doing a mock-up is only a small part of the publishing process and I don’t think graphic designers need worry, at least not yet.
Throughout these 150 years, cover design choices have reflected cultural shifts and artistic trends. Whether it’s the timeless elegance of black and white photography or the Instagrammable aesthetic of vibrant hues, cat book covers have consistently captured the essence of their eras.
As we meander through this rich history, one thing becomes abundantly clear – the magic of cat books lies not only in their captivating tales but also in the artistic allure of their covers. So, dear readers, the next time you pick up a cat-themed book, take a moment to appreciate the purr-sonalities that grace its cover, for within those designs, a whiskered world of literary delight awaits
Take a peek at some more vintage cat book covers