Best book covers of 2023 – My pick of Aotearoa’s finest

A banging cover can always sell a book.
Becks Popham, Good Books

Kia ora to the booky ecosystem of writers, publishers, designers, artists, photographers, and models who make the book covers of Aotearoa a perennial delight! I keep an eye out during the year for those 'banging covers' and flash book production. I am happy to report 2023 has been a great year in the world of book covers. My favourite book cover is:
Dream girl by Joy Holley, published by Te Herenga Waka University Press.
Kia ora and congratulations Joy, Lily Paris West, Ebony Lamb, and Te Herenga Waka University Press.

Joy's inscription credits: 

"Thanks to Lily Paris West for the gorgeous cover, and Ebony Lamb for the incredible author photos."

"Thanks to my family for the songs, the stories and the love. Dad for transcribing my first 'book', Mum for the notes in my lunchbox, Faith for the beautiful embroidery on this book's cover, and for being my perfect little sister."

Find out more about the creation of this beautiful cover

Top picks

It was such a good year for covers, I've decided to do a top ten. Here are the other nine book covers that I have especial aroha for. 

Fungi of Aotearoa: A curious forager's field guide Liv Sisson
Photos by Paula Vigus (including the cover photo)
Published by Penguin

End times Rebecca Priestley
Cover by Todd Atticus
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Past Lives Leah Dodd
Cover: Charles Edward Perugini, The Goldfish Bowl, oil on canvas, c. 1870
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Saga Hannah Mettner
Cover by Andy Shaw
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Lioness Emily Perkins
Cover design by Greg Heinimann
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Big fat brown bitch Tusiata Avia
Cover artwork by Tui Emma Gillies, tapa cloth with Woman on the Cross 2022AD., opens a new window, Instagram tuiemmagilliesartist
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Pet Catherine Chidgey
Cover by Ocean Design
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Audition Pip Adam
Cover by Philip Kelly
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Ko ngā kōrero nā Sacha Cotter, nā Kawata Teepa i whakamāori
Ko ngā pikitia nā Josh Morgan
(also published in English as Dazzlehands)
Published by Huia Publishers

Showing that all the best dressed books can wear more than one great outfit, here are covers of Audition by Pip Adams from Giramondo Publishing and Peninsula Press, and Europa Editions UK's cover of Pet by Catherine Chidgey. 

Book Riot has picked the Gallic Books cover of She's a Killer by Kirsten McDougall as one of its best of 2023. 

Everything I know about book covers

Everything I know about books: an insider look at publishing in Aotearoa edited by Odessa Owens and Theresa Crewdson, foreword by Witi Ihimaera. Published by Whitireia Publishing.

This new pukapuka has some useful intell on book covers, as well as a motherlode of information and detail about Aotearoa publishing in general. The very clever cover is by Alan Deare, who also has a chapter on "How to design a book: a focus on covers":

The cover has to convey the complexity of a book's content in a singular, compelling moment whilst enlisting the maximum allowable quantity of print embellishment. It also needs to call, 'Pick me up' from a crowded shelf ...


Big love for Tūranga being a cover star.
Shifting foundations: Post-Quake architecture of Ōtautahi Christchurch
Published by Freerange Press

Te ao Māori

Here are some pukapuka published this year, using art and typography to stunning effect. 

Healing Ourselves: Indigenous Knowledge, Healing and Wellbeing edited by Leonie Pihama and Linda Tuhiwai Smith
Kia Mua, Kia Muri: 25 years of Toioho Ki Apiti Cassandra Barnett
The artist Ruby Solly
Āria Jessica Hinerangi
Te Reo kapekape: Māori wit and humour Hona Black
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, nā Isobel Joy Te Aho-White ngā pikitia
Ngā Kaihanga Uku: Māori clay artists Baye Riddell
Ngā kupu wero edited by Witi Ihimaera
Te awa o kupu edited by Vaughan Rapatahana and Kiri Piahana-Wong
Patu: The New Zealand Wars Gavin Bishop
Te pukapuka ka kore e pānuihia Tim Tipene, nā Nicolette Benella ngā pikitia, translated by Kanapu Rangitauria
Te Ra: The Māori sail Ariana Tikao, illustrated by Mat Tait

Nature, enter me

I am a fan of botanical and nature-themed covers. Here are five beauties.

A Forager's life: Finding my heart and home in nature Helen Lehndorf
Flora: Celebrating Our Botanical World Carlos Lehnebach
Mangō: Sharks and rays of Aotearoa Ned Barraud
The Forgotten Forest Robert Vennell
The South Island of New Zealand Robin Morrison

Special effects

There were some book covers this year that were creative and clever, with upside down lettering (Bill Nelson, Tīhema Baker) and special effects. Witty IS pretty - I loved the badges of Tiny Statements, the editorial markups on Everything I know about books, the beercan of The Drinking Game, and the cloudy title of Hoof.

Birnam Wood Eleanor Catton
Turncoat Tīhema Baker
Tiny Statements: a social history of Aotearoa New Zealand in badges Stephanie Gibson and Claire Regnault
Signs of Life Amy Head
The words for her Thomasin Sleigh
Root Leaf Flower Fruit Bill Nelson
The Drinking Game: How Big Business, the Media and Politicians Shape the Way You Drink Guyon Espiner
Continuous Ferment: A History of Beer and Brewing in New Zealand Greg Ryan
Hoof Kerrin P. Sharpe
The Modern Anna Kate Blair
Our Land in colour: a history of Aotearoa New Zealand 1860-1960 Brendan Graham with Jock Phillips

Face value

Lots of covers - especially biographies and memoirs - hone in on people and faces. I love the direct gaze of Dr Emma Espiner, Shaneel Lal, Sam Neill, and Barbara Else (with her beautiful colour effects). One of my favourites is Joe Bennett's - young Joe is on the cover, but mature Joe is on the back - replicating the same pose

From there to here: a memoir Joe Bennett
There's a cure for this: a memoir Emma Espiner
One of them Shaneel Lal
Laughing at the dark: a memoir Barbara Else
Did I ever tell you this?: a memoir Sam Neill
Robert Lord: diaries edited by Chris Brickell, Vanessa Manhire and Nonnita Rees
'A Bloody difficult subject': Ruth Ross, Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the making of history Bain Attwood
Jenny McLeod: A Life in Music Norman Meehan
A Labour of Love: A personal history of midwifery Joan Skinner
Untouchable Girls: The Topp Twins' story Jools and Lynda Topp
New Zealand migration Philippa Werry
Articulations Henrietta Bollinger
Commune: Chasing a Utopian dream in Aotearoa Olive Jones
Rugby League in New Zealand: A People's history Ryan Bodman
Auckland: The Twentieth-century story Paul Moon
The Quiet hero: Andrew Bagshaw : the Extraordinary Life and Death of a Kiwi Aid Worker in Ukraine Philip Matthews
Billy Bush: a front row view on life Kingita Ngahere (Bush) Te Pohe
Fear: New Zealand's Hostile Underworld of Extremists Byron C. Clark
Dogs with stories: Capturing New Zealanders with their four-legged best friends Mardo El-Noor


Lots of lovely typography usage this year. look how the AUP new poets letters dip behind and in front of the trees. Gangster's Paradise has a tough font perfect for the topic. Spoiled Fruit reminds me a bit of that That's all folks! Looney tunes image. 

Say I do this: Poems 2018-2022 C.K. Stead
AUP New Poets 9
Gangster's Paradise Jared Savage
Blood & Dirt: Prison labour and the making of New Zealand Jared Davidson
Remember me: poems to learn by heart from Aotearoa New Zealand edited by Anne Kennedy
Spoiled fruit: Queer poetry from Aotearoa 2023 edited by Damien Levi and Amber Esau
A canoe before the wind Vitale Lafaele

Classical Classic & Modern Classic

Biter Claudia Jardine
Yes classic nerds, that's Laocoön and His Sons.
Transposium Dani Yourukova

Two new additions to the very smartly dressed Te Papa Te Taiao Nature series
Native shells of Aotearoa Bruce Marshall
Native insects of Aotearoa Julia Kasper

Through Shaded Glass: Women and Photography in Aotearoa New Zealand 1860-1960 Lissa Mitchell
Shadow worlds: A history of the occult and esoteric in New Zealand Andrew Paul Wood
Sure to rise: The Edmonds story Peter Alsop, Kate Parsonson, and Richard Wolfe


Art on the cover, and in the production too. Pacific Arts Aotearoa is a very beautifully produced book indeed. 

Ruin and other stories Emma Hislop
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press
Cover art: Maiangi Waitai ‘When pushed pull’ 2015
Stream light Bill Direen
Cover artwork by Scott Flanagan
As the trees have grown Stephanie de Montalk
Honouring our ancestors: Takatāpui, two-spirit and indigenous LGBTQI+ well-being Alison Green and Leonie Pihama (editors)
Calamities Jane Arthur
Middle youth Morgan Bach
Little Doomsdays Nic Low and Phil Dadson
Pacific arts in Aotearoa: the powerful and dynamic legacy of Pacific arts in Aotearoa, as told by the artists themselves edited by Lana Lopesi
Rapture: an anthology of performance poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand edited by Carrie Rudzinksi and Grace Iwashita-Taylor

For the birds

A few bird books came out this year. 

Birdspeak Arihia Latham
Artwork by Natalie Couch (Ngāti Tūwharetoa), and cover design by Erin Jensen.
Bird Life Anna Smaill
The Sparrow Tessa Duder
Don Binney: Flight path Gregory O'Brien

Tamariki and Rangatahi


The Gnomes' very berry Christmas Sarina Dickson, illustrated by Minrui Yang
The Moth Keeper K. O'Neill
Iris and me Philippa Werry
The Afterlife of an ice cream wrapper: Re-Draft's 22nd collection of writing by New Zealand teenagers edited by Michelle Elvy, James Norcliffe and Glyn Strange
Critters of Aotearoa: 50 bizarre but lovable members of our wildlife community Nicola Toki, illustrated by Lily Duval
The Observologist Giselle Clarkson
Dadapalooza: a celebration of Dads Sarina Dickson, illustrated by Ant Sang
Mumapalooza: a celebration of Mums Sarina Dickson, illustrated by Ant Sang
Foul heart huntsman Chloe Gong
Ko Te Fagatuaga Hili Ia I Te Lalolagi! The Best Wrestling Match in the World! Tuipagai Pulu
Tsunami Ned Wenlock
Tulip and Sprout: A growing friendship Emma Wood and Carla Martell
The witch in the cherry tree Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jessica Twohill
Rustle! Donovan Bixley's Native plants of Aotearoa

On my radar for 2024

There are already some beaut covers for 2024 in the offing. Here are four that have caught my eye. 

The Grimmelings Rachael King
Cover image by Max Thompson
Design by Katrina Duncan
Animation by Jonathan King
Publication date 20 February 2024
Published by Allen & Unwin New Zealand and Allen & Unwin

Killer Rack Sylvan Spring
Cover by Axel Deventer Olsthoorn
Publication date 8 February 2024
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

Kitten Olive Nuttall
Cover illustration by Pluto (instagram @plutonicastromancy)
Cover design by Todd Atticus
Publication date 8 February 2024
Published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

The Sunforge Sascha Stronach
Publication date July 2024
Published by Simon & Schuster

More best book covers

Best book covers of previous years