January 4, 2023

Recode the Barcode

Flip any book over, and you'll see the barcode, the set of vertical black lines in varying widths with numbers around it, all shoved into a white box. This barcode is tied to book-specific information, including the price, so most modern books (and many items available for purchase in general) have one for easy check-out at the register. 

click to zoom in

Though nearly every book has a barcode, rarely do we see any special attention given to the design or placement of it, and I think it's time to change that! How, you ask? By creating a pretty list and a catchy slogan, of course! Join me as I RECODE THE BARCODE and raise some much-needed awareness about a lesser-loved book detail. Here are my favorites, broken down into six categories. And don't forget to check out my other favorites lists:


Let's start with the simpler designs, which also happen to be more common:

1. Sign up These Barcodes
Each of these barcodes exists inside the confines of cleverly-designed signage. The "sign" provides the opportune space to print a barcode without disrupting the design of the cover or obscuring any image details.

(Rise X Penguin, February 2022)

Three by the Sea by Mini Grey
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 2011)

Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê and Isabel Roxas
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, June 2016)

If You Are the Dreamer by Kristen Balouch
(Harry N Abrams, September 2021)

The Big Umbrella by Juniper Bates and Amy June Bates
(Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, February 2018)

2. Barcodes That Talk the Talk
These barcodes all appear in speech bubbles! Similar to utilizing signage, the speech bubble is a natural way of integrating the barcode, and it's even better if the speech bubbles align with the theme of the book!

Sergio Makes A Splash by Edel Rodriguez
(Little, Brown & Company, July 2008)

(Toon Books, September 2012)

El Sol, la Luna y el Agua by Laura Herrera
(Ekare, June 2016)

The Fox on the Swing by Evelina Daciutè and Aušra Kiudulaitė
(Thames & Hudson, June 2018)

(Albert Whitman & Company April 2019)

Puppet, Plum Pit, Plum, Log and Back to Puppet by Vojtěch Mašekand Chrudoš Valoušek
(Centrala, January 2018)

Now we get a little more complex, with barcodes that are more integral to the design of the image:

3. Designed with the Barcode in Mind
The cover has a space specially set aside for the barcode, but the placement somehow ties into the design of the book in some integral way (ie, removing the barcode would leave a weird, empty space!).

Patti at the Music Shop by Vitek Macner
(Albatross Media, September 2022)

Sky High by Germano Zullo and Albertine
(Chronicle Books, November 2012)

A Million Dots by Sven Völker
(Cicada Books, September 2019)

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle Books, February 2017)

While You're Sleeping by Mick Jackson and John Broadley
(Pavilion Books Ltd, February 2021)

(Gecko Press, October 2018)

Migloo's Day by William Bee
(Candlewick Press, March 2015)

Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec
(Enchanted Lion Books, October 2012)

Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L'Arronge
(Owlkids Books Inc., March 2017)

(NorthSouth Books, September 2024)

4. Chameleon Barcodes
This is super similar to the above category but takes things one step further. Rather than being placed in a designated spot, these barcodes find ways to exist organically by taking advantage of existing empty spaces in the image.

(Abrams, April 2014)

Ada and the Number-Crunching Machine by Zoë Tucker and Rachel Katstaller
(NorthSouth Books, September 2019)

(words & pictures, May 2021)

Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg and Angela Barrett
(Candlewick Press, November 2006)

The Garden We Share by Zoë Tucker and Swaney Julianna
(NorthSouth Books, March 2022)

The Carousel of Animals by Gerard Lo Monaco
(Little Gestalten, May 2018)

At the top of the pyramid are the most intentional barcode designs:

5. Interactive Barcodes
Characters or elements of the image interact with the barcode in some way.

Leilong's Too Long! by Julia Liu and Bei Lynn
(Gecko Press, August 2022)

How to Give Your Cat a Bath: In Five Easy Steps by Nicola Winstanley and John Martz
(Tundra Books, January 2019)

(Viking Books for Young Readers, October 1992)

my old Scholastic edition and a Spanish edition (so you can see the barcode!)

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 2008)

Taxi Ride with Victor by Sara Troga and Elsa Klever
(Prestel, September 2019)

Oh Look, a Cake! by J C McKee
(Clarion Books, May 2021)

6. Barcode by Design
These are barcodes that are outright designed, whether or not they're part of the larger image.

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe
(Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, October 2019)

Cloudette by Tom Litchenheld
(Henry Holt & Company, March 2011)

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Litchenheld
(Chronicle Books, August 2014)

by Hilary Leung
(Cartwheel Books, May/October 2018)

Virtually anything by Claude Ponti, including My Valley (Elsewhere Editions, March 2017) and Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye (Elsewhere Editions, May 2022)

(mineditionUS, Apri 2014)

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  1. Loved this post! So much great info about something I had not thought about at all--and yet, now I see how cleverly done these can be! :) Thanks so much for putting this together!

  2. Thank you so much, Elayne! I agree, they can be so clever!! Keep me posted if you find any I should add!

  3. I love how you categorize the types of illustrated barcodes, Mel. I am ashamed to say I know many of these books and never even noticed this! Some I did deep dives into the visual design. Thanks for opening my eyes and making me a better PB visual analyzer!

    1. Oh, thank you, Geri! It was our chat that inspired me to really start thinking harder about them, so thank you for the inspiration!