Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Children's Book Covers 2009 - Julie's Picks

As a friend wrote recently, "It's the end of the Aughts (or the Oughts, or the Should'ves)" which means it's time for The Best of the Year lists, as well as a few Best of the Decade lists. Not able to get my head around a whole decade, which stretches back to the innocent little year of 2000 (pre-Bush, pre-9/11, pre-Afghanistan, pre-Iraq, pre-Madoff, pre-bailout....), I will offer up only what my sequestered memory can handle - my Favorite Kids Book Covers of 2009, along with a few reasons why:

1. WAITING FOR WINTER by Sebastian Meschenmoser - A strange choice, maybe. This is a quiet cover. I love the scruffy fur, the outstretched hand, the leaf (not falling, but near falling) - love the patience of it, the subdued palette, the static (perfect for its subject: waiting) scene, the elegant mix of fonts. Why have I never heard of this artists before? He's fantastic.

2. TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA by Shaun Tan. You simply can't see anything behind the glass of the mask - what's in there?? If I were a kid, I'd have to buy this book just to find out. Shaun Tan is one of the most brilliant illustrators around - don't you love the barnacles at the top of the head, the suggestion of continents? It could be Jules Verne down 20,000 leagues, couldn't it?...but what are those 1950's houses doing in the background?

3. THE LION AND THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney. Such an obvious choice, but how not to choose it? If you watch five-year-olds in the kids' section of a bookstore, they walk straight to it as if they're metal filings and it's a magnet. Irresistible force, that cover. I'm not convinced the book should get the Caldecott (I would have liked more text) but how to argue with the illustrations? It made all the difference, of course, not to put any title/author name on the cover, and to move the mouse so that he's only visible if you open the cover to its full length.

4. HIGHER, HIGHER by Leslie Patricelli - simply because it's hard not to laugh when you look at it. The guy pushing her is so far-down, her smile is so up-high, and that right foot really is about to touch the clouds - don't we all remember what that feels like? Besides, I love the simplicity, the almost handwritten quality of the font, bold primary colors, and the exuberance of those exclamation marks (!!)

5. CHICKEN LITTLE by Rebecca and Ed Emberley - You know they're crazy. And they're all looking right at you.And by the way, have you noticed how much it resembles the cover for STITCHES by David Small?. Both are books about Crazies (poultry and people) so I'm making them co-winners of the last slot of my favorites:

Oh, boy it hurts to stop with five/six. Here are five Almosts: Going Bovine by Libba Bray (gnome in sunglasses), Moonshot by Brian Floca (floating in space), Perpetual Check by Rich Wallace (optical illusion), The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett (pure charm.) And actually, the cover that stopped me in my tracks this year, the one that is most odd-man-out compared with these whimsical favorites, was Remember Little Rock by Paul Robert Walker (the girl in the foreground, yes, but those girls standing behind her, taunting her and screaming....that's just painful to look at.)

Can't wait to see what Carol chose! and to whoever is out there, reading this: We would love to have your opinions of the Year's Best Covers for Kids' Books. Add your opinion in the comments...?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best Children's Book Covers of 2009--Carol's Picks

What makes a book cover good? Is there a definitive answer? Perhaps it's a mixture of aesthetic appeal, artistic originality, and how well it captures the spirit of the story between the boards. That's what I think. I wonder what Julie picked for her top covers this year--I haven't looked yet. Here are my top five of 2009, in no particular order:
  • Harry and Horsie by Katie Van Camp, illustrated by Lincoln Agnew (Balzer and Bray)

Appealing, energetic composition, great retro feel, with a promise of adventure inside.
  • Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, book designed by Elizabeth B. Parisi, cover art by Tim O'Brien (Scholastic)

This cover captures the personality of the story: exciting, bold, fast-paced. The mockingjay image is a symbol throughout the story, so very appropriate, but also visually delicious. But the best part of this jacket is--no, not the embossing although that's nice, too--the coppery sheen of the background! This image doesn't do it justice. It's positively metallic. Can't wait to see what the third book looks like.
  • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (Atheneum)

This cover captures space. It reminds me of the way you feel when Hal refuses to open the pod bay door for Dave and ejects him from the ship. Vast, lonely, silent. Brilliant.
  • When Stella Was Very, Very Small by Marie-Louise Gay (Groundwood)

This Canadian author is new to me, despite the fact that this is the eighth Stella book Gay has produced. Anyway, Stella is so very, very small on this cover. She's low in the frame, as is the horizon line. Plus the grasses growing up in front of her further make her seem insignificant. Nevertheless, she manages to look perfectly cute.

I had such a time choosing a fifth book. Of course, Jerry Pinckney's The Lion and the Mouse is my very favorite, but I've already gone on about it on this blog. I thought of Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which has a very appealing olde fashioned cover--but Julie has already blogged about that. I liked the idea of including a middle grade choice, though. So what to pick, what to pick? I scoured the "best of" lists last night and came across this gem:
  • Signal by Cynthia DeFelice, cover art TBD (FSG)

How ever did I miss this book? And why isn't there an uncrappy, unpixelated cover image available online? This alien fantasy for middle graders has been well reviewed. The cover zeroes in on the two main characters with concentric (crop) circles, making them seem insignificant within this vast field (Is there a theme emerging? I like covers that make people look small and lonely? Must bring this up with my analyst.) The shafts of light coming between the trees at the edge also direct the eye to the two children. Also, consider the angled line cutting across the top of the frame, which could be either menacing or protective, depending on your mood. Best of all is the title ringing the crop circle, which uses an jaunty yellow, attention-getting typeface that hints at the alien nature of the story. Love. It. Must find myself a copy.

That's it for me for 2009. Looking forward to the covers 2010 will bring. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Message From the Jacket Knack Team

Jolly holidays! We're taking a short break from posting this week, but stay tuned. On Monday, December 28th, we'll post our picks for best children's book covers of 2009. The burning question: Will Julie's picks be radically different from Carol's? We know it's exciting, but please, try and contain your enthusiasm . . . and yet . . . yet . . . we just know that containing yourself will be utterly impossible once you read this next part, the latest Jacket Knack news: Beginning in 2010, Jacket Knack will be doubling its posts to two per week! Yes! Two times the interviews, two times the TapJacketings, two times the exploration and analysis of children's book cover design. Yay!

Deep breath.

Better now?

So yeah, it's true! Carol will be posting Mondays and Julie Thursdays. We're stoked, man, totally stoked. And hey, thanks, as always, for reading and keep those comments coming. Tell your friends about us, won't you? And . . . happy new year!

Monday, December 14, 2009


Interesting trend, the number of silhouette-style compositions on kids' book covers lately. Besides being dramatic almost by definition (since contrast heightens drama), the silhouette is also a shortcut. In the same way photos send a signal to the potential reader that a book is modern, the silhouette telegraphs one key piece of information before the books is ever picked up, much less read. It says, "This book is not modern. The story between the covers, whether non-fiction or fiction, will either be set in the past or will have an old-fashioned tone that reminds you of books you loved from your childhood. Nostalgia plays a role."

The Penderwicks  might have been the first one that caught your eye, and its appeal is old-fashioned.

And certainly you've been seeing these two everywhere - both stories (one fiction, one not) set in the past: 

You might not have seen the one pictured below yet (only partially silhouette, down in the bottom left corner, but certainly of the Silhouette School)  since it's not due out from Henry Holt until next's based on one of Grimm's fairy tales called Bearskinner:

The template (old-fashioned storytelling or set in the past) holds for these as well, from the artist David Frankland, who appears to have a thing for pointy rooflines in the distance: 


Only a Witch Can Fly (seen at the beginning of this post) is the only picture book I can think of right now with silhouettes on the cover, and it is being praised as old-fashioned. Are there other recent picture book covers that use silhouettes? I'm wondering if these silhouettess are drifting up to us from a love of this well-loved image of Ferdinand the Bull under his cork tree:

The only Silhouette-School cover I could find which represents a completely modern story is this one, designed by Christopher Stengle, illustrated by Dan McCarthy:

And maybe the fact that Marcelo does not seem to be of the "real" world explains the ironic cover - signaling the story of someone who lives neither in the past nor the present but someplace deeply in shadow...?

If you have other samples of recent silhouette covers (I'm sure I've missed some)  leave suggestions in the comments and I'll try to update.

[Update #1: Sample of the new covers for Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books, as suggested by jessmonster in the comments, and the new book by Patricia Wrede, The Thirteenth Child ]

[Update #2 - And just learned of another - Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, issued as a YA book here, has a crossover version in the UK for adults - that cover is below.] 

[Update #3 - Another! Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass.  The story sounds fascinating, too. Here's an interview of the author over at the bildungsroman blog. ]

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can't Catch Me!

Once upon a time there was a little old woman and a little old man. The little old woman thought she'd make a gingerbread man. She rolled out the dough, and cut out the shape, and she put raisins for his eyes, and peppermints for his teeth, and put icing on his head for the hair.Mmmm. Gingerbread. After last month's turkey leftover/stone soup frugality I bet some of us are ready to welcome the pleasures of December, a month known for its joyful exuberance and sugar-plum overindulgence. And what's more pleasurable than biting into hot gingerbread persons fresh from the oven? Well, several things, but gingerbread is still very, very yummy.

Gingerbread was in its heyday in the Middle Ages where, in Nuremberg, Germany, the "gingerbread capitol of the world," gingerbread was elevated to an art form. Back then they actually had a Gingerbread Guild. Only those bakers who were members of the guild were allowed to produce gingerbread. Sweet job--except that the only way you could get into the guild was to marry a guild member's daughter. Hmm. Not fair. Well, at least you didn't need to be a guild member to eat the stuff, and that's the best part anyway. Just ask the fox at the end of the classic tale, "The Gingerbread Man." (Is that a spoiler, mentioning the fox? He eats the cookie at the end, you see.)

Anyway, what better way to talk about December, the holiday month, than by dissecting gingerbread man picture book covers?

I daresay some of you will remember this version of the little fellow, with his curiously rouged cheeks and that roguish tilt of the eyebrows, from the days of your youth. It's a Whitman Giant Tell-a-Tale Book by Bonnie and Bill Rutherford (1963). I like this one. The surprise and despair of the old woman and old man is evident. That hat! You can practically feel the breeze that whisked it off the old fellow's head. Also, the way the couple is set way back so that they appear proportionally smaller than G-bread Man himself really gives us the sense that they will never catch him. This cover promises a lively story inside.
Run, run, fast as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!
And away he ran!
With that in mind, this cover of a version by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Megan Lloyd (Holiday House, 1993), seems less successful. No one is chasing him--he seems to be out for a jaunty stroll, or maybe a march, judging by the way his leg is raised so high. Also, what's with his head? No neck? No nose? (How does he smell? Terrible.) Frankly, if the little old woman and little old man had spent more time making him shapely and giving him a fancier wardrobe maybe he would have stuck around. Here, Fox, you can have this one.

I just love this Richard Egielski version (HarperCollins, 1997). I know the little fellow's not very realistic from a baked-good point of view, but the style! It's so Art Deco--s0 Chrysler Building. And the way his leg is bent, as if leaping. AND he's somehow suspended above the city (Yes, it's New York; he's being chased by hungry New Yorkers)--he's like, superhuman! Super-gingerbreadmanly! I'm wondering though. Is he a bit too light? Undercooked, as it were? And why is he a boy and not a man? I wish I had a copy here to check and see what happens to the rhyme when it's a gingerbread boy instead of man. Run, run, fast as a . . . goy, toy, hoi-polloi? Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread boy.
Run, run, fast as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!
And away he ran!
This is the retelling by Jim Aylesworth in 1998 (Scholastic), illustrated by Barbara McClintock. It has an old fashioned feel, and a bit of a Nuremberg feel to it, too--the Gingerbread Guild Nuremberg stuff, I mean, not the trials, geez. So German! He's wearing lederhosen for goshsakes! There aren't any wildly upset oldies in the background chasing him, but this fellow does seem to be actually running away, and gleefully so.
Run, run, fast as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!
And away he ran!
The Gingerbread Man by Estelle Cork (Child's Play Int'l, 2007) This is a paperback lift-the-flap book, and it comes with a CD. Meh. Not up to the usual trade book quality we typically focus on. But the cover is outstanding, in my humble opinion. Even though the little G-bread fellow isn't given top billing size-wise, the idea of bringing in the hungry fox is intriguing. And subversive. The villain (or is he the hero? When I think about it, maybe the fox is the hero because he takes care of the naughty runaway once and for all?) has a prominent place on this cover. Love the way his foxy tail mirrors the shape of his jaw. Also, the line-up of characters winding back into the hills behind them gives the composition some depth and is a nice way of bringing in the other elements of this cumulative tale.

Here's another Gingerbread Boy, from the classic version by Caldecott illustrator Paul Galdone (Clarion, 1975). G-bread fills the frame, with his lo-o-o-ong legs and wide stride. This Gingerbread Boy is moving fast. I tried to get a copy from my library branch this week to ferret out how "boy" worked with the rhyme--but it was checked out. I think that this is the one a lot of people remember reading as kids.

What kind of surprises me is the lack of recent versions out there--especially considering that the Gingerbread Boy story is in the public domain. There are, however, several more recent "fractured" versions, or take-offs on the idea of a runaway food product:

The Matzo Ball Boy by Lisa Shulman, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Dutton, 2005), and Stop That Pickle! by Peter Armour, illustrator: Andrew Shachat (Houghton Mifflin, 1993, 2005) are shown here.

There are several retold versions out there from other cultures, too. I could have gone on and on. There are gingerbread girls, gingerbread babies, gingerbread mice, gingerbread pirates, gingerbread rabbits, gingerbread cowboys, and gingerbread superheroes available for your reading pleasure as well. Like the Matzo ball and pickle books, there are picture books about runaway pancakes, matzohs (the crackers this time), tortillas, dreidels, ice cubes, and rice cakes.

But, I ask you, during December, this wonderful month of guilty pleasures, who wants to catch a runaway rice cake?

Extra: I think those types of people with the odd trait of actually liking spending time in the kitchen would be expecting a recipe right now. This one looks good. Let me know how they turn out. As for me, I'll be buying mine at the bakery down on Elgin Street.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tapjacketing #4 - Soup, Soup and More Soup

We have entered what I call the Sharing Days - Thanksgiving to New Year's Day - when we reflect on Big Issues like Gratitude, Generosity, and Self-Improvement (via Resolutions.)  Conversely, we have entered the trivial Let's-Be-Thrifty-With-Leftovers Days - sandwiches made of bits and pieces and this and that, sides of the last sweet pickles in the jar, soup which (here in my house, anyway) has been dubbed "Everything-And-The-Kitchen-Sink Soup." The photo below sums it up, though I don't see any random green beans or black beans (yes, black beans....) or spuds or rice or cilantro or chile verde or squash or cabbage or corn or melting parmesan.

Of course, in children's literature, it's called "Everything-And-The-Stone Soup:

So in the complicated spirit of generosity, thrift and good kids' books, I offer up this short list of bits and pieces - let's call it "Link Soup" today ( I promise, no turkey....)  Thanks to Carol Brendler, my co-blogger extraordinaire, for the heads-up on some of these.

Click on the word "Link" to be transported:

1. Link:  via Melissa Walker, some thoughts from  Cynthia Leitich Smith about the cover designs for her new book, ETERNAL. Readers are asked to say which cover they prefer (the U.S. cover is more subtle, the Australian/U.K. cover has a reclining male figure, shirtless but w/wing.) My vote goes to the U.S. cover - more intriguing and mysterious.

2.  Link: At School Library Journal, Diantha McBride writes an open letter to publishers about what she thinks librarians need to see more of, and some of her advice has to do with re-thinking jacket design. "I'd suggest that you recruit some real live fourth graders to review your mock-up covers before you make any final art decisions," says McBride. (Let me sit in on that session, please!) She also wishes that publishers would put the number on books in a series, based on reading order. Right now, for example, the Redwall books have nothing on the covers to indicate the order in which the books should be read. She cites an interesting web page where people can go to get lists of series books, in reading order.

3. Link:  If you feel like you can survive long exposure to kids' book covers from the 70's and 80's, check out Beth's blog, JUDGING THE BOOKS, which is self-described as "A time-traveling library of Young Adult books from the 70's and 80's with extremely lame cover illustrations." Amazing. Though I promised "No turkey" today, this one is filled with turkeys.

4. Link:  100 Scope Notes has a long, thorough and wonderful interview with Chad Beckerman, the art director and cover designer at Abrams Books, complete with honest opinions about recent covers he thinks are great, and insights into influences upon his own design aesthetic. 100 Scope notes is fast becoming one of my favorite sites.

5. Link: If you're interested in more about Chad Beckerman, he has his own blog, MISHAPS AND ADVENTURES, which is "Dedicated the Process and Exploration of Children's and Young Adult Book Design."

6. Link: Amazon is asking customers to vote for the Best Covers of the Year (you need an Amazon account to login and vote)  and they offer up six choices in the Children's Book category. Their choices are odd (what, no Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney? That's impossible. ) but it's kind of fun to vote. And if you click on the book covers you can find out the names of the jacket designers.

7. Link and Link  Parts 1 and 2 of an interview with Chris Papasadero of FWIS DESIGN, who is offering up 30 Covers in 30 Days for the NaNoWriMo project (National Novel Writing Month -  ending today -  congratulations to all of you who are insane enough to try to write a novel in one month.)  I can only find one page that links to 14 of the covers (Chris designed each cover based on the author's own synopsis of the story) but I think it's being updated as the covers are produced.....

8. Link:  The New York Times has a slide show about Tomi Ungerer's work as an illustrator and graphic artist. Maurice Sendak said,  “No one, I dare say, no one was as original. Tomi influenced everybody.” Phaidon has recently begun re-publishing Ungerer's wonderful books, most of which have long been out of print. 




Monday, November 23, 2009

A Trip Aboard the Way-Back Machine

Indulge me; it's my birthday. I love the Arts and Crafts style, a design movement begun around the turn of the (last) century and its adjuncts, Art Nouveau, the Prairie Style, etc. This month's Style 1900 magazine has a feature by Irene M.K. Rawlings on children's book illustrators from that time period, and when two of your passions intersect it's impossible to ignore. I bring to your attention four of the illustrators mentioned in the article, all of whose work I am so in love with that I want to marry it:

Elizabeth Shippen Green -- (1871-1954) Illustrated children's books as well as grown-up books. She studied under the "Father of American Illustration," Howard Pyle, as well as other masters. The article in Style 1900 says of her work "she is best known for her children's book illustrations done in a highly decorative, shimmery style that is often compared to stained glass." This cover for The Very Small Person by Annie Hamilton Donnell (1906) is a fair example of covers from that time, with its cartouche surrounding the title, etc. and a plate from the book pasted on the cover. Often, books were sold with paper dust jackets, but these were typically removed and thrown away (source: Alan Powers, Children's Book Covers). Below is an interior illustration from The Very Small Person:

Read the book in its entirety here. And here's another Green illustration from The Book of the Child (1902):

Clara Elsene Peck -- (1883 – 1968) Another student of Howard Pyle's. She did the cover image and interior illustrations for In the Border Country by Josephine Daskam Bacon (1909) cover shown at left, as well as several other children's books and covers for Colliers and other magazines. View the entire book here.

Here's her cover for Shakespeare's Sweetheart by Sara Hawkes Sterling (1905):

And her illustrations are, in my humble opinion, to-die-for gorgeous. Love this table of contents page for In the Border Country:

Maginel Wright Enright Barney -- (1881-1966) She was probably tired of being introduced as the younger sister of Frank Lloyd Wright, but there you go. She was. And she was the mother of Elizabeth Enright. She illustrated over forty children's books, including many by L. Frank Baum writing under his pseudonym, Laura Bancroft. Here's one:

And here's an interior illustration from Hans Brinker:

Read/view the entire book online here. Maginel is, incidentally, a nickname derived from the combination of Maggie and Nell.

Maxfield Parrish -- (1870- 1966) Probably the best known of the ones featured in this post, this guy could draw. One of the qualities I love most about all of these artists is their bold compositions. Everything is so elegantly balanced and so appropriate for the mood of the drawing. The cover for The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders (1925), left, is one I find utterly appealing. The symmetry, the muted colors (so indicative of the Arts and Crafts period), the giant spoons for a touch of whimsy. It all works. It's no wonder his work was sometimes reprinted as large lithographs for people to hang in their homes.

We'll end this post with more Parrish eye candy, though not children's book covers. I said it was my birthday, remember? First an image of Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary:

and this one (below), an oil painting titled "The Lantern Bearers," (1908), which according to this source sold for $4,272,000 at auction not long ago. Same source says it "was originally created for a frontispiece for Collier's magazine's December 10, 1910, issue."