Monday, October 26, 2009


We don't see it very often, but it's striking when we do. A book cover with no title on it, and a children's book at that:

The minute I saw this new picture book at our indie kids' book shop, I flew across the room to have a look at it. It's Jerry Pinkney's nearly wordless adaptation of Aesop's
The Lion and the Mouse, and trust me, this image just doesn't do it justice. (Incidentally, I just made it my new desktop background, which I downloaded here). The back cover is equally scrumptious:

They are eye candy, aren't they? And the fact that there was no title, no words at all on the cover is what first drew my eye to the book. Jerry Pinkney talks about the books in interview here and an audio clip here.

It's rare to see a cover without text, but there have been other picture books which have left words off their covers.
The Red Book*, another wordless book by Barbara Lehman is one:

You'll have to imagine it without the Caldecott Honor seal, though. There's this Puss in Boots*, which came out a few years ago, illustrated by Fred Marcellino:

Whoa! There's another Caldecott Honor. I may be onto something. Or not. Anyway, here's Bryan Collier's eye-catching illustrated cover for Doreen Rappaport's
Martin's Big Words*:

In a post on the School Library Journal website, children's non-fiction author Marc Aronson says about this cover, "I remember first seeing MARTIN'S BIG WORDS. Bryan Collier's painting is direct and accessible and beautiful. But what made it stand out most of all is that there is no type on the cover, it's just the portrait. You can't consider that treatment for too many subjects, but it's a strong book cover now muddied somewhat by the string of awards decorating it. The price of success."

Is it true that you can't consider this treatment for too many subjects? How does a book designer know when it's going to work? Maybe the subject has to be someone or some character who is instantly recognizable. How do design people feel about leaving the title off the cover? What about leaving
all text off the cover? Is it bold and daring? Is it warranted? Is it an insult to typographers? Is it okay as long as you've got identifying words on the spine? Questions like these have generated some discussion on blogs about other titleless book covers, grown-up book covers that is, but I haven't found much out there about children's books. Picture books are unique in that the illustrator/creator of the book's interior art also makes the artwork for the cover, so we can presume they have a little more leverage in cover design. But one has to wonder what sort of conversations took place in the publishers' hallowed halls when these covers were first proposed:

Francesca Lia Block's book of short stories, Blood Roses*:

Okay, so it's a collection of short stories and that alone makes the title somewhat less necessary . . . and, let's just say it, it's Francesca Lia Block. Nothing would seem too unusual when it comes to the cover art for her ethereal work. I bet it wasn't too hard to push this one through.

Then there are the rebus-like covers of several Jerry Spinelli books:


. . . Love, Stargirl (okay, there's a word in there--so sue me), and the next title is . . .

. . . what else? Eggs. This one was produced by a different publisher from the Stargirl books, though (Little, Brown). Betsy Bird of "Fuse #8 Production" comments on this cover at the end of her review.

Lauren Myracle's cover designer had some fun with this, too:

This is Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks* published by Dutton. What's the appeal of the pictures? For me, the rebuses make the potential reader feel as though once she decodes the title she is included somehow, that she's in, that she gets it. Or maybe they're just fun.

I'm sure there are more title-less covers in print out there. Let us know if you think of any.

Oh, and special thanks to Sarah Goldstein for the topic idea. And double special *thanks to Jill Santopolo for coming up with so many titles for me. You guys are made of awesome with meringue.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Norma Fox Mazer 1931-2009

Rather than the usual Tapjacket post this week, I want to mention the lovely Norma Fox Mazer, author, Newbery-Honor & Edgar winner, mentor to so many students at Vermont College of Fine Arts and well-loved colleague of the Writing for Children and Young Adult faculty there, who died very early this morning after a battle with brain cancer. She will be sorely missed. When I think of her, it's as if she stepped straight out of an illustration for a Beverly Cleary novel - a bit pixie-ish, with braids and freckles (were there a few freckles or was it only the impression of freckles?), a big smile, a girlish laugh, and mischief in her eyes.

Here's the cover of her last book, and I think it's a fitting one: The braid loosened. We long to see this missing person, but we have only a trace:

You can go to these pages to read a bit more about her:
Uma Krishnasami's Writing with a Broken Tusk
Through the Tollbooth
The Shelftalker blog at Publishers' Weekly

Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview: Artist Rebekah Raye

Maine is the sort of place in which a traveler discovers unexpected delights: a stunning view from an undiscovered spot along the shore, a restaurant serving hot chowder to diners sitting on the pier, a yarn shop that also sells penny candy (!). I found all these when I visited Maine recently to participate in the Bar Harbor Book Festival, but I didn't expect that I would discover a new favorite illustrator. I truly fell in love with the work of artist/author Rebekah Raye. To my delight, Ms. Raye, who works with the small Maine publisher Tilbury House which was recently named publisher of the year by the New England Independent Booksellers Association, was willing to give Jacket Knack an interview.

CB: What things need to be considered when choosing the cover art for a picture book? How does this differ from the interior illustrations?

RR: I have learned from my publisher at TilburyHouse that the eyes of your characters are very important and to make a connection to the audience as if they are really looking at you the viewer. While the interior illustrations contain images of the characters looking at each other to better tell the story. Though I like to have a glance or two of a character looking back at the viewer.

CB: Your publisher is a small one. Does this affect the amount of input you as the illustrator have in the design/images/typeface/layout of your covers? How does the relationship between the art director and the illustrator work, in your experience?

RR: The first two books were designed with the given dimensions and shape of the book and I was told to leave bleed out areas for trimming and cropping. I was given plenty of freedom using the entire page for a spread sheet, just to leave room for the text. I would get approvals of the dummies and all of the stages of the paintings. I would turn in the paintings and the next thing I would see would be the folded and gathered part of the book. This last book due out Oct. 15, Bearly There, was different. I was able to see the full spread sheets laid out and was in a great back and forth conversation with the both the publisher and designer which let me feel like my voice and ideas were still clearly expressed. I have developed a strong and close friendship with the publisher. It has been comfortable and easy to discuss concerns, opinions, questions and she has always been there with helpful responses. I love her editing and philosophy. It has been a wonderful experience from the beginning and I am grateful.

CB: I was taken by the unique layout of the covers on The Very Best Bed and Thanks to the Animals (the latter, authored by Allen Sockabasin). Whose decision was it to use the band of white across the top on these picture books? It's quite an attention-grabber, and yet soothing and simple at the same time. How did the clever idea of the squirrel reclining on top of the lettering come about?

RR: In Allen's book, Thanks to the Animals, the designer Geraldine Millham created the covers along with the publisher. The idea was that the title would be easier to read on a shelf if it was placed at the top. In The Very Best Bed, the publisher, Jennifer Bunting, thought of the title as the shape of a bed since the idea of the story was how the little gray squirrel was in search for that perfect place to sleep at night. They chose the chipmunk from part of an interior illustration and asked me to create a separate single squirrel relaxed enough to be placed on top of the title.

CB: Please share any other stories about your covers, if you like.

RR: I had quite a time creating the cover for my next book, Bearly There. I tried 6 different attempts thinking I had the main character , the bear, the way I wanted him. Finally one came that seemed to fit the personality I wanted to portray. I wanted him to be looking back at the viewer, as if you caught him by surprise or you by surprise and with some feeling that he quickly wants to disappear back into the woods. It just takes a while it seems to get to know your characters. Once I saw those eyes, I fell in love and hope others will to.

CB: You mention your newest book for Tilbury House, Bear-ly There. This cover has a similar design, but the band across the top is blackish and the lettering is a mixture of fall colors. Can you tell us why this one was done differently?

RR: This was the decision of the designer, Geraldine. We wanted the title to still pop out and the black seemed to help with the contrast. The letters were cut out from a previous cover attempt of a bear with a very colorful red background that she liked. So she sort of combined the two. The publisher felt the title disappeared into the back ground without the black furry band.

CB: What, if any, children's book covers by other illustrators have caught your eye lately?

RR: I am drawn to any animal cover that has a mystery feeling,or that fills the page with strong color and has a somewhat simplified design. I love Ashley Bryan's Beautiful Blackbird cover:

and Holly Meade's cover for David Elliott's On The Farm,

and also Goose's Story [by Cari Best, Holly Meade, illus.] cover.

CB: What are you working on now? Can we expect more children's books?

RR: I am presently working on a body of work, hopefully 60 paintings of 10 different themes with also some sculpture work for the winter. I hope to be touring and doing some school visits in between, but yes, ideas are percolating for more children's books. I hope so, I love doing my art work and to share with children, and children's books are the best of both worlds.

Thanks so much for sharing your comments with our readers, Rebekah!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fallen Angels

Two of Bernini's Angels on the Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome
(sometimes, the artist earns the drama....)

After several days of being lo-tech (actually, no-tech) in Portland, Oregon, I've now found a free wi-fi connection and will type and post this from the lovely World Cup Coffee and Tea House in Powell's Books. I feel sure you can pick up the Powells vibe as you read - this bookstore is one of the country's best, and I'm in Heaven. There are used books on the shelf along with new, and the knowledgeable used book buyers have a store-specific database for making good Buy/Sell decisions, so the selection in each section is strong. Oh, I love this place and wish it were in my own backyard in Seattle. Plus it's an independent bookstore, so no qualms about shopping local here and supporting the Indies (as in not shopping at that online place which will remain nameless, though if you were to guess that you could find its name in a book of Greek mythology, you would be right. As in large Greek super-women.)

Speaking of being in Heaven, today I want to show you two well-designed jackets (and one horrible one, tossed in for fun) about earthbound angels. You can muse and reflect on how different they are. I haven't read either one, so this preview is strictly about the visual appeal of each. I like them both - despite how different they are.

One is the jacket for the soon-to-be-released (October 13th) young adult book, HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzgerald.

I hope to have an interview up soon with the book's designer at Simon and Schuster, Lucy Cummins. Spectacular job - James Porto did the actual photography for it (Clue: It involved a trampoline.) I would have loved to be at that photo shoot! The angel, mid-flight, is seemingly penetrated by a shaft of light from above, his back arched with pain, his wings disintegrating in mid-air. Wow - this one stopped me in my tracks. This does what cover art should do - demand that you pick up the book, look more closely at the photograph, touch it, read the jacket copy, read the publisher's description, read the first paragraph. The art work is mysterious (what exactly has just happened?) and unique (how did they ever get that photo?) The overall effect duplicates an underwater shot, though it is aerial. And the farther the feathers drift from the angel's body, the more blood-red they get - the opposite of what you might expect. So there is a subtext to figure out. The YouTube trailer for the book is here - I think it leans a bit heavily on melodrama, but there's no faulting the cover for the real drama of that photo. Sometimes, drama is earned, as is the case with Mr. Porto's photograph. When an angel is struck down by God-As-Light, is that a moment for subtlety? Clarity, yes, and we see the photo clearly.

The second jacket I recommend to you offers a 180-degree turn the other direction - toward sweet whimsy. It's the cover of Sharon Creech's latest book, UNFINISHED ANGEL, which was released just a few weeks ago by HarperCollins.

The story is for 9-to-12-year-olds, and the simplicity of the cover is what appeals to me. I like the graceful, even font of the author's name and the understated line of text below it ("Winner of the Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons.") You could draw that dove over and over and never quite get the same quizzical look on her little face (and how do you get a look on a beak????) The rainbow quality of the line suggests hope of a certain kind, as well as just the slightest hint of Heaven (the equivalent of Hush Hush's shaft of light from above?) It's just the smallest extra touch - again, a subtext - but it's perfect.

Two books about what I assume are very different angels!
If you want to see a great little YouTube video put together by Sharon Creech (I love the way she tries to calculate in her head how long it took her to write the book!) you can see it

Compare either of these wonderful jackets to the almost goofy cover of Fallen: Aerie by Thomas E. Sniegoski, with its unexplainable mix of fonts and its visual hyperbole.

( I mean, there's drama and then there's DRAMA!! Give me the lower-case option, any day. Unless we're talking Shakespeare - who would never let a dog upstage him. )