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.