Friday, January 22, 2010

"Translated" Covers?

On January 11th the ALA announced winners of the Batchelder Award, given to an American publisher of a translated book first published in a foreign language in a foreign country. I was curious about whether covers had to be "translated" as well. How easily do visual images translate across cultures when the image is meant to act subliminally? Here are various covers of the winning book (A Faraway Island by Annika Thor) from around the world:

Swedish Covers
(Thanks to reader Anna Gustaffson Chen for these! The sisters are serious, pensive, seem to be headed toward uncertainty....though I'm not quite sure what that second cover intends to give us - the idea of lives untethered to place,  lives adrift....? #3 is from the popular TV version of the book. Author's name on #4 is larger than the title - which indicates name recognition and popularity.

American Cover
(close-up photograph of two girls - one sheltering the other - both looking into a future with a golden glow? - bottom line seems to be optimistic - author's name in small font at the bottom)

Netherlands Version
(watercolor of one lonely child - seagull faces the opposite direction - a lovely study in loneliness, though I'm not sure it conveys sorrow or adversity - author's name as large as the title and in red, very noticeable) 

Norwegian Cover
(photograph taken from behind of two girls holding hands, figures small in relationship to hill and sky - author's name as large as the title - I think I like this one best - it's mysterious, and the image of the children seems  to be vintage 1940's)

German Paperback Version
(two children in profile with blooming flowers, bright yellow background - pleasant but passive - author's name in red at the top)

French Version - Hardcover
(no girls at all - just a seascape with clouds or fog on the horizon - author's name very small - this is the least effective, in my opinion - landscape as protagonist?) 

French - Paperback Version
(I don't see the sea anymore - just a lonely bundled-up figure walking up a snow-covered hill, with house(s)  in the background - and clouds on the horizon)

What do you think? Have the covers all communicated/telegraphed the same message to potential readers? Though I haven't read the book yet, I do know that it concerns the Swedish Kindertransport and WWII, so it could be called a "Holocaust book." But I don't see any hint of the Holocaust in these covers. One other note:  the various publishers are going for a few common things in these covers - a couple of them emphasize the closeness of the girls, a couple emphasize the loneliness of the protagonist.

If you find other versions, let me know and I'll post them here. I'm on the waiting list at the library for this one  - can't wait to read it.

[Update: The cover I originally identified as Swedish is Norwegian (?) ] 


  1. In light of the subject matter, it's interesting how "cheerful" the German cover seems. I like the Netherlands artwork best. I wonder why none of them chose to retain the original art--maybe publishers like to give their editions their own house's personality? Do they really think their country's children won't like another country's cover? How do they know for sure? Past experience maybe. Guessing maybe.

  2. First I'd like to point out that the "Swedish" cover is not Swedish. But there are quite a few Swedish covers for the book, as it has been published in several editions. The book is about two jewish girls, Steffi and Nelli, who are sent from Austria to Sweden when the war comes. If you like, I can mail you an image with some of the covers (some with images from a very popular tv-series made after the book).

  3. Oh, and the book is great, it's actually part of a series of four books about the two sisters. I'm glad it got the award!

  4. Chen - Thanks for the heads-up on the misidentification of the Swedish edition. I've corrected it to say Norwegian - I believe that's right(???) I'd love to see an image of the original cover (which I thought I'd found!) The image above was from a Swedish website and I jumped to the conclusion, not knowing Swedish myself....)

  5. To be honest, I think the Swedish covers are quite awful... I like the Netherlands one too.

  6. I'd seen the U.S. cover of this book (before the awards) and thought "Little House on the Prairie" - and now I see I was w-a-a-a-y off on my impression. Given that the book has won an award here, maybe more attention (or $$) will be paid to getting a better cover - even if it's only for the paperback ed.

  7. I wonder if some US designers think that a painted image of wholesome-looking girls is the only way to cover historical fiction. It's sort of 80s to me--back when all YA had similar art on YAs

  8. Visually I like the French hardcover best, even if it doesn't give much sense of the book. I picked up an ARC at ALA last year because I thought the story sounded interesting, but kept glancing at the cover over the next several months and thinking it looked wholesome and heartwarming and not very interesting, and passing it over.

  9. Yeah, wholesome sucks. Heartwarming--gag. ;-)

  10. I agree with L. who said that the American cover suggests Little House on the Prairie. Time period seems off, optimism off, golden glow off. I'm not a total cynic about heartwarming covers, but at the very least art work should match the content. No? This is similar to the trouble Bloomsbury keeps having - the controversy about their covers is about the art not matching the story content.

    I better read this book now to see if my cold heart gets warmed! If that golden glow matches the feeling I have at the end, maybe I'll recant.