Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hope, Hesitation, Hate and a Weary Load

Four covers have been on my mind this month. 


The first book, MY PEOPLE, a poem by Langston Hughes, won the 2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for photographer Charles R. Smith. Beautiful girl on the cover, eyes up, face full of hope, and the book itself is filled with "jubilant, loving expressions."  Bold typography/white letters for the title, in stark contrast to the background: you can see this title from across the room., it jumps out at you. 

THE ROCK AND RIVER by Kekla Magoon, won the CSK/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award. On the cover, a pensive boy, no longer full face, looking off to the side.  A worried mood: the protagonist of the story is caught between two strong forces (his father, a civil rights activist working with Dr. King, and his brother, a Black Panther.) The title is still large but uses a stick thin font, with the coloring quite subtle. You have to approach this book and pick it up. 

REMEMBER LITTLE ROCK: THE TIME, THE PEOPLE, THE STORIES by Paul Robert Walker, is part of the National Geographic "Remember" series. This cover haunted me - the eyes of the girl at its center are covered by sunglasses, her mouth is drawn, her black skin stands out against the crisp white of her dress.  Just look at the hate that surrounds her. (Don't you wonder who the girls behind her grew up to be, and whether they have seen that book cover? If you were one of those girls, looking back, wouldn't you want to stand up and apologize for being so cruel? I wonder if they have...?) Look at the title: small to the point of being unnoticeable, especially in contrast with the photo. You just don't see anything else besides those girls (at least, I don't): the determination of the black girl, and the hate of the white girls.

MARCHING FOR FREEDOM: WALK TOGETHER, CHILDREN, AND DONT YOU GROW WEARY by Elizabeth Partridge is also visually arresting. How do you read the emotion on the faces of those young men? This cover leaves us wondering - and the word "Weary" in the title seems to linger.  Though I'm not sure it was intentional, the absence of the color red (on a cover dominated by a flag and incorporating white and blue) suggests an incomplete palette - a metaphorical disenfranchisement, I think. And scratching up the words of the title (the words "Marching for Freedom" look like they have been lifted from a poster in an NYC subway station - they've seen some action) was a nice design decision. This cover augments the political and personal story of civil rights but is less decipherable, and is less upbeat than readers might have expected from the topic. That can't have been an accident. Despite the energy of the marchers in general, these young men seem almost to be frozen in time.

The four covers are remarkable for the range of emotions they convey (hope, trust, confusion, reflection, hesitation, anger, determination, weariness) and for their delivery of movement/non-movement - the first expectantly jubilant, the second static yet troubled, the third active and tumultuous, the fourth, suspended in time.  There's something about the eyes of the central figures (looking up, looking off to the side, being hidden, confronting you) and something about the font (first bold, then thin and fading, then almost beside the point, then buffeted and damaged) that just hurts.

1 comment:

  1. Two random responses to these covers:

    The little girl on the picture book makes me want to bite her. I bought that book simply for her cheeks.

    The Little Rock cover I remember from history classes - I adored that girl's sunglasses. I felt she did alienation and stress with verve and style. (And YES, those girls should be completely embarrassed about being photographed with mouths open, spewing hate and ignorance... but, because of the ignorant part, they might not be...)