Thursday, January 28, 2010

Exuberance and Wonder: A Challenge

Two of my favorite people in the world have new books out, and the pattern I see for these covers can be summed up in two words: EXUBERANCE AND WONDER.

Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert (March 2, 2010)

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (January 2010)

Don't you love the wide-open delight on the face of Leda Schubert's protagonist as drawn by prizewinning illustrator Andrea U'ren for FEEDING THE SHEEP??? (To be released on March 2nd, but I've seen the F& G's and I've heard Leda read this aloud. It's wonderful - a read-aloud with wonderful rhythm and rhyme, and a knitter's delight that takes you from wool-on-sheep to finished sweater.) And the glow of wonder on the face of the girl in Rita Williams-Garcia's story, ONE CRAZY SUMMER is irresistible, it just pulls you right in. (As does Rita's story - Read a great review of the book at COLOR ONLINE....The cover art is by talented artist Sally Wern Comport. Beautiful.)

So, here's a question: Why so little exuberance or wonder for the covers of YA titles? If it's out there, tell me about it, because I see not much variety - cover art ranges from angst to lust (it "runs the emotional gamut from A to B" as Dorothy Parker once famously said when describing Katherine Hepburn) and though I'll admit that those two preoccupations - angst and lust - loom large in the life of teenagers, there's got to be more, no? More than despair, horror, sex and a slew of pink & sparkly Shopaholics? There's that knock-out weird cover for Libba Bray's Going there is still a glimmer of humor. And there are the sci-fi/fantasy covers - blood, fangs, monsters, aliens, a la Monstrumoligist or Tentacles or Rule of Claw. Intriguing, yes, but still on the angst side of the fence. There's got to be more to YA jacket covers, no? Tell me I'm wrong. Point me to some YA covers that have the kind of exuberance and wonder on them that I see on these two covers for younger readers - and by that, I mean a cover that suggests joy. It's a challenge I send out to you. I'll update as you make suggestions.

UPDATES: Here are covers suggested in the comments, though I don't see anything as full-faced or engaging, and for me, the face on AMERICAN BORN CHINESE is tenuous and a little worried, rather than filled with wonder. Strange that two of these covers have the figure facing away fromt he camera.

This is the UK version of Lizzie Bright - considerably calmer!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Color Covergate

What a week its been in the world of young adult book cover design! Another book surfaced featuring the image of a light-skinned protagonist when the story clearly states that she is a person of color. Same publisher even (Bloomsbury).

Now yet another book's cover has been challenged due to an apparent lack of dark brown pigment in the artist's palette, this one from Little, Brown.

Opinions were given. Hackles were raised. Feelings were hurt. Apologies were made. Books were recalled. That was last week.

But we need to keep this issue alive. As far as what my (Carol's) personal opinion is on what happened and what it means, I had planned a lengthy analysis--but this blogger said what I had planned to say and did it better and so thoroughly that I needn't repeat everything. Sighs of relief all around.

Point being: For as long as publishers hang on to this (rather tired, in my humble opinion) trend of producing young adult book jackets with photographs of partial humans on them (partial photographs of humans? photographs of human partials?), let's please buy books with diverse cover images. I don't know why Bloomsbury thinks we won't. Not only do they seem to think that Caucasians aren't interested in novels about Black or Asian characters, but (even worse) they apparently think that young adults of color aren't buying books at all.

So, buy. Might I suggest Rita Williams-Garcia's latest book, which was reviewed in the New York Times last week, One Crazy Summer (Amistad, 2010)? Coming soon, I hope, an interview about the great cover on that one.

Now, on to what I had planned to talk about, which is . . .
. . . people of color on book jackets. Um, see, the plan was to point you, dear readers, in the direction of another silhouetted image (see our earlier posts on the subject here and here) on a book that's coming out Fall, 2010 from Farrar, Straus & Giroux:

Finding My Place, written by Traci L Jones.

A silhouette, yes, which could make you think the jacket designers were avoiding the whole skin color issue. But I think we can safely say that the figure is meant to represent an African American, judging by the hair--right? It's definitely a person with naturally curly hair, like me. And there is nothing more attractive than naturally curly hair.

So it's been an interesting week in the world of YA book covers. And what's the upshot? Awareness was raised again, perhaps even more so now that everyone realizes that the Liar controversy wasn't just an isolated incident. We knew that already, didn't we, dear readers? And although last week has passed, there will undoubtedly be more vigilance from kidlit bloggers regarding what goes on the cover of a novel for young readers. And hopefully, someone over at Bloomsbury will make an effort to ensure that the book's cover is right BEFORE the book hits the shelves next time.

Now, who wants to talk about how unattainably skinny the girl on Magic Under Glass is?

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 (?) ] 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Random Quack IV

Two quick duck-related links for you to enjoy.

The This Peanut Looks Like a Duck website.

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production has a gander at the inspiration for our masthead.

Monday, January 18, 2010

5 Pretty Neat-o Title Fonts

For your viewing pleasure we present some recent releases that have pretty neat-o typefaces on the cover:

An Eye for Color, a picture book about Josef Albers (Henry Holt, 2009). Clever.

Next, we have Fallen, a young adult thriller/dark romance about good ol' fallen angels (Doubleday, 2009). The typeface has just enough of a romantic feel, no?

Incarceron (Penguin, 2010) is a dystopian thriller. Unlike some people out there, I'm still not over steampunk. Love the clockwork lettering.

The Rock and the River (S&S, 2009). Not an unusual typeface, yet it's clean and fresh here.

Ellen Hopkins' Tricks (S&S, 2009). Edgy and dangerous.

See also this pretty neat-o post about a documentary coming out this month about a typeface museum. Really.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I started looking around the Web for the new Marla Frazee cover of The Borrowers and found not only that but an image of the Japanese edition's cover (literal translation of the Japanese title: The People Under the Floor) and a link to articles about a Japanese film adaptation coming out from Ghibli (animators for Princess Mononoke and Sprirted Away) - The Borrowers as anime?! Wonders never cease. They're calling it The Borrower Arrietty, after the character in the book.  Thought Jacket Knack readers might like to see!

Original Cover - Illustration by Beth and Joe Krush

Reissue - New cover art by Marla Frazee (interior illustrations are still the Krush originals.)

Japanese Edition - (illustrator unknown)

Japanese anime version - to be released Summer 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Debut Novelist: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich's First Cover

Recently, the Brown Bookshelf blogged about their own Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and her first novel which just came out this month, Eighth Grade Superzero (Scholastic, 2010) and guess what. The cover has a superhero silhouette on it.

It's cool and kid-friendly, don't you agree? I like the way the sun's been used, as if it's adding more energy to the figure in the foreground. And the sneakers hint at the humor therein.

Not long ago, Julie talked about silhouette images on covers, and a while before that we had some discussion here and here about the notion that publishers might be hesitant to choose a jacket image showing a person of color, the suspicion being that it would hurt sales somehow. So it seemed natural to find out more about this one.

I sent a quick note to Olugbemisola (Gbemi, to her friends) Rhuday-Perkovich, who seems utterly charming by the way, and this is how she replied:

OR-P on what she likes best about the cover:
"I love the way that it evokes the MC's sense of strength or superpower in the ordinary world. And the colours! Just perfect."
OR-P on the story behind the design:
"The designer's name is Christopher Stengel, and my editor wrote a bit about the design process on her blog (her words about my cover are in the comments section)."
The editor is Cheryl Klein, who also worked on Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World. In the comments section of her post, someone asked about the silhouette, and in Ms. Klein's reply we get a little insight into what kind of thought goes into a novel's cover. Some highlights:
"For SUPERZERO, we went with a French design team called LaFrench: . ."
". . . At no point did we tell the artist "Don't put a picture of a black kid on the cover (and you can see they've used lots of POC in their past work) . . ."
Her post brought to light two new things for me:
  • A publisher's search for the perfect cover can mean going overseas for just the right look.
  • Scholastic has produced quite a few jacket covers that feature an image of a POC (Person of Color). I hadn't realized.
I wish we were to the point where it was so common that we didn't hardly notice anymore, like with female sports reporters. And I wish I had a cool name like Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

Added later: An interview with Gbemi on the Reading in Color blog. Chock full of great stuff!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year's Resolution 2009: Ducks and Covers

I want to start the year with a duck.

Mallard Underwater in Lyn Pardarn (Wales.) Photographer: Graham Eaton

That's an extraordinary photo. Not just because the photographer was underwater when he took it, but because of the duck's open beak, his almost audible quack, the glorious burst of light surrounding him, and the look on his face - he's just as curious as we are, isn't he? He looks like he wants to move in closer and figure out what's up.

Actually, the photo has something to do with what I've been thinking about lately, the exhortation by Emily Dickinson to "Tell the truth, but tell it slant...."  When something is told "slant," it's fresh, it's not a cliche. It pulls us toward a new perspective, a personal view, a unique understanding of the world. Though I don't claim that telling it slant is the most commercial approach, nor the most calming, I do claim that the most interesting art puzzles us a bit, doesn't it? (It also "dazzles gradually" sometimes, as Dickinson also said....we don't always need to be knocked off our feet. Just pulled in.) It's what you feel (and ducks feel?) when you want to move in closer to examine and identify what you're looking at. Curiosity and art - they go together. Just watch how closely a young child moves in to examine an intriguing picture book.

The Black Book of Colors 
written by Menena Cottin, illustrated by artist Rosana Faria (both of Venezuela.) 
Originally published in Spanish: El libro negro de los colores.

I love the cover of the book you see above  - The Black Book of Colors. It's an example of a fresh perspective of the "slant" variety. The protagonist, in the story, Tomas, is blind, and his understanding of color comes to him through senses other than sight (for example, red is called both sour, like unripe strawberries, and sweet, like watermelon.)  The cover, and the art work inside, are embossed and can be felt with the fingers, as can the text on each left-hand page, which is in Braille with white text below it.  The cover is risky and  intriguing. The book won the New Horizons Award at the Bologna Fair in 2007 and was named one of the Best Illustrated Books 2008 by the New York Times.
How do you "see" without sight? It's a puzzle with an answer that changes the way we understand the world.  My New Year's Resolution this year - as a teacher and poet - and blogger  - is to look for and praise what is fresh, unexpected, and puzzling. Like this cover. And like that photo of the duck.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Dead Things Challenge

Hockey fans of a certain age may think this post is about an erstwhile Detroit team nicknamed the "Dead Things" that, once upon a time, couldn't buy a win. Then local fans started throwing dead octopi on the ice and later the team created an octopus mascot and things started looking up.

But it's not. This post, I mean. It's not about hockey at all but about dead things. Dead things on young adult book jackets. And a challenge about dead things on YA book jackets.

[Spoiler alert: If Carrie Mac's The Gryphon Project (Puffin Canada, 2009) is on your to-be-read list, click away now. Actually, you probably should not have clicked on this post at all because talking about dead bodies gives away some of the plot. But only up to about p. 129, so you're cool.]

The cover of The Gryphon Project, designed by Sam Weber, is quite attractive. Handsome, athletic and possibly naked young man with longish, flowing hair. What's not to like?

Nice, right? Then you find out on or around page 129 is that this image depicts the lifeless body of a major character. Yeah, he's dead. Technically, he is being kept in a state of stasis while the powers that be decide whether to bring him back to life or not. Dead bodies on the cover? It's a little creepy. I can find only two other YA novels with dead things on the cover: The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time by Mark Haddon:

The adult UK editions are more graphic. And funny.

. . . and Gordon Korman's No More Dead Dogs:

No sign of another book for teens with a dead human body on the cover. Now the challenge. Can our readers find any more? Double points if you know of one for middle graders, and I'll send you my copy of The Gryphon Project if you know of a picture book.

Unlike throwing octopi on the Red Wings' ice, I don't think this will become a trend. If it caught on, we might be seeing gruesome cover art for titles like these:
  • Now We Are Six Feet Under
  • Hatchet
  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
  • Green Eggs and Ham: The story of ptomaine poisoning
  • Tuck Everlasting: Modern Methods in Embalming
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang you're Dead
Oh, yeah, by the way: Happy New Year! This is the first of our bi-weekly posts for 2010. Carol on Mondays, Julie on Thursdays.

Added later: the upcoming cover of Carrie Ryan's latest . . .