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.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Green Covers Don't Sell?

There's an old saying in publishing, according to designer John Gall (link takes you to the YouTube interview Julie posted on Thursday last) and others, that green covers won't sell unless the book is about gardening or golf. Is this true? If not, why not? Let us examine, shall we?

The old saw about green being poisonous came to light a few years ago when Harper's produced this magazine cover:

Poison on the newsstand? Nope. The cover sold like crazy, man.'s subsequent article about it (credit: Julia Turner) sheds some light on why and how the "ix-nay on the een-gray" rule probably got started--and gives us a hint as to why it persists. Some highlights:
  • "One man who helped perpetuate the myth was Alexander Liberman, the domineering Ukraine-born painter and sculptor who served as Condé Nast's editorial director from 1962 to 1994. According to one designer who worked with him, Liberman was prone to repeating, 'Green is death on the newsstand!'"
  • "'. . . some retailers speculate that the fluorescent bulbs in stores cast a yellow light that washes out newsstand greens and gives them a feeble, bluish cast.'" -- says one magazine design consultant
  • ""Like brown, [green] can be tricky to control on press and either one can migrate in the baby poop direction if the printer isn't careful.'" --suggests an assistant managing editor of Newsweek
Ew. I can see how baby-poop green might be off-putting.

But is the maxim true for kids' books? I had to know. In a jiffy, I was off to Big Box Bookshop to see if there are any green covers on kids books. (I respectfully skipped picture books, which don't seem to suffer from no-green stigma, as illustrated above.) Here's a random sampling of just a few on the shelves right now:

Love, Aubrey (Wendy Lamb, 2009)

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O-Connor (FSG, 2009) (read a recent review from the excelsior file) It's half green.

Green by Laura Peyton Roberts (Delacorte, 2010) A leprechaun-based novel.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins, 2009)

Mind you, green was by no means prominent, but there was a healthy dose mixed in with all the black and purple. There were even some green covers on "big people" books that weren't about gardening or golf.

Myth busted(?)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tapjacketing #6: Links to the Imaginary Library Plus

1. Link: If you live in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to see "An Imaginary Library: Children's Books That Do Not (Yet) Exist" which opened last week at the Wilson Library on the campus of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. With over 72 illustrators from 30 countries participating, this should be quite a delight. You can see even more covers from this exhibit and information about it here and here. And read this:

"The participating artists were invited by the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, to create an original book cover for a book that does not yet exist but which someday the artist would love to create. Each book cover is accompanied by a short text that expresses the artist's idea.
The original paintings, sketches, and drawings by some of the world’s most successful and best known children’s book illustrators will be on display in the fourth floor Rotunda at Wilson Library on the Western campus from Feb. 10 through April 30."

Kudos to Sylvia Tag, the librarian at WWU who organized the exhibit and helped raise the funds to bring it to the United States (and to the West Coast, hooray!)  from the International Youth Library in Munich. 

2. Link: Just take a look at Betsy Bird's FUSE #8 project where she reports the tally for her Top 100 Children's Novels survey (she's counting down from #100 to #1, day by day - a monumental feat.) Of special interest to Jacket Knack readers: Ms. Bird displays 3-5 covers for every book listed. It's an amazing look back through the trends in book covers - what was considered energetic or vital in one decade can seem camp-ishly bad in another. And the most recent covers can sometimes fail in comparison with earlier versions.  Go see for yourself, and follow the list as the Fuse #8 site counts down.

Next, here are half a dozen YouTube vidoes that present cover artists. They'll keep you busy until another Tapjacketing list gets posted. 

1. Link: The Five Rules of Book Cover Desgin by John Gall.

2. Link: Science -fiction cover illustrator Stephen Youll talks about his approach to book cover design.

3. Link: Author and illustrator Lane Smith talking with his wife, book designer Molly Leach, about how they work together.

4. Link: Cover illustrator Tom Hallman shows some hilarious and intriguing photo shoots with his own family - they provide models for his covers (he also talks about publisher/CEO's giving him "sketches" of what they want!) 

6. Link: Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda talk  about Pop-Up books - not exactly covers, but fascinating - about how paper obeys certain principles of physics (Physics can be quite a despot.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pop Quiz! (Now, Stop Groaning--It'll Be Fun)

Sharpen your #2 pencils. And please, fill in the ovals neatly and completely.

Q. What do the following images have in common?
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking)
  1. D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. (Doubleday)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (FSG)
  • The Big Honey Hunt by Jan and Stan Berenstain
  • Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book by the inimitable Dr. Seuss
  • Brian Wildsmith's ABC by same (Franklin Watts)
  • My husband and me
Give up?

A. All of the above were published in 1962. Even the Brendlers. They're all first edition covers (Or very close! I tried really hard to get 1st edition images, except in the case of the human beans.)

Curiosity (and the fact that the interview I had planned to post today hasn't happened yet) led me to search for children's books published the year I was born. I wondered if they would seem outdated and drab compared to today's books.

I looked for a unifying design element or theme. Are there any common elements? Not really, but here are some rather general conclusions:
  • The covers are all bright and colorful (with the exception of A Wrinkle In Time, which is, nevertheless, graphically interesting, like the others--yes, even the Berenstain Bears, I think). The fact that all of the above book covers are colorful is more than I can say for the television programs of the time. (We led tortured lives back then.) I was kind of surprised, in fact, about how much color and liveliness there is in each cover design--especially since children's books before then often used just one-color printing in the interior illustrations. Hooray for the proliferation of the four-color printing process!
  • A person of color on a children's book was new and daring. The Berenstain Bears were brand new that year, too. So were my husband and me.
Here's a quote about cover design in the early sixties from Alan Powers in Children's Book Covers:
The 1960s began with a burst of colour that was equally typical of the transformation from the neat, small-scale patterning of the '50s towards the abundant and unrestrained at the beginning of the '60s, as seen in interior decoration and clothing.
Nineteen-sixty-two. The last of the baby boomers and the beginning of the first books since the war that weren't on the drab side. "Abundant and unrestrained." Maybe that should be my new motto.

One point for everyone who got the answer right without peeking.

Extra credit: If you can recall a controversy that I vaguely remember as a kid surrounding the Berenstains, I will add a half-point to your final score. It was some outcry which caused Jan and Stan to change their name from the original "Berenstein" to Berenstain. Am I dreaming it, or did these books used to be called the Berenstein Bears, and someone took offense?

Happy President's Day in the U.S. and Happy Family Day in Canada!

Breaking news: If you haven't already, have a look at the winners of this year's Cybil awards.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


First, just let me say that Pink (as in this incredible performer) is not what I'm talking about. But that Pink is wonderful (if you can ignore the ad at the beginning!) 

This pink is not as wonderful:


Even with a starred review from School Library Journal, even with reviewers saying, "Ignore the pink cover, it has nothing to do with anything"  - is the book doomed to be read only by girls? Is there a boy in America who would touch this book with a ten-foot pole?  Doesn't the cover say, "I'm chick lit, I'm about girls who spend too much time on the phone, I'm about gossip...." ?

But here is SLJ's synopisis: "Because of her father's academic career, Beatrice Szabo's family has moved multiple times, most recently from Ithaca, NY, to Baltimore. In order to protect herself from the emotional fallout caused by the constant moves and her parents' troubled relationship, she has invented a cold, emotionless persona for herself called Robot Girl. When she begins her senior year at a small private school, she enters a class where the students have known one another since kindergarten. She finds herself drawn to outcast Jonas Tate, aka Ghost Boy, who introduces her to the Night Light show, a local late-night radio show. They form an intense friendship, complicated by Jonas's obsession with his mentally disabled twin brother, whom his father had told him died in an automobile accident years before. When Jonas discovers that Matthew is actually alive and in a local institution, events gradually spiral out of control as Jonas plots to liberate him. Beatrice begins to realize that her deep love and friendship for Jonas cannot help him overcome all of his emotional difficulties. This is an honest and complex depiction of a meaningful platonic friendship and doesn't gloss over troubling issues. The minor characters, particularly the talk-show regulars, are quirky and depicted with sly humor." 

Can someone tell me how that description dovetails with that cover, and why the people at Scholastic, who published this fine book, don't think boys should read it? Because that will be the result of the cover they went with. Once again, I wish I'd been  a fly on the wall during the meeting of the art director and the marketing department people.  "Let's eliminate a huge bunch of readers by making the cover pink," suggests someone. "Great idea," says someone else. 

{ADDED NOTE AFTER COMMENTS: I want to make sure that future readers of this series of comments understand that Mr. Falco created two of my favorite covers ever - he was responsible for the jacket direction and design of Shaun Tan's wonderful TALES OF OUTER SUBURBIA, and for the concept, direction, design and actual illustration of CLICK, written by ten authors in collaboration. So my trouble with HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT was limited to just that cover color. Mr. Falco is a talented book designer.]

Monday, February 8, 2010

5 More Pretty Neat-o Title Fonts . . . and One Question Mark

Because of this blog, I am becoming naturally more attuned to cover design and especially to typeface choices, which can make or break a cover. Take, for example this book, Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me (Kamehameha Publishing, 2008) highlighted by L. over at Jacket Whys. I agree with L.'s analysis. It's a gorgeous image, and I also agree that it's a toss-up over whether teens will be attracted to it. I don't know about you, but the typeface is off-putting to me. Doesn't it make you think of a book of essays, or a textbook, or one of those literary criticisms you were required to buy for a class? I had to look to make sure it didn't say Harold Bloom at the bottom. Sorry: Fail.

Now here's a book that's not due out until May, but it shows quite well what happens when the typeface fits the book:

This is Folly (Wendy Lamb Books, May 11, 2010), a historical fiction for teens (Yay!). It takes place in Victorian England, with a description that sounds as if the novel is full of joys and sorrows. Certainly, the cover suggests the sorrows. Note how the scratched ceramic surface of the girl's skin fits with the scratchy font, yet there's also a bit of joy in the slanting serifs and those curly "l"s and "y"s. Double-plus like.

Now more really neat-o title fonts for your viewing pleasure:

Seems like everyone but me has probably already read Beautiful Creatures, a gothic fantasy by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The actual cover, like many YA books out now, has fabulous embossed lettering. And what elaborate lettering it is.

Newsgirl by Liza Ketchum (Viking, 2009) is a middle grade historical (Yay!) in which the main character hawks papers on a street corner. Hence the well chosen, printerly font.

Here's a great, short blog post by Ellen Potter about first seeing the cover of Kneebone Boy (Feiwel & Friends, September, 2010), which has just the right lettering for some rather Addams-ish-looking kids, n'est-ce pas?

Ash is, in the author's words, "a lesbian retelling of Cinderella" (Little, Brown, 2009). The script typeface seems just right, and in purple, too. Romantic. Fairy tale-esque.

Speaking of purple, here's a comment from Barnes & Noble's Kim Brown about what's selling, cover-wise, at their stores. Thanks to the Chicken Spaghetti blog for posting the quote, so I didn't have the chore of typing it out myself.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tapjacketing #5: Patience and Fortitude, New-York Style

Here are some interesting cover-story links you might enjoy. Click the word "Link" and it will take you right to the source.
The NYPL Lions - Patience and Fortitude
1. Link: Elizabeth Bird's invitation to a jacket-related event at the New York Public Library. Oh, to be in New York City - imagine those two lions being neighbors of yours? Heaven.   

2. Link: Best discovery of the past few months, the International Children's Digital Library site, where you can look up book covers from around the world by an amazing number of categories, including shape, subject, language of origin and color.  Unreal and fabulous. Thanks to Carol, who first took me the ICDL direction by pointing out a blog entry about Iranian books over at A Journey Around My Skull.   Below is a cover I love, language of origin is Yiddish, which affects the direction this elephant is facing, since the book is read by turning this cover the opposite direction books in English are turned.

3. Link: Interesting cover-thoughts from Elizabeth Parisi, the art director at Scholastic, via an SCBWI Conference report by Jaime Temairik.

4. Link: Editorial Anonymous's thoughts on the latest cover gaffe from Bloomsbury. Bottom line: WTF?

5. Link: Ooh, fun! A Flickr collection of mid-century picture book art, including covers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

4 Inviting Middle Grade Covers

Q. Do publishers spend an equal amount of attention on book cover design for middle grade novels as they do for young adult novels or picture books?
A. Probably.
But sometimes the results, while appealing and perfectly serviceable for tween tastes, aren't all that fresh and attention-grabbing.

Or are they? Here are four rather inviting covers from recent middle grade novels, chosen because they seem to offer something a little more artistically than the average middle grade cover:

Left to right, top to bottom:
Alvin Ho: Allergic to girls, school and other scary things
Lenore Look, author -- LeUyen Pham, illus.
New York : Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008
(technically a chapter book)
Amphibian by Carla Gunn
Coach House Books, 2009

Powerless by Matthew Cody
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
MacMillan UK, 2008
Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to share your opinions and other nifty MG cover choices in the comments.