Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Covers

Update: Good news for everyone via PW. "Bloomsbury to Rejacket ‘Magic Under Glass’"

I've said this before, I will say it again.

A. Children and young people want and NEED to find themselves in their school libraries.

B. We ALL judge a book by its cover.

C. When a cover does not represent the story and the characters within, it is denying my students a vital reference point as they choose what to read.

I was subbing at a school library where I was asked by a young woman to help her find a book that had a character "like me," she said. There was no time to bring up the catalog and search because the teacher had the class on a too short time window.

I'm faster than the computer anyway.

As I scanned the stacks it seemed my only obvious choices for books with African American characters were Bud, Not Buddy, Bucking the Sarge, and The Ear, the the Eye and the Arm.

I could not see any FICTION with a character "like her." The nonfiction and biographies areas had a good selection but she wanted a NOVEL.

I frequently encounter that "how can this library not have (insert name of book I am looking for here)" feeling when I am subbing. To be fair, I don't know the whole story. Maybe books have been lost or damaged. It is also possible that the books are checked out.

There may have been some books there for her but based solely on the covers, she couldn't tell.

Book covers are a frequent topic during author discussion panels at conferences I attend. As a reader and fan, my heart goes out to authors who have very, very, VERY little if ANY (zero) control over the cover that is going to represent their work to the world.

I hear about people signing contracts without reading the fine print.
Sadly, I am used to hearing that Congress will not/cannot/refuses to read bills before they are passed in to law.
I would like to think that Bloomsbury's tumble over the cover for on Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass is just another case of publishing-person-in-charge-of-book-covers bungling the photo pick and did not know what or who the book was about.

Alas, Little, Brown's lightened "cover" Stickys in The Mysterious Benedict Society books would indicate this is not the case. Bookshelves of Doom has compare and contrast illustrations of this phenomena.

Bookshelves of Doom has prepared a very comprehensive list of links on the latest whitewashing cover incidents and commentary. Do click over there and read all the links. They took a long time to put together.

Publishers, please, you are messing with my kids! They are looking for themselves.


Paige Y. said...

One of the things I wish I had time to do was to go though my fiction collection, making notes of books with people of color as main characters and that are depicted as such on the front cover. I find that I recommend the same authors over and over because I know them to be quality authors with books kids always enjoy (Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, Sharon Flake, and Angela Johnson). To be honest, I do the same with the Caucasian authors -- I have a few that I always go to first. I have pledged to read a wider variety of books this year so that I can have a wider variety of booktalks.

Amy Nichols said...

When I read posts like this it makes me sad, and also makes me more aware as a writer of the impact my books may or may not have on readers. How important it is to connect. How important it is for me to stretch beyond my boundaries to connect with those who aren't like me. Even if the cover art of my books don't accurately show the content of the book. Thank you for this.

Camille said...

Yes, and yes, and yes. At the end of the day I wanted to leave a list of suggestions and made me even more aware of how much reading I need to do.

Ms. Yingling said...

If you are faster than the computer, then you know your stuff and are doing your job correctly. Pat yourself on the back!

anne said...

You'd think after the Liar debacle, they would pay more attention...someone would, anyway.
But it's not just racial depiction. Frequently, the "cover" character has been described in great detail early in the story (like the first page) but the "person" on the front is completely WRONG. Which of course, you don't know until after you read the book, if you bother to read it.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Wonderful post about this topic. I was appalled when I saw Leila's post about The Mysterious Benedict Society--that's really just egregious. On the other hand, in a way I'm grateful for the kerfuffle not only for drawing the publishers' attention to the fact that readers aren't okay with this, but also for making ME, as a writer, aware of the fact that this is still happening. Though you're right that writers often have little or no say over what goes on the cover, I have this fantasy in which authors revolt over inaccurate cover depictions... :)