Battle of the Kids’ Books: UK Vs. US covers
As you may be aware, each year SLJ hosts the Battle of the (Kids’) Books, which provides a new way in which to discuss literature for the young. With bracketed books “competing” against one another, famous child and YA authorial judges determine the winners after much soul searching and chest beating. Now in its third (third? third) year the roster of books is up and running. It puts me in a jackety frame of mind.
Not long ago The Millions posted a piece entitled Judging Books By Their Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K. In conjunction with the Morning News Tournament of Books they took some of the titles battling it out and compared jackets in the States to jackets in the U.K. The results are so good that the people at Battle of the (Kids’) Books offered me the chance to do my own rendition. You will find the American covers on the left and the British covers on the right. Now obviously a lot of the books up for contention this year have the same covers here as well as there, but there are a few that look significantly different, most notably . . .
The general understanding is that “Dead End” was the title Gantos originally wanted for his book but his U.S. publisher preferred the slightly more descriptive “Dead End in Norvelt”, which probably pleased the current residents of Norvelt more than anyone else. Here we’ve two entirely different philosophies on how to sell books to kids. At first it looked like the U.S. publisher wanted to go a little dark with an image of Jack on the cover wearing a bloody (due to a nosebleed) shirt. Then they decided to go a little subtler with a cover you can see below. The problem with that cover (aside from its similarities to fellow Newbery contender Okay for Now) was the fact that it made the hero look like he was wearing a blue jean skirt. Hee hee. So they moved him over, put some manly red stripes on his sleeves, pinked it up (?) with fluffy Thomas Kinkade-esque clouds, and slapped on a Dave Barry quote to show it was funny. The Brits? Well they recognized the “Dead” part of the book and went from there. The skeleton is eating cookies, so that would be an allusion to the fact that the book’s funny. Which do I prefer? Cookie chomping skeleton, of course. I can sell that book to a kid. The other one? It would just take a little more work.
Here’s the galley cover for the second iteration of the book for the sake of comparison:
Then we get into a lot of YA.
This is an interesting one. The U.S. title goes a more sophisticated route than its U.K. compatriot. Looking at it, with the single sprig of green against a cold and frozen background, you’d be forgiven for not even noticing the barbed wire that appears on three of the four corners. It’s as if Penguin was hoping to sell the title to both a teen and an adult market at once. The U.K., in contrast, goes the old faceless-girl-hair-blowin’-in-the-breeze route. They also decided to throw up a “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?” which just feels like overkill. If you see that much barbed wire (no subtle corners they) you’re pretty sure the story is not going to be a sunny trip to the beach. I’m Team U.S.A. for this one.
I may be slightly unfair with this one since the U.K. cover featured here is for the paperback edition. I believe that they sold the hardcover copy with the American image. I will also confess here and now that I never read the book so I cannot speak to how accurate either cover is to the story inside. Based on sheer aesthetics instead, the American version has some fun with the groping roots and remarkably pretty model reclined within them. In contrast the U.K. cover looks a bit like the aforementioned Shades of Gray with its back-of-the-head shot. I don’t know if it’s misleading or not, but of the two I would pick up the American before I picked up the British.
Let us not forget that the American cover will change with its new paperback edition too.
That may even be the same model.
This one caught me by surprise. I was initially in love with the original U.S. cover for this book (see below) so the change to ole masky face rankled. However, looking at it I like that the face is overexposed and that the title’s font looks mildly corroded. It’s a cover that doesn’t look like any other out there but that’s still accessible. So over time I’ve come around to it. The British cover has a slow burn effect of its own. Those iridescent feathers grow on you. Mind you, it’s a classy jacket but not necessarily one that jumps out at you. That and the quote at the top “The Doors to Elsewhere Are Closing” sort of tip the vote to the U.S. here.
Mind you, I still loved the original. Probably because it was so doggone crazy-weird-awesome:
Or maybe I just like birds. Same title and author font, I see.
And finally . . .
Ah. Much more difficult to compare. Excellent.
If I’ve learned anything here today it’s that with few exceptions American publishers clutter up their juvenile and teen jackets with quotes and blurbs far less often than their U.K. contemporaries. Here Peet’s American jacket is an exercise in restraint. It brings to my mind Ray Bradbury, for some reason. The black background and strange purple missile with that blocky font of a title . . . it’s intriguing. The U.K. version, in contrast, goes the Jonathan Safran Foer route with the art of the typography doing all the heavy lifting. You’ve an entirely different feeling about the book. The U.S. cover looks like the story will be the kind of creepy tale you one day find yourself thinking about out of the blue a decade after you put down the book. The U.K. cover looks like an intellectual exercise for proto-hipsters. Which of the two would I prefer to read? If you know me then you know the answer. Creepy wins.
The lesson learned here today is that my assumptions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Walking into this I just assumed I’d prefer the British jackets to the Americans at a rate of 2:1. Instead I prefer the Americans at an unpredicted 4:1. Were it not for the Gantos cover it would be a shut out. Perhaps my being a Yank has much to do with my preferences, but whatever the case I’m just pleased to see so many options out there for so many great books.
Thanks to Battle of the (Kids’) Books for the idea of this post.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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