Un Cri de Coeur: The Masses Demand New Book Jackets (Please?)
Here we are on the cusp of summer. It always surprises me when the weather gets warm and yet the kids are still in school here in NYC. Still, they’ll be out soon enough, running into my libraries with their summer reading lists clenched in their hot little hands. Here in New York City each school, each teacher even, can have their own reading lists. There is absolutely no consensus amongst them. Some things in life are certain, however. By and large, the same books show up over and over on the lists.
With all this in mind I received the following message from a fellow children’s librarian. As her crie de coeur says, there are few things quite as disappointing in life than handing a kid a book only to see their face fall in despair when they see the cover. Or, as she put it:
I am building a book order to replace some terrific—and completely unread—books in my elementary library, and I just wanted to take a moment to rant about book covers.
I want to replace these books with new copies with covers that might actually attract children:
Dear Mr. Henshaw
Summer of the Swans
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
I’m sure there are more. But alas, I cannot replace these books with new copies with more attractive covers, because an attractive cover does not exist. ARRGGHHH!
Why won’t someone somewhere create covers equal to the quality of these books?? If no one does, they are doomed to a listless life on the library shelf, pulled out only far enough for the cover to be seen, then summarily shoved back into their shelf slots. What an injustice.
Hmm. Each one of these is a classic and in some cases their covers are considered untouchable by the masses. But no book jacket is so perfect that it couldn’t stand an upgrade. Let’s take a look at the offenders, shall we?
Ah, Mr. Henshaw. Now not all of us know this, but this art was actually done by the great Paul O. Zelinsky back in the day. It’s a lovely cover . . . if you live in 1983. It’s that bowl haircut that does it in now. For a second that haircut came back in, but not any longer. You could certainly keep the interior art if you were married to it, but that cover could stand an upgrade, yep.
A 1971 Newbery Award winner and a book that has not fared well in the old book jacket department. As you can see, it’s going the boring dreamy route. Past covers have been little better. They have included:
We’re not looking for anything crazy. Just a cover that feels like it belongs in the 21st century.
By the way, back when Travis Jonker was bestowing new covers to old Newbery winners, he included this book. You can see his results here (and it’s still better than what we currently have).
This one is going to raise some hackles. After all, Ms. Konigsburg illustrated this cover herself, and some folks have a real, personal connection to it. Interestingly enough, there have been other iterations of this cover. Three of the alternative covers were just variations on the same theme (making this cover a photograph rather than a drawn image, but retaining the look). You can see them in my summary of this book as part of my Top 100 Children’s Book Poll. Only one cover has been significantly different and it was this one:
Seems to me another upgrade would be well in order. Like my librarian reader, I too have had difficulty hand selling this book thanks in large part to its cover design.
And finally . . .
You may recall that just as Ms. Konigsburg did her cover, so too did Lois Lowry take this photograph. The book has seen other covers over the years, but none of them are what you might call particularly thrilling.
This one doesn’t bother me the way the others have. I hand this book to kids and they don’t cringe. More to the point, the upcoming movie has created a new cover. Voila:
I don’t mind it, but I could have lived without the gigantic sticker on the cover mentioning Taylor Swift.
What are some book jackets of days of yore that you wouldn’t mind seeing repackaged?
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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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