Book Covers: Testicular Heart Cherries are to Girly YA as Silhouettes are to Evolution Kidlit

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that silhouetted book covers and evolution have been mad played out lately.  Behold, this image I constructed with Microsoft Word and a screenshot program (Photoshop is beyond me) that I posted a few months ago to illustrate what many others already know:

Sidenote: I am introducing Half Brother author Kenneth Oppel (along with some other very talented authors like Richard Newsome and Richard Scrimger) at the Vancouver International Writers Festival next month.  Lots of swooning to follow.

I snarikly tweeted some time ago that Lo Bosworth of The Hills has a book coming out that features some testicular-looking cherries on the front.  But it seems she’s not alone!  Alexandra Diaz’s Of All the Stupid Things also has the same testicular cherries, complete with matching heart stem!

Diaz’s cover was first, so Lo is officially getting sloppy seconds.  If I find a third cover like this (three cherries – very Vegas slot machine), methinks it will officially be a trend.

I Haven’t Been This Mad in a Long Time

Oh man.  Shannon angry.

Yesterday the Summer Reading Club chidlers got to pick a free book as props for cracking the covers all summer long.  While herding the chidlers and handing out stamps and “Congratulations!” and “Awesome!” I noticed something truly horrifying in the selection of books:

OH, THE HUMANITY!

What the crap!?!

It seems that Brett Helquist is re-illustrating the three Scary Story collections compiled by Alvin Schwartz and originally (and brilliantly) illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

HarperCollins, I love you.  Brett Helquist, I love you too.  But there’s no excuse for this.

Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell are like peanut butter and chocolate.  Or Jay-Z and Linkin Park.  Or James Marshall and Harry Allard.  Together, they are perfection.

I don’t know how on earth I missed this.  It seems that More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was re-released at the end of August, right when I had a terrible case of food poisoning.  In hindsight, my body was likely reacting subconsciously to this loathsome event.  Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was re-released at the end of July.  I don’t know what I was doing then, but it must have been important.  Scary Stories 3 will be re-released in January 2011.  I’ll need to find a tree to chain myself to or something.

I’ve book talked the three Scary Story books more times than I can count – both to groups of kids and in the stacks. Gammell’s illustrations always sell it. The thing is, when you tell kids you’ve got something scary for them, they just don’t believe you.  I think it’s because kids have come to learn that a trusted adult’s version of scary usually equals lameness.

But Gammell’s style perfectly straddles “safe scary” and “creepy scary.”  Actually, cancel that.  They’re just a bit too scary.  But just the right amount of a bit. You can’t take your eyes off his work.  Each drawing is like a perfectly disastrous car crash – you are physically unable to look away.  And when you read one of Schwartz’s tales out loud to a group, and then reveal Gammell’s deliciously scary visual interpretation, the result is gold.  We’re talking audible gasps, mouths agape, the whole nine.

From Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I’m not saying that Helquist isn’t talented.  He’s mad talented.  But in my opinion there was no reason to mess with perfection – even if Stephen Gammell said, “You can’t use my pictures anymore.  They are too awesome for you to use.”  If that happened (and maybe it did – what do I know?), there should have been a worldwide moment of silence for these books before they went out of print.

I know there are probably people out there who are in support of this and think it’s good to give the ol’ books a facelift.  I’m sorry, but I am too blinded by anger to hear you out right now.  Maybe after I’ve mellowed out with several glasses of wine and some George and Martha, we can talk.

What do the Newbery and Stephenie Meyer Have In Common?

The Children’s Bookshelf peeps at Publishers Weekly recently tweeted this Huffington post article on Grammar Pet Peeves.  The list contains the fairly standard horrors of affect/effect, its/it’s, etc. and it got me thinking about the two children’s lit misspellings that keep me awake at night.

The first, and most bone-chillingly infuriating, is the misspelling of Newbery.  If I had a dime for everytime I saw Mr. N spelt wrong, I’d likely have enough money to hire Neil Gaiman to come speak at a private event.

John most often has his surname butchered in two ways.

1.  “Newbury”

Even Neil Gaiman is not immune to the power of the Newbery typo!!!

"Hey kids, let's go to the libury for a Newbury award winning book!"

2.  “Newberry”

"Hey kids, let's go to the liberry for a Newberry award winning book!" My horror at the Mr. Popper's Penguin movie will be saved for a future post.
Caldecott is spared the terror.

“Stephanie Meyer”

Stephenie Meyer is what I call a “tooth brushing author,” meaning I harbor neither overwhelmingly strong hatred nor overwhelmingly strong love for her or her work.  Reading Twilight was like brushing my teeth – it was a necessity that left me feeling rather neutral and blaze.  M’eh.

But what does leave me in a cold sweat of rage is the misspelling of her name.  I don’t know why, but it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.  And it’s one thing if you’re a teenager on a Twlight message board, fervently arguing the merits of Team Jacob, but it is quite another if you are one of Canada’s most popular and respected newspapers:

COME ON! The giant picture of the book cover is right there, exposing your nasty typo ways, National Post!

And People magazine did it too!

There are many more examples but my blood pressure can’t take it.  I know that we are all human and that this blog is probably riddled with typos, but I thought it was my duty to show you this horrifying underbelly of the children’s/YA literature world.  This will also be the only time Stephenie Meyer and Newbery are ever mentioned in the same sentence.

I would also like to point out that there are some instances where children’s literature-related typos are positively inevitable.  For instance, when you are spelling John Scieszka.  Even if I am copying his name directly from a book cover, I will always spell it wrong.  The same goes for Canadian YA author Shelley Hrdlitschka.  It is common knowledge that the most fertile typo breeding ground is created when an s is paired side-by-side with a c.  Throw a z or a k/h in there and you’re up the creek.

British slang + great fashion + librarians + 1970 = Dorothy Clewes’ Library Lady

One of the best things about working at an academic research library with a children’s collection is the lil’ gems you find in the stacks.  They can’t throw anything away lest someone may write a thesis on it someday!  I often go hungry during my shifts because I spend my whole break perusing the PZ 7s and PZ 4.9s.  I recently stumbled upon Dorothy Clewes’ Library Lady whilst I should have been eating my lunch.

Library Lady by Dorothy Clewes. Illustrations by Robert Hales. Chatto, Boyd & Oliver, 1970.

First things first.  How fabulous is little Virginia May’s outfit?  This is what I strive to look like on a daily basis, right down to the opaque tights and sideswept bangs.

FIERCE.

This was published in 1970, but it reeks of 1951 (reeks in a good way, that is).  Seven-year-old Virginia May only owns one book to her name until a library opens down the street.  She is welcomed by the “library lady” (who is, hilariously, never referred to as a librarian), becomes a member of the library, and is soon on her way to borrowing the maximum two books at a time.

Ginny’s parents are amped that she is using the library, especially since their two teenaged sons, Charlie and Dudley, are more concerned with loafing about with a troublesome “gang.”  Charlie and Dudley scoff at Ginny’s desire to be “educated,” until they get the chance to – get this – make some fish out of construction paper for a library exhibition! After making some very convincing bream and carp (A “bream?”  What’s that?  Who cares!  It’s charming and British!), Charlie and Dudley begin to feel that they could do more in life than being a “brickie” and an “errand boy.”

‘What about that then?’ Ma said.  She wa so pleased she looked ready to burst.  It was the first time in a long while that she had felt really proud of her two boys.

‘For heaven’s sake – it’s only a bit of coloured paper hanging in a kids’ library,’ Charlie said, but he couldn’t help feeling set up at the unexpected praise and the idea of his cut-out floating from a ceiling for all to see.

But the craft-induced euphoria doesn’t last long.  While drinking at the pub with the “gang,” Charlie and Dudley reveal that, in addition to their carp and bream mobile, the library fish exhibition contains some valuable old fishing poles (old fishing poles are valuable?).  The “gang” then steals the fishing poles and put the blame on Charlie and Dudley!  Luckily, Ginny and the library lady (and the science of fingerprinting) come to the rescue in a conclusion that contains the best colloquial uses of “loaf” and “bacon” in the history of literature:

‘You used your loaf, that’s what,’ Charlie said. ‘You remembered what time it was.  I never would have noticed that in a thousand years.’

‘And that library lady of yours, polishing away our finger-marks from the fishing-rods because she wanted a smart turn-out.  I never would have bothered to do that: but it saved our bacon.’

Brilliant.

Dorothy Clewes was very prolific, and I think she’s best known for her picturebooks with Edward Ardizzone.  But I don’t think it really gets any better than Library Lady. It’s so charmingly vintage and English and has such a dear, schticky appeal for any librarian.

Oh, and PS: this is a bream.

Kids and Adult Book Covers (or, how the late Timothy Findley gave me a complex)

I just returned from spending seven lazy days at my family’s cabin in Saskatchewan. The highlights of this trip included a whole buncha reading, eating an entire jar of Nutella, and continuously being amazed at the sheer number of gophers that inhabit my home province.

The low point of this prairie vacay entailed losing sleep over the memory a book cover I first saw 16 years ago.

As a chidler, I spent a good portion of my summers with some cousins at Loon Lake in Saskatchewan.  When I was nine or ten, my Aunt was in loco parentis for a bunch of us as all the other adults were off doing who-knows-what.  This Aunt was the model reader.  She always had a book in hand (usually impressively thick) and I longed for the time I would be able to tackle tomes of that girth.  But one day, I glanced over and saw that she was reading this:

I had to wait until the very last second to insert this image because it makes me want to put a blanket over my head and weep with fear. But at least Findley's Canadian. Sheila Egoff would be proud.

Holy Mother of Pearl. That was one scary sack of potatoes for me circa 1993.

I saw the word “Headhunter” and it dawned on me, for the very first time in my life, that there could actually be people in the world, perhaps at our very lake, who hunted human heads.  And these individuals were bald and had highly expressive eyebrows.

Us cousins often slept up in the deluxe treehouse my Uncle had built and that evening, after our nightly routine of everyone making fun of the amount of allergy and asthma medications I had to take before bed, I laid awake in terror thinking about the “Headhunter.”  I made up a simple yet detailed narrative  about how he would break into the treehouse at night and, after much snarling, glaring, and general intimidation, rid us of our young heads.

This was my standard scared-of-the-dark scenario at the lake, but after my Uncle sold the cabin a few years later, I didn’t give the Double H much thought.  But last week, when a reasonably assertive Saskatchewan thunderstorm started brewing around the new cabin, something went off in my brain and I remembered that book cover.  I tried to shake it off but I eventually had to jump out of bed, turn all the lights on, and pace about while the cat looked at me with a mix of empathy and disgust.

And then I got to thinking about book covers.  Children’s lit types (and all lit types, in fact) have been speculating about the elusive book cover since the dawn of the codex. It’s fascinating stuff. What will lure kids into opening a book? What will turn kids off?  Is there some kind of magic formula that will appeal to both the child reader and the librarian, educator, or parent who handles the cash? There is even talk of judging a book by its spine which is equally as fascinating.

But, has anyone ever wondered how young people judge covers of adult books?  Probably not, because it doesn’t really matter.  After all, most children under ten don’t have much money, and if they did, the last thing they would be doing is hitting up Amazon for the new Yann Martel for pops.

So, while I don’t think my Findley-induced phobia suggests that adult covers should be designed with children in mind, I think it does serve as tangible evidence of the power that books, and their covers, have on young people far before they may be ready to crack the spine.