Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Judging books by their covers Catherine Johnson




I was all set to rant about my least favourite children's books related newspaper column - Lucy Mangan's weekly advice on building a library for your children which includes a mixture of classics, The Railway Children for example, and late 70s and 80s stories which were Lucy's favourites including Grinny, by Nicholas Fisk. Good books all, but why can't she - just once - throw in some contemporary authors?

Rant over this got me thinking about the book I bought, and loved just for it's cover. I have spent the last two days trawling the internet for an example, it's by Betty Maxey - that's an example of hers up there, but not the book I'm thinking of. Betty Maxey was a prolific cover artist and black and white line illustrator in the last part of the twentieth century. Anyway, back to my book. I remember it as being the acme of modernity, the colours (luminous acid green, brown and orange- yes I know) the girl, what was she wearing? Did she have red hair, she was obviously a prize bitch you could see it in the way she was standing there with her suitcase, I think. The book was Gemma by Noel Streatfeild. I can really remember NOT liking the story. Maybe it was because I had hoped for something like Ballet Shoes and this wasn't. I'm not sure. What I do remember is staring at the cover, holding the book, loving the colours, loving the picture.

It was published by Armada, I liked the design of their cheap popular paperbacks that promised 100 things for girls to do and were not half as stuffy as the pink puffin books of things to do which was positively babyish in comparison.

If any of you have it I would love to see it again. I bet it wouldn't be half as modern as I thought it was then. What covers made you buy books? Are there any that put you off? With me it was Leon Garfield. My teachers always steered me towards his books with boring cross hatched covers. I never read them until I was over thirty!


What I'm trying to say is we can spend months, years, restructuring our prose, getting the story just right and still people will go on buying books, or not, just because of the cover.

One more - very important - thing. Love books? Like cake? Our blog, set up by Anne Cassidy and Damian Harvey is one year old on Friday. Come along for celebrity guests, virtual cake and more excitement than you can possibly imagine!

P.S. Keren David, very thoughfully emailed me Gemma. This is it - the typeface, the snotty girl!
And although I got the suitcase right it's orange and yellow not green. But thank you a
million times, Keren and Betty Maxey. By the looks of it she had plenty of paint left over from the Famous Five job....

6 comments:

Elen Caldecott said...

I'm loving the new cover for Wuthering Heights at the moment. The Meyer bandwagon must be creaking under the weight...

check it out:

Wuthering Heights

Keren David said...

Oh yes, I know exactly which cover you mean. She was wearing a mini skirt and her hair was long and I think in an alice band. I also loved it - and the Gemma books. I think my sister may have our copy -I will investigate and maybe scan it in. And all the Noel Streatfeild books, especially the one about Rachel and Hilary and Wintle's Wonders.

I have very mixed feelings about Lucy Mangan's column. On the one hand it's nice to read about old favourites, particularly long forgotten ones and see them celebrated. On the other hand it's such a lot of space and so self-indulgent. Who cares what Lucy Mangan thinks? It would be better to have someone different chosing their favourite children's book every week. Every other week an adult then a child. That'd get some contemporary writers in there.

Keren David said...

Just found it...have emailed it to you Catherine.

Mary Hoffman said...

Amanda Craig has an interesting piece on covers in the new issue of Mslexia, Catherine.

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Nick Green said...

It is a sad fact that what goes on outside the covers of a book is at least as influential on its sales - if not more so - than whatever happens to be inside it.

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