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Digging…

January 18, 2011
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Recently there’s been a lot of digging in my life. Our basement flooded in November causing us to dig trenches in our foundation for drains (wow, jack hammers are loud). Our kitchen was recently dug up in preparation for a remodel. We even finally hired someone to do a bit of digging in our yard so we could stop looking like the white trash neighbors. But the kind of digging that has me thinking (rather than digging deep into my pockets) is the result of having to slog through my overstocked house and take a look at a good percentage of everything I own. As I removed boxes from moldy corners of the basement, I came across a box that contained what’s left of me and my sister’s childhood libraries. It’s amazing how seeing the covers brought back those feelings I had when reading them, and how covers are evocative of the era they were produced.

Here’s a bit of what I found.

Ramona! Oh how I loved what a clod she was. She made me feel so much better about my own shortcomings and she was just so dang funny. Clearly these covers are not a matched set. I wonder if the Scholastic editions had different covers than the Yearlings? Or I just caught them in the midst of a cover redesign.

Now Encyclopedia Brown was one clever dude. We (Random House) recently lost the rights to these and I have to say that sales were not as robust as I would have imagined. Maybe his brand of cleverness just doesn’t translate, but I’ve sold two books from our list recently that impressed me with their clever heroes and I know EB was a major influence: Powerless (coming in paper in April) features a boy whose friends all have superpowers. His power is that he’s read a lot of Sherlock Holmes and knows how to solve a mystery. The other one is a new series launching in February called Amos Daragon. It’s a fantasy with plenty of action, but what struck me was that the hero often perseveres through his wit rather than his sword.

This is a bit of a weird one but I felt they went together because they were so influential for me. I could not find Wrinkle in Time, but only the 2nd and 3rd in what eventually became a quintet. Again, we’ve lost the rights and the beautiful editions with Peter Sis illustrations are gone, but this era’s covers (late 70’s, early 80’s) will always be the one I remember. This series started me on a lifelong love of science fiction, and while I’m not the world’s biggest science fiction (SF) geek, I really enjoy this genre. I feel it’s way under-published for kids (besides the now over-crowded post-apocalyptic sub-genre) because for some reason fantasy is the preferred medium. I get excited when I read something like When You Reach Me (which I feel does not fit neatly into any genre, but certainly her the author’s first novel, First Light, is SF). On the summer list we have a great middle grade novel called The Resisters, by Eric Nylund, which I’m hoping will really catch on. It’s an exciting read involving soccer as a pumped up video game, aliens and controlling bugs to use as fighting machines. Need I say more? I also loved Human .4 coming from Egmont. What if the human race upgraded and left you behind?

The John Bellairs I threw in there not because I became of fan of horror (quite the opposite, in fact, I’ve never seen a Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street movie) but because he was the R.L. Stine, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, etc of my time. Everyone had to read his books no matter how freaked out it made you. At one point there were editions of this with Edward Gorey illustrations, which were fantastic, but I will always remember the covers that showed the warmth of Mrs. Zimmerman contrasting with the scariness of what was outside of her circle of light. OK, I’m freaking myself out a little here (still!) so it’s time to move on.

One of my very first posts for this blog was a re-post of an article I did several years ago singing the praises of To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite book of all time. I was extremely pleased to find my original edition, though that cover really could not be worse. It says nothing. And yet, because it’s the one I first read, it speaks volumes to me.

Getting back to my love of SF, Dawn is a book I read in college (took a SF class from a feminist!) that introduced me to Octavia Butler. She went on to become one of my very favorite writers and I still mourn her untimely death in 2006. She wrote incredible science fiction about the melding of races, sexuality and alien DNA to create something new altogether. She started writing one of the most interesting vampire mythologies before her death (Fledgling). I think had she survived to write more we’d be buzzing about her as much as Charlaine Harris right now (no, I will never compare a writer I like to Stephenie Meyer). But let’s take another look at that cover. Did I mention that Ms. Butler was one of maybe 2-3 black women writing science fiction? Is that a white woman on the cover? I am happy to say that all of her books have been reissued to reflect the colors of the characters within. Unfortunately we’re still seeing this kind of crazy backwards thinking with covers with recent controversies about books like Liar, Magic Under the Glass and others that used white people on covers of books about black people.

My collection would not be nearly complete without Judy. Oh Judy, you got me through the toughest of tough times. I must have read Are You There,God and Blubber (where is Blubber?) 10 times each. I learned who Esther Williams was from Sally J. Freedman. I learned that Jews existed in fiction as well as real life, that scoliosis sucks (Deenie), brothers are gross (Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing) and my God I won’t go into what I learned from Forever. If Ramona got me through the early elementary school years, Judy got me through 4th-8th grade at least. And would you look at those fantastic covers? Margaret’s groovy hair, Deenie’s moody glance in the mirror: they really captured the times with those covers.

I decided while writing this to contact two of our editors at Random House, Beverly Horowitz and Michelle Poploff, both of whom have been involved with the Yearling imprint for many years. Although many of the titles I mentioned predate their time with the company, I thought they might be able to shed some light on the re-jacket, reprint process. Here’s what they had to say:

Fun to see the old covers on those Yearlings. Indeed, many are before our time. From Ramona to Encyclopedia Brown to Margaret and more, we changed the art and tried to update the look of those books. Originally, the paperbacks were often reprints from other hardcover houses and the reprint edition stayed with the art of original hardcover house.

Ultimately, we realized that we often were able to create covers that had more pizzazz, shall we say, and so covers were changed. It then became almost standard for the hardcover and paperbacks not to have the same look– we made the paperback more “kid-friendly” because the kids started to buy them in the stores and take them off library shelves since libraries also were willing to shelve paperbacks, as did classroom libraries.

We used to change the cover art on many bestselling titles about every 3-5 years as the style of art and fonts came in and out of fashion. No denying, however, that although a cover gets a reader’s attention, ultimately it’s what is inside the book that helps a book live such a long life, as so many of your favorites have done! Authors often collect the various covers on their books-not only from hardcover to paperback and the various changes, but also from foreign editions. You can’t always tell a book by its cover!

Coincidentally, if my thoughts on Judy Blume’s books inspire memories of your own, check out the link here for details on Listening Library’s contest to win an iPod, a Judy Blume audio collection and a message from Judy herself, if you share your Judy Blume memories with them.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2011 8:10 am

    I guess today’s kids are too sophisticated for Encyclopedia Brown, but oh, how I loved those books when I was a kid!

  2. gail permalink
    January 18, 2011 10:59 am

    I loved Edward Eager’s books to especially Half Magic and Seven Day Magic. For a kid who always had her nose in a book- who wouldn’t love picking up a magical library book! Also adored anything Susan Cooper wrote…think I will go find some of those books to reread now!

  3. January 18, 2011 4:40 pm

    I love seeing all these old covers. Nostaligic…and I can’t talk kids into Encyclopedia Brown even though I think he is so super smart!

  4. January 18, 2011 4:46 pm

    A friend was recently sharing Cam Jansen books with another friend for their first graders. I mentioned Encyclopedia Brown & everyone “oohed and aaahhed” in remembrance.

  5. erin permalink
    January 18, 2011 9:49 pm

    My Ramona and her Mother had the same cover! Loved all the Ramona books. The Stockard Channing-read audiobooks are wonderful, as well. They were so real- her dad loses his job, they didn’t have a lot of money, her neighbor watched her. I just loved how solidly everyday her family was.

    I also loved Encyclopedia Brown. Loved mysteries and had such fun trying to figure those out! Bugs Meany- best villian name ever! I couldn’t stand the Choose Your Own Adventure books, though.

  6. January 18, 2011 10:02 pm

    Wow, you read and loved so many of the same books as I did! From Ramona to Encyclopedia Brown, and especially Blume, l’Engle and Bellairs. Well, and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well. Gosh, it makes me feel like rereading them all 🙂

  7. January 19, 2011 12:31 am

    Some of these covers brought back a rush of memories! I recently found a box of my old books and thrilled at “Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines” and my several versions of The Nutrcracker (I was a ballet freak who made my sister and friends reenact the throw-your-slipper-at-the-Mouse-King scene over and over, with twirly skirts and our record player pumping out Tchaikovsky).

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