Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Covers--which accurately depict the characters

I don’t think there is much I can add to the active conversation about book covers not accurately depicting the character on the inside of the book.

Reading in Color, Black-Eyed Susan's, and A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy are a few of several bloggers who express their opinions. This article titled "Kids of Color and the New American Whitewashing" contains quotes from many well known authors. Justine Larbalestier recently dealt with this exact issue with her novel, Liar, and she also, in response to this latest cover controversy, posts on the topic.

Because I can't add additional insights and realize that my grumbling likely won't do much good, I decided to share a few covers, from my nearest bookshelf, which DO accurately depict the character. (There are a couple books from that shelf which I’m not including, because I suspect that the skin color was lightened.)

I realize there aren't enough books available with POC (people of color), but each and every one us can do our part by buying (and encouraging other readers to buy) a wide range of books, which include characters of different colors. I'd also, since I live overseas, want to expand this effort to books which show the wide range of cultures throughout the world, including books published by foreign publishers.

Several of the books in this picture are picture books, which leads me to ask the question: Do picture books ever have the same problem as novels? Is the color of skin ever lightened for the covers, or does the publisher decide to go a “safe” way and use animal characters?

One book stands out to me: Ballet of the Elephants. The cover shows ballet dancers with different skin colors, yet this book isn't about the dancers, it is about elephants and the choreographer George Ballanchine and the composer Igo Stravinsky. Kudos to the illustrator, Robert Andrew Parker and Roaring Book Press for a great cover.

Here is a list of the titles, authors and publishers of the books in this photo.

Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia. (HarperCollins)

Children of the River by Linda Crew. (Dell) (The earliest on this shelf--1989)

The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington. Illustrated by Shelley Jackson. (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi. Illustrated by Ned Gannon (Boyds Mill)

Jingwei Filling up the Sea by Yangguang Wang. Illustrated by Jun Yu. (Dolphin press in Beijing)

Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Shubert. (Roaring Book Press)

Books by Uma Krishnaswami include: Chachaji’s Cup (illus Soumya Sitaraman); The Closet Ghosts (illustrated by Shiraaz Bhahba) both published by Children’s Book Press; Bringing Asha Home (illustrated by Jamel Akib) published by Lee and Low. Krishnaswami's cover of Monsoon (not in picture) also has a good representation of the character inside.

I asked my teen daughters about this subject, and they felt that almost all the kids they know wouldn’t let the race of a character determine if they would read the book. They also seemed surprised that this is a question. The sad fact is they said, “almost,” which means that there are a couple kids they know that would let skin color affect their choices. My kids attend an international school (their 5th international school) and each is a type of mini-United Nations so I realize their experience might not be normal.

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