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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Growl. Audio Book Cover Discussion.

Today we look at audiobooks.  No.  That’s wrong.  Today we look at one particular audiobook.

Meet Midwest Tape.  They’re "librarians’ #1 media source".  Seem like nice enough folks.  Recently we’ve been getting some of their audiobooks at my library.  It didn’t take long before I noticed how strange their packaging was, though.  Just your general clip art, basically.  They like to put generic images on the covers rather than the original art.  Not always, as far as I can tell, but sometimes.  Generally speaking, these re-jacketing situations are more amusing than anything else.  Take, for example, the Penderwicks books by Jeanne Birdsall.

Here’s #1:

And here’s #2:

I’ve been puzzling over #2 for some time.  Obviously the mom is dead from the get go.  Showing the eldest daughter in black and white with her sort of suggests that she’s dead too.  And then there are the flowers . . .

Half the time I don’t think the authors are even aware of these covers.  So I’m sure that if Lenore Look reads this blog post, she’s going to be just as shocked as anyone at what Midwest Tape did to her delightful Alvin Ho.  I was processing materials the other day and then came across this:

Folks, those of you who have not read the Alvin Ho books may feel this there is nothing wrong with this image.  Two cute smiling children.  A bus.  A tornado.  What could be sweeter?

Well, let’s look at the kids here.  The white kids.  The white, freckled, could-have-stepped-out-of-a-Dick-and-Jane-reader kids.  They’re probably from some clipart file.  Some generic stash of children.  My problem?  Dudes, it’s called "Alvin Ho" and anyone who had ever picked up the book and seen the superior illustrations by LeUyen Pham knows one thing.  Alvin Ho is freakin’ Chinese-American, people!

I don’t care if they never read the book or even saw the original copy.  You make a cover, you at least get the ethnicity of the characters right.  This is not difficult.  It takes remarkably little work.

Now as you can see, initially I thought that these two kids were supposed to be Alvin and his sister.  However, some are theorizing in the comments that the two kids on the cover are the "girls" referred to in the title.  That’s a thought.  However, I thought this was a picture of a red-headed boy and a blond girl.  If they’re going to both be "girls" shouldn’t that be more clear?  Otherwise you have to deal with blog posts like this one from the confused masses.

So it’s not quite as bad as I first suspected, but it still would have been nice to see something other than white kids on a cover for once.  *sigh*

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.


  1. Ugh, I HATE the repackaged art from Midwest. I’ve stopped ordering most audiobooks from there because the covers are often so bad. I’ve had kids not want to check out audiobooks because they don’t think it’s the “right” book when the covers don’t match. The covers of the Twilight series are especially bad.
    However, I had to laugh with the stir over the whitewashing on the Mysterious Benedict society… we had gotten our audio copies from Midwest, so instead of the original art, they have a plain stone wall.

  2. Jeanne Birdsall says:

    ARRRRGGGGHHHHH! I can’t even stand to look at those covers. If they had to make them sickly sweet and inappropriate, they should at least have made the Penderwicks Chinese-American, you know, to balance out Alvin Ho.

    Thanks, Betsy, as always, for being on the side of the angels.

  3. KHazelrigg says:

    Holy. Cow. That cover is an abomination. Nauseating. (But perhaps I should have said, “ZOUNDS!” in honor of Alvin himself.)

  4. Genevieve says:

    Yikes! Those are HIDEOUS and Alvin How’s is so WRONG.
    I suppose it wouldn’t be librarily allowed to photocopy the book covers, shrink the copies and tape them on top of these travesties?

  5. Genevieve says:

    Ho, not How. How would be ‘How could you so egregiously misinterpret Alvin’s ethnicity?”

  6. Jennifer Schultz says:

    Oh, that’s gross and unfortunate. I think I’ve seen Midwest Tape at the ALA conventions, but we get our audiobooks elsewhere. I never knew that they did this until now. Why do they chose to use/not use the cover art?

  7. Melissa W. says:

    It’s Tatum O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal in a hilarious comedy of mistaken identity!

  8. No way did they do that to Alvin! We get our audiobooks from another company–and now I’m glad!

  9. Jennifer in GA says:


    I couldn’t, in good conscience, give those audiorecordings of my beloved Penderwicks to anyone I know, because those covers are just hideous. And Alvin Ho’s cover is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

  10. Whoa hold on here, wait just a moment. . .

    I will agree that all the above covers are universally awful, although I think the kids on the Alvin Ho might be the “Scary Girls”. Doesn’t make the cover digestible.

    But did you notice that Jeanne Birdsall was just here? Did anyone catch a glimpse before she took off? And more importantly did anyone bother to find out when the next Penderwick will be dancing in front of my eyes? Because frankly every day my life is getting shorter and I really would die a pitiful death if I left this world before the promised 5 books were complete.

  11. Mandaladreamer says:

    Yes, DaNae, I did notice! And I’ve wondered this on Collecting Children’s Books, too when she posted. How long will we have to wait? I’ve been re-reading those two Penderwicks regularly…

  12. Do you remember the cover for “Yukon Ho!” a few years back? Even worse. One of the kids was clearly white, and the other looked like, I dunno, a tiger or something.

  13. How long would it have taken for a Midwest worker to hop on a site and look at a plot description of Alvin Ho or, even easier, “Google Image” what the original cover looks like? How lazy and incompetent and inexcusable.

    Have you ever seen Recorded Books’ cover for Preacher Boy? Also reminded me of Tatum O’ Neal.

  14. Midwest’s artists are supposed to create the cover art without seeing the original art. It’s up to the original audiobook publishers to allow the original art to be used – they don’t because Midwest sells at a lower price.

  15. Scope Notes says:

    Ha! This is truly nuts. Thanks for bringing it to the collective attention.

  16. The re-packager normally has to pay the publisher to use the original art. So — whitewashing aside — this company doesn’t want to do that.

  17. Adam Rex says:

    I have to agree with DaNae above–aren’t those kids on the Alvin Ho cover meant to be random girls that frighten him? Since the other images are of School and Camping and a Natural Disaster? I agree the cover is bad, and I haven’t read Alvin Ho so I don’t know if depicting the girls as caucasian is just as bad, but it doesn’t appear to me that they’ve misrepresented the titular character.

  18. Mitali Perkins says:

    Just wait. Some ignoramus somewhere will try to ban the book because of the “swear word in the title.”

    I agree with Adam and Danae, Betsy. Perhaps we should wonder why there’s no depiction at all of the main character on the cover. Was it a purposeful decision to leave off the Chinese-American hero to appeal to a broader audience? Or just a default lack of ethnic art when the companies are short of time?

    Either way, packaging stories so that they sell to kids, librarians, and parents reveals some interesting cultural issues.

    I dream of an iPad app that empowers kids to illustrate books and create covers according to how their imaginations dance with the stories.

  19. Jeanne Birdsall says:

    Dear DaNae — My life is getting shorter, too, alas — probably sooner than yours is, if you know what I mean. To you and Mandaladreamer, thanks for asking — and the third book is planned for a 2011 release. That’s all I know so far. — Jeannie

  20. Hmmm. Interesting theory, Rex. But I thought the kid on the left was a boy. If they’re both girls then that’s a little . . . not better exactly. If you’re going to have to put white gals on the cover of a book about a Chinese-American kid, shouldn’t you be clear about the fact that they ARE both girls?

  21. Adam Rex says:

    Sure. Again, no one’s arguing it’s a good cover. Only a little bit of the redhead’s long hair is visible in the frame–I expect if we could see the uncropped clip art she’d be more obviously a she, but maybe I’m wrong.
    Anyway, I’m comfortable with accusing this company of bad graphic design, but I’d hate to see anyone get saddled with the shame of whitewashing if they didn’t deserve it.

  22. Absolutely. Wouldn’t be fair otherwise. Glad this was pointed out. I was getting me knickers all up in a twist.

    Still not a good idea to eschew the whole Chinese-American kids thing, though.

  23. Lisa Yee says:

    Maybe the bus is Asian.

  24. Well, I’ll gladly go on record as saying this company sucks. If this isn’t considered whitewashing, then it is most definitely whitewashing’s doppelganger brother from another mother. Let’s just say for a moment that those two white kids *are* the “girls” from the title. Midwest is ignoring the fact that the kids in Alvin’s circle are extremely diverse, and by showing these two girls (who are not just white, they’re REALLY white… pasty, pasty white like me) they’re basically pandering to the horribly misguided and antiquated notion that people of color on a book’s cover = low sales. This cover is an insult to not only the public, but also a really nasty, disrespectful gesture toward Lenore Look (and let’s face it, Lenore deserves nothing but props… the lady rocks the house in all kinds of ways that I won’t mention for the sake of brevity). Audiobook cover fail… BIG time.

  25. carrie d says:

    I’ve heard our audio vendor mention the cost of art being an issue. They claim the original publishers and illustrators want more for art than for the actual rights. She says it is very cost-prohibitive to clear rights for all the art-especially on picture books. I wonder if MidWest has to clear their Clip Art? It would be nice to have matching art, but I don’t think copyright laws let us copy the covers, Genevieve. But good try!

  26. JMyersbook says:

    Wahoo and hooray for a third Penderwick novel in 2011! And an extra “Yipee” for hearing it straight from the author’s lips…er…typing fingers. :)

  27. Mary Ann says:

    There have been any number of “unfortunate” book covers, so it doesn’t surprise me that there is a company out there who seems to make “We get it wrong ALL the time!” their company motto. Shame on you Midwest! You should not be allowed to be in the business.

    As for the lovely clip art…is there no clip art for Asian kids? Those two children of indeterminate sex on the ALVIN HO cover look downright maniacal!

  28. The Midwest cover that bothered me was for The Red Blazer Girls. The book features 7th graders in dull, but respectable school uniform blazers. The audio features quite mature girls who can’t quite button their skimpy little blazers over their ample chests!

  29. So, why don’t some of you pure folk just contact the company and ask them or complain instead of griping to each other?

  30. I have complained to Midwest – because I like ordering from them but refuse to buy the audiobooks without the original cover art. So I only order the audiobooks for which they offer that (Brilliance Audio, for example), and I get my other titles elsewhere (and I’ve told them so).

  31. I agree with Adam’s theory. The text says “allergic to girls, school, and other scary things” (so girls and school bus shown), and “allergic to camping, hiking, and other natural disasters” (so camping/hiking gear and natural disaster shown). The sin here is cheapness, bad graphic design, and probably there’s no royalty free clip art out there of scared Asian kids. (But I haven’t checked.)

  32. I agree with Adam and Anon. The cover depicts things Alvin Ho is scared of. It isn’t depicting Alvin Ho, the main character, as a white, freckled kid.

    And I think you all are leaping to conclusions about whitewashing and creating covers with an idea of what will sell. Midwest Tape is able to use some publishers artwork and not others. For the ones they can’t use, they create their own art. It is better than settling for the color-coded, generic artwork.

    And as for creating their original cover art, there is a difference between clip art and stock art. The covers shown above look like stock art, which you get from stock art websites.

    Unlike the rest of you, I’m not beefing with Midwest Tape. I’m beefing with the publishers who refuse to let Midwest use their artwork, because they’d rather sell their own library editions for an obscene price.

    Yeah, we have to go with cover art that might not necessarily be the publisher’s, but at least we don’t have to pay over $100 a title…

  33. Jim (Teacherninja) says:

    I’d rather just have typeface with no art at all than this stuff.

  34. Thanks for your comment, Snar. While I must admit to not knowing much about clip art or stock art, I happen to agree that Midwest has given us more than we could ask for.

    Many of us complained when we had to cut and paste artwork, replace damaged cases, pay too much money for our product and spend too much time searching various places for titles. Along came Midwest. They gave us a huge collection, economical prices and a case that circulates well. When we complained that they gave us generic covers, Midwest did something about it. They also include the original packaging if they create the artwork. They give us a choice, which is something no company has ever given us.

  35. I don’t think it would be possible to create covers worse than those three. Even if there were a contest.

  36. I am currently looking at a Midwest Tape catalog right now and I think what makes the cover problem an issue is they use the original cover art in their advertising. So when the product arrives with this generic cover art, it’s jarring.