When I was ten the kids in my neighborhood started a rather odd obsession. For a time the Trixie Belden series was released with new covers, giving those books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s a kick in the pants. Note how hip and cool these covers were:
So the girls on my block started a Trixie Belden obsession. We loved her short hair, the way she called her mother “moms”, her gang The Bob-Whites, and her penchant for touching the mysteries that prissy little Nancy Drew would probably avoid. I mean seriously, did Nancy ever come face to face with a Sasquatch?
Not likely! Clearly I had a thing for preferring knock-off mystery characters to their better known Stratemeyer Syndicate contemporaries (I love The Three Investigators and to this day abhor The Hardy Boys).
Anyway, the problem with our Trixie love was that the darn books weren’t all in print with these snazzy covers. Some of them you had to track down, like old Sasquatch here. This being a pre-internet era, we set about trading the hard to get ones in an attempt to finish the whole series. It’s an instinct a lot of kids have. When they love a series they want to read all the books out there. But what can they do when that series is out-of-print?
Fast forward to last Friday and I’m hanging out with my children’s book group talking about titles they’d like to see added to the library system. Suddenly they all start talking about The Baby-Sitters Club. And no, not the graphic novels or the recently released original four. No, what they want are the originals with their terrible 80s hair and copious scrunchies. The ones that look like this:
The kids don’t care how old those covers are, by the way. They systematically plow through them caring not a jot about the lack of cell phones or references to something called “VHS”. Scholastic, in the depths of their cruelty, makes the full list of BSC titles available to kids. But do they actually publish those books anymore? No! (Is it bad that I totally geeked out over The Hairpin’s The Baby-sitters Club: Where Are They Now? recently? The info on Janine is DEAD ON. And the Dawn . . . oh, the Dawn.)
So here is what it comes down to. What makes a series catch fire with a generation of kids, long after that series has effectively died? If kids found my beloved Three Investigators today would they enjoy them as much as I did (and they weren’t exactly young in the 80s, y’know).
Occasionally publishers will try to republish books that were once hits in the hope of making them viable moneymakers today. Trouble is, it rarely works. Take BSC. When Scholastic republished the first four books they did so with what may have been the dullest jackets on record. See, if you’re a kid and you have a chance between picking up this:
And picking up this:
As odd as it may sound, you’re going to go with the . . . were those yellow overalls? Oh, Claudia. You trendsetter you. But see, that cover looks like fun. The new cover looks like something dreamed up by a marketing team that didn’t want to pay an illustrator to come up with a “look”. Is it any wonder these books didn’t catch on again?
The other way to mess up is to muck with the book’s innards. I have zero problem with books updating elements for the modern age (see: My Horn Book article Friending Mr. Henshaw) but there is such a thing as stupid updates. In 2008 Random House decided to rerelease the Sweet Valley High series, with a couple tweaks here and there. The tweak that broke the camel’s back? In their original 80s editions the twin protagonists were “a perfect size six”. In 2008? “A perfect size four”. Folks, to put it mildly, were not entirely pleased and the series (for other reasons as well) did not catch on again.
Hmm. Realistically drawn photo-like images on covers vs. purely drawn or purely photographed images. Maybe the 80s were on to something after all? Discuss at will.