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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Love that Book, Loathe that Cover

As we all know, critical interpretations of book jackets are entirely subjective. What I might like, you might find appalling. What I abhor, you might find sweet. That said, is there any feeling in the world quite as frustrating as reading a marvelous middle grade novel, only to discover that the book jacket doesn’t do it justice? Back when I worked for NYPL, a book of that sort might actually be more likely to end up on the annual 100 Books for Reading and Sharing list, if only because it would “need our help” to find its audience. Back when I ran a reading group for kids, I would sometimes play a game where I booktalked books in paper bags and then only took them out for checkout when the kids begged to read them. That’s an excellent way to move beyond out-of-date covers, by the way.

This year I’ve already seen a fair share of great books that are unduly burdened with unfortunate book jackets. Like I say, you might completely disagree that these are unfortunate, and that is fair. That is your opinion. It is wrong, but you are entitled to it all the same.


To begin, I am just enamored of this book right now. Set in the early 70s, it’s the first middle grade novel I’ve ever encountered to contain casual Quakers. Which is to say, a Quaker family just living their lives in Canada. In the book, the family takes in a Texan draft dodger, and the daughter of the family comes to a series of personal revelations typical in a Bildungsroman. It’s funny and strange and probably the most clearly marked Middle School (not middle grade, not YA) novel I’ve seen in years. It also looks like this:


Baffling. Disregard it. It really is a delight of a book.

Now I haven’t read this next one, but a friend that I trust implicitly has assured me that it is nothing short of a delight. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“Nick wants to change his life. For twelve whole years, he’s done what his hard-working, immigrant parents want him to do. Now he’s looking for his own American dream and he thinks he’s found it. The local baseball team is having a batboy contest. Nick’s goal—to be a Mudpuppy for a day! But the contest is on a Saturday—the day Nick has to work in his father’s shop. There’s one other tiny—well, not so tiny—problem. A 2,000-pound rhinoceros named Tank. Nick and his friends play ball right in the city zoo—and Tank lives just beyond the right field fence. Nick’s experience getting the ball out of Tank’s pen has left him frozen with fear whenever a fly ball comes his way. How’s a lousy fielder going to win the contest? One thing Nick knows how to do is work hard, and he practices every day with his best friend, Ace, and a new girl named Penny, who has an impressive throwing arm! But that’s not enough—to get to the contest, Nick resorts to a plan that has him lying to his parents and blackmailing his uncle. All while dodging the school bully, who’s determined to win even by playing dirty.”

So far so good. Now here’s the cover:


Considering the success of books by Carl Hiaasen and Stuart Gibbs, I understand the inclination to place the rhino front and center. It may even be that kids find this image charming and grab the title with both hands. That said, it’s an awfully cartoonish rhino. I don’t know that I would have thought to pick it up without my friend’s urging. I dunno. What do you guys think? Does it pass muster?

Now think of a book that challenges a sexist policy decision, is set in the 1950s, and that policy is still strongly in force today. If you were ever a fan of The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, then you are in for a treat. The third book in that series has come out and it’s all about a girl who wants to pitch for the major leagues. An exhaustive accounting of female baseball players, it’s intriguing, engaging, and fun, while also being chock full o’ facts. The cover looks like this:


If you squint just right, you may even be able to make out the protagonist.

UPDATE: I think we have an explanation at hand for this cover. They’re redesigning the whole Green Glass Sea series. Behold, the newly created Green Glass Sea cover:


Okay, see THAT cover I like a lot. Definitely cute. But here’s the weird thing – they’re only redesigning the first and the third book in the series like this. Apparently White Sands, Red Menace didn’t make the cut. Hunhuna?

None of these jackets are horrendous or anything. They just make me feel like their publishers didn’t care enough to try to sell them properly to child readers. So let us do them all a favor. Read ’em and recommend ’em to a kid. They’re more than just a pretty face. They’re great books.

Any other jackets out this year you wish were different in some way?

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. Christine Sarmel says:

    Arggh! Publishers, please, I beg of you, find someone who works daily with human children to take a peek at your MG covers. (Teachers would be great. Most of them work second jobs anyway.) One of these is a favorite author of mine and I’m going to have to book talk the snot out of it to get it circulate. Not that I won’t do that, but it could be so much easier…:)

  2. I don’t dislike the Out of Left Field cover, but it reminds me so much of the covers for recent graphic novels like Sunny Side Up and Positively Izzy that I think readers will be mislead into thinking it’s a graphic novel, not a chapter book.

  3. 105 mph says:

    You do know, right — even a bookish person must know — that the words “sexist policy” and “girl wants to pitch in major league baseball” may be connected by a string of other words, but that is the whole of the connection?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I am but a poor innocent librarian born in the latter half of the 20th century. Such things do not pierce the thin fabric of my delicate mind.

      Which is to say, that’s a new one on me! It’s like the time I kept using the phrase “shot their wad” in blog posts until folks corrected me on the matter. Much obliged.

  4. Julie Horwat says:

    Something Upstairs by Avi had this awful cartoon drawing of ghostly hand pushing a box…it’s awful. I have to tell students to please ignore the cover during my booktalk, but I think I’m going to go for the paper bag approach instead! Thanks for sharing! Fortunately, later editions have excellent covers, so someone got the message. I think it may even be worth replacing my copy!

  5. Maya Ponce says:

    I recently read Lisa Graff’s “Double Dog Dare” and I really enjoyed the book. It portrayed kids grappling with the big questions. But the cover seems babyish and incongruous to the story.

    • That is interesting, I intensely disliked the cover for her 2014 book A Tangle of Knots. It was a wonderful story, but the cover I felt was just terrible…

  6. Irene Latham’s MG novel, Don’t Feed the Boy, is one that has a cover that few middle schoolers would pick up. It looks like it’s intended for much younger students. I’ve always wished it had a different cover (and the PB version is an improvement). But for a book that deals with difficult issues, it needs a cover that fits the intended audience.