I Have a Dream…

We have yet another book cover controversy! Maybe you’ve heard of it? There’s been a lively and interesting online conversation about it. Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore, reignited the discussion about book covers that are not always faithful to the story, and thus are misleading in the way they represent people of color. It actually happens more than we denounce it (Famous case: Liar cover, novel by Justine Larbalestier). That issue shouldn’t even exist anymore. Not in our century. Not ever.

To realize how deep the ramifications run, read a teen’s open letter to Bloomsbury Kids USA.

It helps to keep in mind that what is essentially discussed is NOT Magic Under Glass, which received excellent reviews, not Jaclyn Dolamore–who is loved and respected by readers, bloggers, people in the publishing industry, and certainly not bloggers’ position on that issue.

The bone of the discussion and outcry regards the accurate representation of all ethnicity on a cover of a children’s book, with respect to the story.

First I find interesting that it always seems to involve MG/YA (I’m actually thinking more young adult fictions than middle grade), and not so much picture books. Why is that? Book covers matter as much in these three cases.

So what is different? Well, when it comes to picture books, the artist not only has in mind the story and his or her own illustrative voice, but he also trusts the reader’s choice and reaction regarding to the book cover and its content. When a cover or inside illustration is different from what one might expect because of a personal interpretation of the text, it generally is because it sheds a new, enriching light on the story, inviting the reader to approach it from a variety of angles.

So why would the approach be different when it comes to teen books?

I can’t help but wonder what went wrong in this case. The publishing house, Bloomsbury, obviously liked the story since it bought the manuscript and invested in it. I will go as far as saying that they like books with people of color and give them a chance, since this isn’t the first and hopefully not the last multicultural novel that they will publish. I applaud the fact that they are exposing readers of all age to the wealth of cultural diversity. That said, what happened? O_oย  (The main character is described as having “dark skin” and she appears Caucasian on the cover).

Feeding from Martin Luther King, Jr. words and vision, I dream that one day our actions will match our words; that one day when we tell our children that we do not believe in discrimination or in double standards, they will also witness it through the books that we read together; that one day reality will exceed the dream: we will gather not to denounce a clichรฉ, a book cover misrepresentation or a ban on gay, multicultural or children books dealing with edgy issues, but that we will gather to celebrate joy, respect and diversity in all its forms.

A personal message to publishing houses: Boycotting certainly isn’t the solution. Working together is. We, writers and readers, like our publishing houses. We appreciate your workย  and the selection of great books you provide us with. However the issue has implications that cannot be ignored. What could prove you and convince you that we will buy your book, regardless of the color of skin of the character on a cover? What if we tell you that we will?

Do you agree with that statement? If yes, would you show your support to writers, publishing houses and protagonists of our favorite stories by signing the I’ll Buy the Book! Petition, which assures publishing houses that we buy books primarily because of our love for them: http://www.petol.org/bc4all?

Thank you for reading. Please, share the word…

Peace,

Nathalie

Updated on 01/20/2010: there are a few more links in the comment section. The following editorial from The Wolrd SF News Blog offers an interesting point of view as well:click here.And here is an overview of several reactions throughout the web
To read the thoughts of St Martin Press editorial assistant S. Jae-Jones, check here
.
01/21/2010: Jaclyn Dolamore Post.
01/21/2010: Bloomsbury just issued a statement on its website: “Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.” Thank you, Bloomsbury! Thanks to all who expressed their concerns and support! Check for yourself!
01/22/2010: These steps can make a difference!

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About Nathalie Mvondo

Nathalie Mvondo lives in Northern California. She is a writer, a blogger, a community organizer and a social entrepreneur.
This entry was posted in Books, Miscellaneous, Publishing Houses and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to I Have a Dream…

  1. Ari says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes! And Amen. My last action before I go to bed will be to Tweet this. thank you. And you raise a good point this always seems to be in MG/YA. Picture books are getting better from what I’ve seen. I’m linking to this here http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/2010/01/really-bloomsbury-im-done-publishing.html

    Like

  2. linda covella says:

    “The bone of the discussion and outcry regards the accurate representation of all ethnicity on a cover of a children’s book, with respect to the story.”

    It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? I don’t quite get why the publishers can’t follow that.

    Thanks for a rational, thoughtful, informative post, Nathalie. I signed the petition.

    Like

    • Hi Linda,

      thank you so much for signing! I used the word petition because it’s the one used on that website, but I think the expression “support letter” describe what it is with more accuracy, actually.

      Hope you have a good day! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  3. Patricia says:

    It’s a shame that such a simple concept should be so elusive for publishing houses- to accurately depict the main character on the cover of the book. And may I also add that this book looks a little like a romance novel cover?? (sans homme)

    I’d like to bring up another topic- the fad of placing pictures of teenagers on YA covers. I will be SOOOOO happy when we move beyond it. I applaud Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series and Scott Westerfield’s new book, Leviathan for not being cursed with a picture of a person on the front cover. I know they probably didn’t get much choice, but they are lucky to avoid it. (Yes Scott’s Uglies series didn’t avoid it, but the covers accurately portrayed the main characters and seemed to be at the forefront of the movement.) I find symbols and artwork far more interesting, because it lets the reader envision the main characters themselves. The only series where human pictures on the front cover worked for me was with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

    I think that publishers are getting way too comfortable with slapping covers (showing photos of the main characters) on YA books and calling it a day. They probably think- oh, those teenagers won’t care, and most likely won’t notice if skin tones don’t quite match. Think again.

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    • Hi Patricia!

      the cover of the Earth, my Butt and other BIG Round Things by Carolyn Mackler (Hardcover edition, one of my favorite books, really funny, and a cover I absolutely loved) instantly came to mind when you mentioned covers without a character on it.

      There is a science behind the design of book covers, of course, which I won’t pretend to know. ๐Ÿ˜€ What I’m convinced of is that publishers won’t harm (at least not willingly) their own books. They love their authors and they want everyone, including the reader, to be happy. Some would argue that a controversy can even be fabricated at times, just so that we talk about the book. Who knows what the truth is? We live in such a strange and complex world.:D

      Thanks for sharing and for the references you provided! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

      • Patricia says:

        Natalie- You are such a voice of reason. I agree that publishers want the best for their books, and I have NO clue as to the science behind selling.

        BUT, I do know the science as a buyer, and a darn good shopper (yes one of the best- don’t ever shop with me if you don’t want to buy;) and I would like to respectfully tell the publishers to move on from the photos, and while I’m on my soap box, to tell the television producers to move on from the reality shows. It’s twenty-ten folks, let’s get more creative!

        Like

  4. Laura Manivong says:

    Thank you, thank you! I am a white mother and a white author, but my family is filled with people of color: Asain and African. I want to speak out against whitewashing while also supporting authors like Jaclyn Dolamore and seeing that my children and those in my family can find themselves represented on book covers.

    Like

    • Hi Laura,

      I share your feeling: I’m blessed with relatives from all over the world as well (including Asian). ๐Ÿ™‚

      I totally support Magic Under Glass and Jaclyn Dolamore. You’ll notice that all that tremor got us talking about her book…

      Like

      • Laura Manivong says:

        Yep, the attention on Jackie’s efforts are well-deserved, but the controversy is not. I’m so happy this petition offers an alternative to those of us uncomfortable with the boycott. This discussion needs to be kept alive.

        Like

  5. Tina Lee says:

    I am in agreement with other comments, I like your rational take on this. I also don’t like the trend towards a photographed MC on the covers of books. Covers can be totally striking with out people as Hunger Games is! Or I love thinking about picture book covers and returning to more artists illustrating a book on the cover. I understand that there is a economics to it, that I can’t begin to understand but…

    Like

  6. Karen Strong says:

    Thanks for this post, Nathalie.

    Yes, I definitely feel for Jacyln, a debut author who probably had little if any say in the choice of the cover of her book.

    It’s not the book that’s the problem, but rather that decisions that publishers make as to what they think will “sell.” I’m confused about this bait and switch approach because if they do think that covers like this sell, what happens when the reader starts reading the story?

    I think we give our teen readers little credit for being open to a story about a character who may be from a different culture and/or race.

    But it’s discussions and actions such as these–that do not hurt or highlight the author–that can help drive attention and hopefully a solution to the years-long practice with covers.

    Like

  7. Cheryl says:

    Wow, this is a very thought provoking topic. I will admit I have little experience here (I have never really thought about it), so my eyes have been opened wide because of what I have just read. The color of the person on the cover, or the color of the characters in the book has NEVER persuaded me to either read, or not read. I could care less what color is portrayed, it is the content that sells. This is a senseless decision, based purely on economics, so it seems. If it goes deeper than economics, then that is the real shame.

    Like

  8. Hi, I’m not sure you receive the updates in your mailbox, so I post here as well:

    Bloomsbury just issued a statement on its website:
    Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.

    Link is here: http://www.bloomsburykids.com/books/catalog/magic_under_glass_hc_306

    Thank you all again for your support to Jaclyn and for carrying this issue the way you did!

    Like

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