Judging a book by its cover

Recently I bought two books, and I bought these books purely on their covers. I did not read the blurbs or the reviews. I am a book cover junkie, I love a great book cover, and I personally think there are a lot of book cover junkies out there.

Working as a teacher-librarian, I hate it when a great book comes into the library but it has the worst cover, or it has a cover that I know will be off-putting to my students.  We live in a world where most of what we do is visual. Children and teenagers, in particular, are constantly bombarded with visual information. Books need to reflect this changing world. Yes, what is inside the book is ultimately the most important, but a cover can make or break a book. I know for a fact that some fantastic books have been overlooked by my students purely because they can’t relate to the cover or they don’t want to be seen reading a book because of its cover. We live in a judgmental world, and we may wish we didn’t, but we do.

The book cover is the first page of your book. It needs to grab the reader. In a sea of books, the cover is what a reader is drawn to first and then they will turn it over and read the blurb. If you walk into a bookstore, unless you are looking for a specific book, it is the cover that will make you pick up the book.

In my first year as a judge, I read a book that was great, but look at that cover! What is going on there? When it came in the mail with the other books that I had to read, I immediately picked it up and rolled my eyes and thought I am going to hate this book, but I didn’t, and the cover makes the book look like a light-weight read, and it isn’t. Tara Eglington has written a book about friendship that most of us can relate to and she wrote about friendship in all its messy and intricate glory but does the cover show that?? Teenage boys and girls would appreciate this book, but I am not sure it reached the audience it should have with this cover. We did make it a notable, but all the judges agreed that the cover didn’t reflect the book.

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Whether we like it or not, boys are more likely to be turned off by a girly cover. Books have arrived in the library that I know the boys will love, but the cover is pink or has a girl on the front, and I know it is going to take a hard sell from me to get the boys to borrow it. Sometimes I win the battle, but often I don’t, and it is frustrating because I know it is the boys who have lost the most by not reading the book.

Every boy I give this book to has loved it, but not one boy I know has picked this book up themselves and taken it home to read. The cover is just too girly. I wish we didn’t live in a world where boys felt intimidated to read a book with a girly cover, but we do. This is a great book, and it is a great cover, but it isn’t a cover that boys can relate to, and so they don’t read this excellent book which I know most boys would love. And by putting this cover on the front of a book, you have entirely alienated one half of your reading audience.

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Boys will read a book with a female protagonist, but boys are reluctant to pick up a book that looks too girly. Boys like their protagonists to be sharp, witty and kick-ass, and so they will enjoy a book with great female characters. Even though this book has a girl on the cover, she looks tough and straight-forward, and the colours used on the cover reflect her no-nonsense attitude. This is a book that isn’t alienating boys!

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Earlier in the year, we received The Shop at Hoopers Bend to be judged in the Older Reader category. We decided it needed to be moved to Younger Readers. The Shop at Hoopers Bend is a beautiful book, and I am pleased to see that it was short-listed in the Younger Reader category, but back to the cover! Yes, if you look closely, it reflects the magical quality of the book, not magic as in wizards and unicorns but magic as in everyday magic of coincidence, serendipity, love and friendship. To me, the cover is old-fashioned and boring. The Shop at Hoopers Bend is a beautiful and enthralling book that I am sure boys and girls would both love, but this cover isn’t doing it any favours. The cover isn’t terrible; it just needs a few tweaks to make it look more modern.

hoopers

I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. I am looking forward to reading the two books I bought recently, and I hope that they are as great as their covers. Yes, I have read books that have great covers but are terrible reads, but that’s another blog post! If you are curious, the two books that I bought are The Belles and Amelia Westlake.

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Tin Heart – Shivaun Plozza

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During a trip to Maleny recently we stopped at the local bookshop, and I bought a copy of Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza. My expectations for this book were high. I was a huge fan of Frankie. I remember reading it in my role as CBCA judge, and I immediately knew within a few pages that it was going to be a short-listed book. I was nervous about reading Tin Heart and can only imagine how Shivaun Plozza felt about writing and publishing ‘the difficult second book’. I was not to be disappointed, Tin Heart like Frankie is gritty, funny and moving.

One of the reasons that I loved Frankie so much was because she was a character that you both enjoyed and disliked. At times it was confusing to like Frankie because of her attitude and the choices she made, but deep down you knew that she didn’t mean to hurt anyone and there was no malice in her. Marlowe in Tin Heart is very similar to Frankie in this regard, but in every other way, they are different. When I talked to boys about the character of Frankie, I would say that she was the type of girl you should want to date or be best friends with and I also think Marlowe would make a great girlfriend/best-friend.

In her second novel, Tin Heart (Penguin), Shivaun Plozza tells the story of seventeen-year-old Marlowe who undergoes an organ transplant. Marlowe Jensen was The Dying Girl, and now she has a second chance at life, but Marlowe is finding it hard to move on with her new life when she now has someone else’s heart beating in her chest. She feels an overwhelming need to know more about her donor and so sets off on a quest to find her donor’s family, disregarding their request for no contact. Of course, Marlowe’s determination to get to know her donor and his family creates emotional chaos and sets in motion a chain of events that will impact on everyone around her.

Despite these strong themes, Tin Heart remains light-hearted and funny. It is gorgeously written and has a cast of engaging characters that will delight and charm you. There is Pip, Marlowe’s younger brother who likes dressing up in costumes but with a twist – gingham pinafore, red wig, combat boots and tiger-face paint (Jungle Anne of Green Gables, of course). Her mum, the vegan warrior who has just opened her dream vegan-organic-wellness store (Blissfully Aware) and who lives her life as vegan/mother warrior. Oh, and of course Blissfully Aware just happens to be next door to Bert’s quality butcher. Then there is Zan, the Chinese-Australian girl who is ‘the coolest of cool’. And Leo, the butcher’s son who Marlowe finds endearing and exasperating. Plozza has a gift for writing flawed but adorable characters that stay with you long after you finish the book.

Frankie was the novel that introduced us to Shivaun Plozza, and as readers, we quickly realise what immense talent she was, and Tin Heart only reinforces this and makes us understand that Plozza is a captivating voice in YA fiction and will continue to find a place in our hearts with her gorgeous books.

Tin Heart2 Continue reading Tin Heart – Shivaun Plozza