Bets continues the conversation at the School Library Journal Blog.
Most of the time authors have little or no say in reference to covers — while I had the pleasure with HAPPY FAMILIES in seeing a cover concept I worked on with the book designer come to life in the hands of professionals, this is rare indeed. We have zero control, and can only say, “Yes, we like!” or “No, I don’t…” and neither matters, if marketing has had their say.
I always wanted Lainey to be a little more rounded. I hoped that for the paperback cover, we’d have another shot at that. There are so many beautiful round and curvacious girls — surely that was not the worry, of not finding a teen model pretty enough for the traditional YA Female Half Face cover? Thinking about it, Flavor of the Week, by Tucker Shaw was the first book I read about a heavier boy — and the cover copped out and showed a chocolate dipped strawberry. Fat Boy Swim depicts a swimming pool and the top half of a swim-cap wearing, goggled face, and K.L. Going’s most excellent Fat Kid Rules the World shows us a muddy sketch with half of body and a bunch of drumming equipment. So far, we can say the word — about boys, at least. But we still can’t bear to look.
In Middle Grade fiction, I think the last book I saw with an overweight character on the cover was … Judy Blume’s Blubber… and really, her unattractiveness stemmed from the aggressively ugly covers of the 70’s. Even then, through a series of at least six covers that Dell and Scholastic used, before settling on a whale motif, Blubber is never depicted as truly heavy, thus confusing the reader into the thinking mean girl Jill and her fellow hectoring classmates are either blind or of limited intelligence.
Post-Blubber, there seems to be nothing in terms of well-adjusted curvy girls and big guys in cover art. If the character is larger sized and happy, they seem to be either slimmed down so that they can star on the cover, or something like a car, a mirror, an article of clothing or equipment, or a piece of food stands in for them.
We believe strongly that teens and young adults should be reflected in their literature. No, we do.
In YA and children’s lit, plus equals minus. Book designers can and will erase anyone outside of the dominant culture size “norm.” Please read Betsy’s piece and keep thinking about this. I believe it’s important.