In the 1950′s in the French Quarter in New Orleans, 17-year-old Josie’s prostitute mother ensnares Josie who is desperate for a college education and a life outside the Quarter (14-17).
Our young reviewer says:
This book shows an interesting concept of family- it’s not blood only. It’s who raised you, raised you most. The character may not notice she is changed but we notice she’s more self-aware – ready for the world outside of New Orleans.
- Olivia, Age 14 (Bronx, New York)
Now I will try and buy books that are different from the usual ones, and as Betsy said, tell people that those books are good too, with my money.
April 2nd, we were lucky enough to host Betsy Bird for a conversation with 6th-graders about book covers. Betsy, of Fuse #8 notoriety, covered topics like race, gender, photographs vs. drawings, and deception in covers. How did the kids feel? I think they liked her. Here are some quotes from them:
It makes a lot of sense that they would try to make covers that appeal to both boys and girls because otherwise it is taking out half of the possible readers. Now it makes more sense to me why Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter are such big hits.
I thought that many of the things she said about people thinking a girl will not like this book because so and so or a boy will not read this because it is pink, were kind of ridiculous because much of that is not true.
Teen books should have a bigger variety of covers. Most of them have the same flowy dress with a skinny girl that is usually white.
I was not impressed with the covers that were supposed to have an African-American character (if there was one in the book) but didn’t show the main character of the story! Now I know which books to look out for!
Now, I will make sure to buy anti-racist and non-offensive books.
A cover that I hate though, is N.E.R.D.S. It is the most stereotypical cover ever! All the people on the cover have braces, glasses, and computers.
I was horrified that they would make covers with stereotypes for books that had no stereotypes in them and maybe were even against stereotypes.
We also talked about how books and book covers could be dangerous to some people, as they could hurt them or make them feel bad. I want to try to pay more attention to the cover.
On Photos vs. Drawings…
It seemed strange that people think putting photos on the covers of books makes them more likely for people to pick up. When I look for a book I think about the cover, but putting a photo on the cover does not make it any more likely for me to pick that book up.
If there’s a person on it, I think “please don’t show the face!”
Betsy said that a longer time ago book covers usually had a scene from the book. Nowadays, it is usually a photograph, and it doesn’t have as much relevance to the plot.
On Misleading Covers…
I was surprised to see all the tricks of the covers. I know now–like really–not to judge a book by its cover.
In the future I will not look at the cover to judge the book. It may have nothing to do with the book itself. I will read the blurb and maybe the reviews online.
Betsy Bird was amazing! She knew so much about books, advertised them very well, and she was hilarious. When she was talking about the books, she made every single one sound amazing. At the end I wanted to read all the books she talked about. Betsy also kept making hilarious-sarcastic comments that made me cry. Plus she always spoke her mind.
I thought that Betsy’s job was really interesting! It is so cool that she buys and decides what books to put in the libraries around New York!
When Betsy Bird came to Bank Street today it changed the way I thought about the influence of book covers and why we read what we read.
It was also very convenient that it should happen at this time, because I was almost out of books to read, and now I have a list of ones that I want to read.
-Allie Jane Bruce
Part III: Are All Book Covers Created Equal? Bank Street 6th-Graders Visit a Certain Bookstore Chain
What happens when you take a group of smart, compassionate, and insightful 6th-graders to a giant bookstore chain and ask for their thoughts? Read on.
“It was sickening to look at all the stereotypes, the assumptions.”
Thoughts on the section for young kids:
“In the picture book section, I noticed that everything seemed ‘color coded.’ It was clear which books were for girls and which books were for boys. The books were either pink and purple or blue and black. I also noticed that there were no truck-themed books with female characters and no fairy books with male characters.”
“Most of the covers had one gender. There were boys or girls, not both.”
“I know that kids’ minds aren’t developed enough to understand these issues, but as they grow up, I hope they realize how serious this issue really is. People have the right to like any color they want and be anything they want to be.”
“I think that once the people who buy books realize that boys can bake and girls can fight dragons, authors will start making more books like that.”
Thoughts on the section for middle-grade readers:
“ ’Girl books’ are mostly about friendships or animals, or two best friends go to the animal shelter and save all the puppies.”
“On most of the covers it was really obvious whether they were trying to sell to boys or girls… Even some of the titles made it very obvious, ex: “Just for Girls” “Stories for Girls” “Just for Boys” etc. I know some girls who will want to read “just for boys” books, because maybe they like sports, or aliens, or trucks. But they will not want to read that book, because it says “just for boys.”
“In the chapter book section, I saw that most of the books that had non-Caucasian characters didn’t have that character on the cover.”
“Society is almost afraid of putting a dark-skinned or Asian character on the cover of a book. I feel like these are minor forms of segregation.”
Thoughts on the teen section:
“The teen section was even worse. About half of the books had a name like ‘Sisterhood’ and a subtitle like ‘What secrets shouldn’t we keep?’. They all had covers with two girls glaring away from each other. The other half of the books featured a powerful looking guy and a desperate looking girl that were clearly ‘in love.’ “
“I was disgusted that the authors didn’t seem to realize that not every girl is having problems that she needs her boyfriend to solve.”
” I think I was on the girls side of the bookshelf, but even so, that just shows that Barnes and Noble separates their books by gender.”
“Most girls’ number one priority is not their appearance.”
“I saw all skinny people on the covers which gives the message to teens that they need to be skinny. Also I saw very few books with about diverse sexual orientations or races besides caucasian… Most of the books were about relationships, marketing the message that you should have a boyfriend or else you’re unpopular.”
“On the covers, I saw thin, pretty girls. I didn’t see any overweight girls or anyone with acne. I think that these covers shape an idea of perfect in a girls mind, and makes them want to be like that, even though everyone was born perfect.”
“I didn’t see a book with a biracial main character. I think that they just don’t want to go in to race at a young age… really for the teenager section, it is not fair in any way.”
”When I went to the teenager section, I wasn’t surprised. On every book cover where you could see the person’s face, they were VERY serious. Every cover with boys and girls, and boyfriends, and girlfriends, were almost always white. Or you couldn’t see their faces because they were kissing. Also, basically all of the teenager books were about drama, love, seriousness, etc. But something else I saw they had was, suicide. And I don’t really like that, because I’ll admit, sometimes I get scared. Also a lot of the books were about getting angry and getting revenge. Or even turning on your friends, or getting depressed.”
“All the teen books showed girls as if they always had problems that they needed a guys help with in order to solve. None of them were in a powerful stance or position and all the blurbs talked about the impossible problems that the girls are having with boys and friends and their parents and school work.”
“The books were all predictable, with endings that you could tell by hearing the title.”
“The next section we looked at was the teen section. All this section had was romance, love stories, depressing stories, stories about suicide, etc…”
In Part IV, we host two awesome editors at Bank Street and are pleasantly surprised to find that they share many of our concerns and are invested in changing things.
-Allie Jane Bruce
The votes are in and we are very pleased to announce that the winner of this year’s Irma Black Award is Big Mean Mike, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Scott Magoon. Congratulations to Michelle and Scott! More than 7,500 first and second graders around the world voted and Big Mean Mike was their clear favorite.
And Congratulations to the fantastic Irma Black Honor books!
In our second annual competition for The Cook Prize for best STEM picture book, we are very pleased to announce that the winner (as voted on by more than 2,000 students) is How Many Jelly Beans? written by Andrea Menotti and illustrated by Yancey Labat. Congratulations Andrea and Yancey!
Last year, 619 third and fourth grade students participated in The Cook Prize voting. This year that number jumped to more than 2,000.
Congratulations also to our four great Honor books, which will each receive a silver seal.
Many thanks to all our participating schools! And congratulations to all of the authors and illustrators.