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Part IV: Are All Book Covers Created Equal? Bank Street 6th-Graders Talk With Knopf Editors!

July 16, 2013

If you’re new to this series, check out Part I, Part II, and Part III.

When we shared our project with the good folks at Knopf, they promptly sent over Erin Clarke and Michelle Frey, editors extraordinaire, to chat with kids about the cover-making process.  Because they’re just that cool.  Here’s what the kids had to say:

“For a while, we’ve been talking about book covers and how they can be racist or how different covers correspond badly with the book itself.  I had a lot to say about these things, but it felt like I learned more when I was talking to the people that actually take part in the covers themselves.”

What did we learn about editors?

“I think that it was interesting that you were actually concerned about the stereotypes of the book cover world. I was expecting you to want the book to sell well and not care if the cover was stereotypical. I was really surprised that you were worried and fighting for that cause. It made me realize that not everyone in the business of literature is only invested in sales.”

“One message I got from the meeting is that they want to change the way that gender and race highly affect the sales.”

“When you said that you mainly thought of teachers and classrooms when you edited, I thought that was very good. It’s good because it means you won’t spend a lot of time thinking about making girls like it or boys like it.”

“I think it is good that both editors published multiple books with LGBTQ characters. I think that is good because when we went on a field trip to Barnes and Noble, I could not find a single one. And I feel like the more something happens, the more it will be accepted.”

“It surprised me that both of the editors had seen multiple books with gay or lesbian people in them because I’ve seen so little of that in book stores.”

“I liked how you were annoyed with the fact that there are always pretty girls on the covers.”

“When our class was interviewing the editors I found out what’s going on in the thought processes through their minds. I also liked how they were being honest and not just saying yes to all of our comments… One thing I liked during the visits is that they had a very welcoming attitude.  They didn’t have a moody look on their faces when we were criticizing them on their work and what their decisions were.”

What would we change about the publishing biz, if we could?

“I think that marketing  even more books with people that are Caucasian is not sending the right message to kids. There is not a certain way to be, but that is what the messages are sending. I liked that you said you were being careful about that when you edit books.”

“I think there should be more books about gay and lesbian people for middle school kids.”

“I also think there should be a mix of things in books like, boys and fashion. I mean it isn’t actually a “mix” because there are boys in the world who love fashion. And I think they need to be heard about… I think it is dangerous if we don’t have those kinds of books, because boys might think of themselves like they are different in a bad way.”

“When I see magazine covers and book covers with girls and boys on them, they always seem to have “perfect” bodies, which now people are using that term for. So it is very dangerous for people young, and older, because they probably think if they don’t have a body like that, then they are not perfect, or not good enough. And then when people are shown on the cover being overweight, it seems like a bad thing all over again, because they also exaggerate.”

“I think that you should suggest to authors that they should put a twist into their teen chapter books and instead of making it a love story about a girl who likes a boy, then the boy likes her back, then they break up. I know that so many teen books have this because we took a trip to Barnes & Noble and we looked at different types of books. We also looked for books about people of color. We only found two. So maybe you could encourage authors to write about people of color.”

“I really liked the book Wonder, but the way you did the cover kind of made me feel like you were trying to hide Auggie’s face. I understand that maybe the book wouldn’t sell as well if you had a picture of a little boy in Auggie’s condition on it, but I would still loved to see at least a picture on the inside back cover of the book of someone that looks like Auggie.”

 Please come back soon, Erin and Michelle!

“I thought that your jobs as editors sound very fun because you get to read books all of the time. I had a lot of fun meeting you and I hope I get to read more books that you edit.”

“Talking to you definitely increased my opinion of editors, thank you for coming, I really enjoyed your visit.”

“I was overjoyed to know that Michelle and Erin agreed with me in being frustrated that the same type of person is often represented on covers over and over again. It made me feel like my ideas were worth something, and that I can change a publisher’s point of view. I’m really glad that these editors came today and changed my idea of literature.”

Stay tuned for Part V, in which we’ll wrap up and reflect on this project–at least until next year!

Edit 7/29: The wrap-up, Part V, is now up.  We ruminate and reflect.

-Allie Jane Bruce

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