Jacket Knack's Julie Larios...
Julie Larios maintains Jacket Knack along with co-blogger Carol Brendler (a writer with an MFA from Vermont College) . The pair offer weekly posts focusing on children's books cover art.
Why did you decide to start a blog focusing on cover art? How long have you been blogging?
Actually, Carol approached me and asked me if I'd be interested in starting a blog with her about the cover art of children's books. I'm not quite sure why she asked me—she had probably heard me going on and on about Chip Kidd , a designer of book covers for adults—but I'm so glad she did. In college I originally wanted to be a graphic designer, and I link three or four graphic design websites to my personal blog.
Tell me a little about your background in regards to the children's book world.
My mother read to my sister and brother and me all the way through our elementary school years. That's where an involvement with kids books really begins—being read to as a child. When my own kids were little, I read to them, and I took a job at a bookstore. Eventually, I became the head buyer for a large children's book department in Seattle. Doing that every day—talking with reps about new books, judging all those books by their covers (!) as I ordered them (along with a quick pitch from the rep about author and plot), handing people books and watching their reactions—that got me completely hooked. I've written four books of poetry for children, and I teach on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA-Writing for Children and Young Adults program, which I recommend to all people who are serious about learning how to write for children. I also write poetry for adults, so I straddle the fence and look both ways in terms of my writing interests.
In the world of adult poetry, the community can be a little competitive, a little nuts (some of the craziness I love) and a lot hermetic. Luckily, the world of children's books is filled with generous, full-hearted people who love nothing more than building community, so I get to experience both the mysteriously introverted and the warmly extroverted extremes and everything in between. It's glorious.
Not too long ago, I started my own blog, The Drift Record and it straddles the same fence—not all Kidlitosphere, but not all adult. I go where the drifting takes me.
How often do you post and what kinds of things do you cover in regards to covers?
I post on Jacket Knack every other Monday, alternating with Carol. One of those two posts of mine each month is called “Tapjacketing”—filled with links to websites I've enjoyed over the previous month which I want to share with readers (and Carol sometimes sends me suggestions for sites she's seen, too.) I'm interested in the collaborative nature of book jackets—the behind-the-scenes decisions of art designers, editors, illustrators and marketing people who are all working together (I think) to come up with a cover that readers can't resist, so interviews with people in the business are important.
I'm also interested in patterns—having been a bookseller for a long time, I notice odd patterns and trends—one season it's photos of feet, another season, it's the backs of people's heads, another season, blue is the de rigueur color, then suddenly everything is black with white, or everything is done montage. Very strange. What generates these waves?
I'm curious, so I think of the blog as a little journey of exploration. What I'm looking for is perfection—everything working together to get a book into the hands of the child who will love it.
If you had to choose, could you tell me your top three favorite children's book jackets (and a little on why you love them).
Top three book covers. Oh, gosh—the minute I hear a number, I want to double it. Let's see…
#1) One I'd have to choose is the hardcover edition of M.T. Anderson's novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party illustrated by Gerard DuBois. The need to keep Octavian's identity a secret was an important design factor—and the solution (the mask) is just horrifying. You don't know what you're looking at—is it human? And of course, that question is the central question of the book. Brilliant cover, though the award stickers diminish the impact of the illustration, and the paperback version takes away the dark background (such a mistake—it's the darkness that draws us in).
#2) Carol wrote recently on Jacket Knack about title-less book jackets—and it made me think of the first time I saw the startling full spread cover of Puss in Boots, illustrated by Fred Marcellino. Whoever made the decision to keep all the text off that cover was a genius. The book just begs to be picked up—Puss is all-cat, all-the-way, he shines from within, you see that cover, you want that book.
#3) There's one cover that I think no one else in the world would put on a list—it's from a 1938 "adaptation for children" of the adult novel Lorna Doone, written by Richard Blackmore. But I fell into this book so hard when I was eleven or twelve, it's a miracle I ever climbed back out. The cover design and interior illustrations were done by the great graphic artist Alexander Key, who later turned to writing and produced Escape to Witch Mountain. The only photo of the particular edition of Lorna Doone I love so much, which is a woodcut showing two men on horseback, galloping at each other their swords drawn, the moon shining, oh, such DRAMA!!—is very small: and I'm not sure you can get a sense of its impact. Using black-and-white woodcuts adds immediate drama, it's built in to the technique itself, due to the contrast between negative and positive space.
Once and for all, can you judge a book my its cover?
Well, covers are made to sell books, and when the bottom line is profit, you can't ever quite trust the process. So no, you can't judge a book by its cover alone. But a good designer can get you awfully close to judging well. Good cover art conveys tone, timbre, subtext, audience, mood—a good cover gives the book's readers lots of clues.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009