Sunday September 9, 2012
As long as they’re read again ...
Tots to Teens
By DAPHNE LEE
PUBLISHERS, as you might have noticed, are always publishing new editions of old books (classics?). It’s a way of getting their backlists noticed – it attracts faithful fans, as well as new readers, and even those who buy books just for their covers.
When Penguin got Kazuko Nomoto to illustrate Jane Austen’s books for their Penguin Red Classics range, I bought the whole set. They remain my favourite covers for Austen (one of my favourite authors) and I’m still looking for the perfect hardback (with jacket) of Persuasion, the Austen title I love best.
I admit I am frequently tempted by new covers and I can imagine how an attractive cover might draw a reader to a book she’s never noticed before, or how it might beguile a reader into buying a book that she would not have purchased otherwise.
I also know that people buy books they already own just for their new covers – when I bought the Nomoto Austens, I already owned two full sets of the six books.
And I bought new copies of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy when they were illustrated by Eric Robinson for Yearling – just because I disliked my Del Rey editions with their futuristic-looking depictions of Lyra and Will.
Recently, the 70th anniversary of The Famous Five resulted in new covers (illustrated by famous illustrators like Oliver Jeffers, Quentin Blake and Helen Oxenbury) for the first five books in the series and, while I didn’t like all the illustrations, I wanted the books anyway ... because I’m a Famous Five fan.
Now Vintage has launched a Children’s Classics series that features (as described on the website) “illustrations, maps, ‘backstory’ content” and is “beautifully designed throughout”.
Well ... I don’t have much of an eye for design, but as far as cover illustrations go, I think some of the books are really quite ugly. For instance, the cover for Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland features an Alice who looks like she might be a Korean girl band reject (owing to botched reconstructive facial surgery), while Katy Carr, on the cover of What Katy Did, looks a fright and makes me think of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, a fictional character I particularly detest.
Some of the illustrations look like the work of amateurs. I feel the Nesbit titles (The Railway Children and Five Children And It) look like they could have been knocked off by any fifth former who’s signed up to take Art for SPM, and the colours and textures in the cover for Treasure Island seem influenced by Andy Warhol’s pop art posters (I’m not a fan).
There are, however, a few attractive covers in the mix. I do think the two Arthur Ransome titles (Swallows & Amazons and Swallowdale) are a great improvement on the Red Fox editions a few years back.
I also like the dramatic red cover for Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword, and the grinning wolves against the stark white background on the cover of Joan Aiken’s The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase.
Covers aside, I think the books have been packaged to add value for money and with the aim to appeal to teachers and parents. Hence the “backstory” content, which includes author biographies, quizzes, activity guides and fact sheets.
Ah well, if it gets books bought and read, why not? I’m looking forward to seeing what they think of next, and, as always, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for that perfect hardback copy of Persuasion.
By the way, I’ve just been told that this column turned 10 a couple of days ago, on Sept 7. Blimey! I can’t believe it’s been that long. Well, Happy 10th Anniversary to Tots to Teens. May we have another 10 years of good books to share and talk about.
> Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to email@example.com and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.