Art Interlude: Unfortunate Cover Art/ Good Story

In theory we all know the adage: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

And it’s true, of course.  But it doesn’t mean even tried and true readers don’t form immediate opinions based on what the cover reveals.  Today while browsing I ran across this:  13 Fantasy Novels that Are Good Despite Their Covers on   The author of the piece looks at several fantasy covers and remarks on what the covers convey versus what the stories actually are.

It struck me that I could do something similar with children’s fantasy and science fiction.    There are plenty of unfortunate children’s covers out there–some are pretty but give no real clue about the story the book contains.  And some are just  . . . well just poor covers.   So here’s my list for a today.  See if you agree.

The Star Shard by Frederic S. Durbin (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

What you expect:  A new-age elfin girl living in a starlit forest where very little happens. Oh, and she has a cat.

What you actually get: An orphan girl living in a huge traveling city full of dark magic and treachery who has to strike alliances and bargains in order to finally find her way to freedom.  It’s a great reading experience that’s got some vivid worldbuilding  and great visuals.  This bland girl-forest-cat cover doesn’t even fit with anything from the story.

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012)

What you expect: Some kind of grade school play gone horribly wrong where the boy is throwing birds while being set on fire.

What you get: A marvelous coming of age story  of magic and gears set in a unique fantasy  city.  Adventure fantasy that managed to be profound, powerful and vivid.

Eva by Peter Dickinson (Laurel Leaf, c1988)

What you expect: Eyes and a sunset on a tree . . . perhaps some kind of diary of a trek in the wilderness?  For some reason this makes me hum “I miss the rains down in Africa . . .”  It sure doesn’t say science fiction.

What you get:  Still one of the more startling science fiction novels out there.  A girl whose scientist father has saved her life by transferring her mind into the body of a chimpanzee.  It’s a stunning little book that says a lot about humanity , and  next to nothing about eyes and sunsets.

Devil on My Back by Monica Hughes (MacRae Books c1984)

What you expect:  Jungle girl saves a monk from drowning.  Something about devils? Oh and probably some steamy romance.

What you get:  Post apocalyptic middle grade science fiction about an oppressive society run entirely by a machine that maintains a rigorous caste system and controls the behavior of the citizens through implants.

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier (Knopf, 2011)

What you Expect: Big boring islands that float in the air above the water. A fantasy travelogue?

What you get: An imaginative fantasy of a boy who dreams of flying and his cousin who gets chosen to attend magic school despite the fact that she is a girl and must pretend to be a boy.  Both of them must stop a war and make hard choices in their lives.

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye (Puffin c1980)

What you expect:  A story about a dull, sickly and obviously ill-dressed princess who has a crown strangely floating over her head and looks like she’s never  walked on her own two feet.

What you get: A funny and charming fairy-tale turned on its head when a fairy gives a princess the gift of being ordinary and in so doing she winds up having a very extraordinary adventure that will delight fairy-tale fans of all ages.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, 2011)

What you expect: Modern fantasy that’s like  Twilight, but with more magic and maybe swords.  Audience left wondering exactly what it is she rides like a man.

What you get:  Third book in an awesome pseudo-medieval sword and sorcery adventure story about a girl who becomes a knight, then goes off to the distant desert kingdoms  to prove herself .   By the way the main character is described as short and stocky and can actually wield a sword.

What covers can you think of that don’t match the stories enclosed within?


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 24, 2013, in General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Oh! I despise the American cover for Earth Girl. In fact, I despise it so much I refuse to buy it and plan to pick up the UK version when I visit this summer. 🙂

  2. Hi, Stephanie–We met on the Gordan Korman line today at the BEA, and I found this Alanna cover post. You’re right that it is wrong on a dozen levels. Alanna’s wearing eyeliner!

    • Glad to see you stopped in! I’d like to say I don’t know what the publisher’s were thinking with this but sadly I think I do which is “hey let’s set this up to sell to the teen/tween market of girls who read Twilight. While I have no objection to getting more readers for this series–misleading covers is not the way to do it!

  3. Eeek! That cover for The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is horrendous! It is one of my all-time favourite series though, so I know that there’s a fantastic story lurking behind it though. However, had that been the first time I’d seen it I would never have picked it up. Such a shame they are trying to make everything look like some kind of seedy paranormal romance these days, those covers must put such a lot of people off!

    • That’s my worry, to be honest. I already know how awesome these books are, but a cover like this is actually deceptive in the worst way. Unless the idea is bait and switch–get the paranormal romance readers to crack it open and turn them into fantasy fans.

  1. Pingback: Art Interlude: Unfortunate Cover Art (Part II) | Views From the Tesseract

  2. Pingback: Art Interlude: Unfortunate Cover Art III | Views From the Tesseract

  3. Pingback: Flashback Friday: The Freedom Man danced out of the Ark, over the hills so shady, Into the light and out of the dark to be with his red-haired lady . . . | Views From the Tesseract

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