Cover MattersJanuary 19th, 2010 at 21:38
It’s all kicking off again – many of you will remember the controversy over the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s US (Bloomsbury) Liar cover some months back, where the image of a white girl was chosen as the cover image for a book about a black girl. Justine herself spoke up about it, and the internet & media response was so (rightfully) fierce that the offending cover was replaced.
This time the book is written by a newbie author without Justine’s clout and support circle, and unlike Justine, she hasn’t said a word about it. The book is Magic under Glass, and once again the protagonist is dark-skinned, and the publisher – Bloomsbury, again – has chosen a cover depicting her as white.
This isn’t good enough. It really isn’t. Book covers are a form of advertising, yes, but that does not mean that moral choices should go out the window – especially when we are talking about products marketed at teenagers. There’s enough crap out there to make teenagers feel bad about themselves, without disguising the books for teens which do promote diversity in their text.
Deceitful book covers are never a good idea – whether it’s presenting a book as a fluffy chick lit when it’s actually a miserable ball of misery (thank you, Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing), misleading the prospective reader about genre (nothing worse than a publisher who is embarrassed about publishing science fiction), publishing the first book of a trilogy that deliberately withholds that kind of vital information on the cover, or publishing a book where the protagonist is pictured as a skinny white model when the whole point of the story is that she is not skinny, or white.
“Xxx does not sell” is not an excuse (and where are those statistics from the publishers who tried, anyway?). Covers don’t have to exactly represent the contents of a book, but they do have to accurately represent the book as a whole. At a time when teachers, parents and librarians are falling over themselves to find books that promote diversity, this is really not acceptable.
Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray was the first blogger I read who was talking about this. She followed up today with a very stirring post about responsibility, and the importance of this issue. Both posts include lots of links to other bloggers and authors with something to say about the whitewashing of book covers. Reading in Color has a very long, angry but reasonable post.
Ellen Datlow posted with information on how to contact Bloomsbury with a letter of concern.
UPDATE: Ari at Reading in Color has written an impassioned letter to Bloomsbury Childrens about what it means to her to see (and not see) people of colour on book covers.
UPDATE UPDATE: Kate Harding has covered the whole issue beautifully on Salon, including discussion of Ursula Le Guin’s struggles to get brown people on her covers. This is not a new issue!
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: A very important post by Justine, who talks about the importance of (in this instance) sticking to the subject of race and racism in the choice of cover art when discussing this matter, and trying not to let it get derailed by other issues.