With Classic Styling

I am a grown up. You probably already knew that, but I felt it was important to lay down early because it's a tricky thing, writing a blog about books for children but being a grown up. I come face to face with my limitations all the time. I am not silly enough. I don't find farts as hilarious as I might. I have read many, many stories in my life, which is another way of saying that my capacity for awe and surprise is…diminished.

And not only do I have lacks, but I also have unhelpful qualities that children don't have. For instance, the ability to talk about taxes and real estate as though they were interesting. Also, I understand the appeal of the classics, in and of itself.

Which brings us to today's topic: if kids don't immediately understand the intrinsic appeal of classics, then why do publishers make the classics look like classics? Case in point, Treasure Island:

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Or this:

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Or maybe this:

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And that one's a graphic novel! And then there's this:

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And here's one that even has Jekyll and Hyde in it! But what does it look like? Like this:

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When we were talking about funny fighting pirate books a few weeks ago, one of the problems, according to a close associate of The Diamond in the Window, was that Treasure Island has, and I quote "Those awful 'this book's a classic' covers, so all kids avoid it and no one realizes that it's unbelievably trashy fun." Yes, of course this could be a "teaching moment" in which you could instruct your small, impressionable child that "you shouldn't judge a book by its cover." But the truth is, I'm not all that keen on teaching moments these days. Especially with boys, who seem to be slipping away from reading faster and faster, when there is so much for them there. And when a book looks like this, it doesn't help.

So how should it look? I don't know! Comics? Manga? I don't know what would work. I do know about this crazy site, which offers amazing re-imagined cover art. Maybe the more visually gifted can go over there and re-imagine these?

So here's an assignment for the world: What would make kids, especially boys, look beyond the word "classic," which should maybe be banned, and see the trashy fun inside? I don't mean being horrible pandering slop, I just mean true to what Stevenson wrote. What do you think?

4 thoughts on “With Classic Styling

  1. I love this post! I’d never thought about it, but you’re so right. (And thanks for the awesome link.) Because I’d never thought about it, and I’m not at all a graphic or arty type, I don’t have any good suggestions, but I loved having the gears set turning anyway.
    I did think–well, what would happen if you just tore the cover off? But honestly most copies would still have that dry, dull classic stigma, because even the paper, font, and other elements of the inside of a book can be equally revealing: those classic books usually have the same look inside as well. And then I thought, what about e-books? But I’ve bought classic e-books and they STILL have a “look” because they’re often yanked out of public domain and slapped into e-print on the cheap. I guess that’s probably a major reason for the classic “look”–it’s fast and inexpensive.
    It would be fabulous to see one of these books totally repackaged on the inside AND out.
    And funny, too, how we really do judge a book by its cover. I could go on even about the paper that different books are printed on–it can make such a difference.

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  2. Great topic! Here is my attempt to answer a thoughtful question: The cover should not look like a photo of an oil painting on canvas–that strike a kid a stale and uninteresting.
    With my older boy, animals are always of interest and boys on the cover are of interest. If you get an animal and a boy on the cover (think Henry and Ribsy, the Incredible Egg, and Akimbo and the Baboons), you’ve got a hit.

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  3. Comics. Manga. Both would make awesome covers. Better yet, why not have a lavishly illustrated version by some well-known manga artist? There are Shakespeare comic books out there that reproduce whole plays complete with all of his beautiful language using illustrations that make the whole thing come alive, why not other classics? I’ve never looked, so maybe they already exist, but personally, I would LOVE a comic-book version of Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. That would be extra wonderful.

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