I had an old ruler, a freebie from an advertising company. On its clear plastic length, it read
It’s the Eye that Buys
I can’t argue with that – even for books. But there’s more than immediate appeal,we also say that:
The Eyes are the Window to the Soul
Windows work both ways – what we see can speak directly to our inmost selves – and nowhere is that more important than through the eyes of children.
The books I read as a child are inseparable from their covers and illustrations. I cannot even think of Narnia without Pauline Baynes’ beautiful work, nor could The Phantom Tollbooth exist unless Jules Feiffer had drawn it. There are so many – Winnie-the-Pooh has to have E. H. Shepard’s delicate pencil work and the Green Knowe books weave their magic through Peter Boston’s artwork.
For our youngest, most precious readers, picture books are essential and formative. The banter between the picture and the words can be hilarious, or heart-warming, or comforting. In the best examples, the relationship of image to text gives a creative depth where a child can learn for themselves. This is one reason why I would plead for more illustration in MG, teen and YA books – and I’m solely a writer.
- appeal to the readers who will enjoy the story
- not deter readers who aren’t the usual suspects
- convey the genre accurately
- suggest the mood – comic, romantic, eerie
- give a hint of the writing style – easy to read, poetic, bold and dramatic…
- give clues to the emotional aspects of the book
- not look too old, or particularly, too young for its readership
Tall order, isn’t it? That’s why stock photography* just won’t do. It shuts down the readers’ imaginations. It funnels their expectations into a very narrow channel. I particularly loathe headshots of pretty thin white girls – especially in historical fiction (the costuming is always wrong). It excludes all other possibilities. And don’t get me started on white-washing, or pink.
Whereas creative artwork (*which can include photography) leaves space for the reader. It talks (or giggles) with them, rather than shouting at them in the manner of Cillit Bang!
It is entirely natural for humans to be very visual, and it is entirely reasonable for marketing departments to appeal to that. However, I’m making a plea for stepping away from the cheap, the lowest common denominator, the ‘we’d-better-do-that-cos-they-did’ in book design. Let the very first impression of any book for young people be one of quality.
They deserve nothing less – and they will be drawn to it.
Part Two next week: The Naming of Cats