Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tales from the Library: GOOD BOOKS WITH BAD COVERS?

A library patron who is the father of two boys asked me the other day for recommendations for “books with bad covers” for his seventh grader. Intrigued, I asked for the genesis of the request. The patron replied that his son recently had checked out several novels with “awesome” covers only to find out the stories told in the books were mediocre at best. It was essentially a life lesson focused on the adage that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

But this young patron decided to take it one step further. He figured that, if the books with great covers were poorly written, then perhaps he should instead be looking for “books with bad covers” in hopes they were well written. Now that I got the idea, I was able to recommend a couple of books – thrillers -- whose original, pedestrian covers utterly failed to convey the exciting plots within the covers. The publishers of both books ended up changing the covers to better reflect the page-turning plots, with the result that the books now fairly fly off the shelves of my library.

Here’s what I recommended for the young patron looking for “books with bad covers” (remember, you have to find the versions with the original covers if you want “bad covers”!):

  • Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. This is the first in the 10-book series about a teenage spy named Alex Rider. Horowitz, a highly-respected adult novelist in Great Britain, clearly had great fun developing the many spycraft gadgets used by Alex, such as a Geiger counter disguised as a Game Boy and a CD player that contains a lethal saw blade. Horowitz, the father of two sons, told me in an interview several years ago that he was quite unhappy with the original cover of “Stormbreaker” and was thrilled when Philomel, the publisher, agreed to commission a snazzier cover for the paperback edition, which now features a silver foil lightning bolt on a dark blue cover. Recently that “lightning bolt” cover has been supplanted by another one branding the book as part of the “Alex Rider” series, yet maintaining the snazzy look. The “Alex Rider” books are great for readers ages 10-14.

  • The Recruit
    by Robert Muchamore. This book is the first in the “Cherub” series about a group of teens who are trained to be spies for Britian’s MI5 spy agency. First discovered by my son when he was a teen, the “Cherub” books remain my go-to books for good but reluctant readers, especially boys. I’ve found that once a young patron tries “The Recruit,” they can’t put it down and are soon back in the library clamoring for the other titles in the series. In fact, I’ve had to order the more recent books from England -- where they are originally published before being re-published in the United States -- so that I could keep up with reader demand.  
    But the original British cover of “The Recruit,” featuring a running teen, is banal and undistinguished. Simon & Schuster, the U.S. publisher of the series, decided to totally re-do the cover, which now is an attention-grabbing scarlet with silver foil letters. The “Cherub” books are geared for a slightly older audience that the “Alex Rider” audience, so work best with ages 12 up.

  • Interested in the idea of “good books with bad covers”? Check out these entertaining blog posts about the subject of bad book covers:

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