I read Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner this week. When I went looking for a cover image for What Are You Reading? Wednesday (which I didn’t even use…) I found that there was more than one cover. I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me so much, but I loved the hardback cover (pictured, left) so much that it didn’t even occur to me that it would get a major redesign.
This is the cover I saw when I was browsing for something new to read, and it pulled me right in. It promised some good, clean middle grade fun. There was some intrigue in there and I liked scruffy looking Princess Charlie right away. In fact, her frizzy hair and the look on her face sold the book to me. I thought, “this is a girl I would love to read about,” and I was right. I just adore Princess Charlie, but more on that another time.
The first cover image I found was this one. I still liked the first cover better, because of Charlie and the more imaginative use of type, but this one still told me what I was getting into. The story was actually a little darker than I expected, so I liked that about this cover; the silhouetted castle is imposing and the lights burning inside make it kinda creepy. The kind of castle, which I can’t name but have seen before in movies, helps set a time for this story. Because it’s set in a world similar to but not exactly the same as ours, I had a hard time figuring out when this book took place.
So I asked Ellen Renner about it on Twitter, of course.
… but let’s be honest, how many readers are going to do that?
(I love talking to authors on Twitter. Let me save that for another post, too.)
What I didn’t like so much about this cover is that it obscured Charlie (and Tobias) from view. Their silhouettes could be running from (or to!) anything, and maybe they’re skipping? It’s hard to tell. I just loved Charlie in the first cover so much that I read a whole book about her; I’m not sure I would have picked up this edition because you can’t see her, not really.
Which brings me to the paperback.
What is with this cover? I mean, really. This isn’t the Charlie that I read about at all. This is not a book I would have picked up to read for myself and it’s not a book that I would be just dying to get into my library to share with my students.
This looks like a paranormal romance YA novel. I don’t want to knock paranormal, romance, YA or paranormal romance YA, but that’s not what this book is about. It looks like this teenaged princess just escaped another boring soiree and she’s just about to find out about her vampire hunter bloodline or something – not an eleven-year-old girl getting in over her head in political scheming trying to find her missing mother.
Despite my background in graphic design (true story), I never really noticed book covers before I became a librarian. I picked up on some stuff, sure: I bought The Divide because of the cool way the cover opened and I collect different editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from around the world.
… but that was all just personal interest. I never thought (consciously, anyway) about what covers mean. I could “sell” the first two covers of Castle of Shadows to my students, but the last one would be a tough “sell” to the boys and even to a lot of the girls who I think would really love this story because it doesn’t feel like the book inside.
Sure, that last cover is trying to sell the book, but not to the audience that I serve in my job as a librarian.