Friday, July 24, 2009

Diversity Roll Call: On Gender and Misleading Covers

Gosh, where to even start? I had planned to address some gender issues that came up for me this week, but I don't want to overlook the important discussion that's been going on about cover art, specifically the cover art of an upcoming YA release. So, this will be a two-part Roll Call. With two weeks before the next topic, there's time to write a post for each part if you'd like (it's also fine not to). Just be sure to link to the exact post/s in the Mr. Linky so we don't miss one.

Topic A: The book cover that lies

Justine Larbaleister's upcoming release, Liar, is a psychological thriller set in New York City, told from the point of view of a compulsive liar. Larbaleister, the anglo-Australian author of How to Ditch Your Fairy and the Madness or Magic series, says that she makes it a point to feature non-white protagonists. The narrator of Liar, for example, "is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short." Here's the U.S. cover:


Publisher's Weekly addresses the mismatch between the character description and the cover art. So does Larbaleister herself. It's also well worth reading E. Lockhart's thoughts on the topic (she's the author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, among others) .

Two choices, if you choose this topic.

1) Use this week's Roll Call to post about this controversy. If you've already posted about it, please link to your post here.
2) Kathy from The Brain Lair inspired me when she Tweeted that she might have her students do this: Design your own cover for Liar.
Hey, you never know--the paperback may come out with a redesign!
Have fun with this. If there's another cover that grates at you for similar reasons, feel free to do your redesign on it. At right is the Australian version for inspiration.

Topic B: What We Ask of Boys

Some of us live in fairly homogenous communities, and some kids aren't exposed to a lot of diversity in their day-to-day lives. (All the more reason to include it in the books they read! But I digress). The one kind of diversity that nearly everyone is exposed to on a daily basis, and often within their own families, is gender diversity.

Librarian Diantha McBride wrote an open letter to publishers in School Library Journal, detailing several things she'd like to see changed in children's books. The most controversial statement she made was this:
I need more books for boys—as do most librarians who work with young people. I've noticed that lots of books with female characters aren't really about being female. In fact, in many cases, the main characters could just as easily have been males—and that would make my job a lot easier.
Of the many reactions to this throughout the blogosphere, Renay's sarcastic rant stood out for me:
"Why yes! Girls should have to read about boys because you know, they’re used to it, but boys shouldn’t have to pick up a book with a female narrator, because they might get cooties. . . . Boys need books with male narrators because they can’t see themselves in a female perspective, because they’ve been trained not to by a society that is hostile to women and girls. The answer is not to cater to this hostility, it is to come up with creative ways to make the books appealing."
Meanwhile, Mr. Chompchomp of Guys Lit Wire issued an apology of his own, for the fact that his recommendations for books for boys tend to bypass books with female leads, regardless of whether the premise/writing/style might have boy appeal. He remedies this with a list of books with female protagonists and boy appeal which I'll certainly be making use of for my boys.

Three choices, for this topic:

1. Talk about a book (or offer a list of books) that you think has appeal to both genders. Or, books with a female lead that would appeal to guys, or vice versa. It doesn't have to be a kids' book--choose whatever genre you'd like.
2. For authors: talk about gender in your writing--For example, what's your experience been with crossing over to the other side? Do you shy away from it? What do you think of the suggestion of switching a protagonist's gender for the sake of sales/boy appeal/gender equity?
3. Take a book that you love and change the protagonist's gender. How does this change the book's meaning? Would it hold the same place in your heart if the males were female and vice versa?

Post your link or links in the Mr. Linky below.

The C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call is a biweekly meme hosted by myself and Susan at Color Online. All are welcome! Join us once, twice, or every time--all we ask is that you link back to the original post, and be open to conversation with other participants.


  1. This sounds like a great idea! I'm definitely in!

  2. Thanks with giving us a choice, Ali. I am going with on gender.

  3. Great post. Growing up I never thought about reading books with a main character who is a boy and now as an adult I seem to only read books with female main character -- will work on changing this!

  4. Great post! I linked to it under things you can do on my Liar post. :)

  5. I have two posts about the Liar cover. Here's one:

    Also, books that would appeal to both sexes: 24 girls in 7 days and anything by John Green, and the Fearless series by Francine Pascal (The covers is misleading. It's full of action and chase scenes.)


  6. I recently read and reviewed a book that meets the category for books about boys.

    Surviving Chadwick by Phillip Wilhite.

    While the narrator is a male, I also think that teenage females would also enjoy this book.

  7. I agree about John Green--someone posted somewhere about this--though the books have boy appeal and male protagonists, the covers look like "girl books," when they could so easily be gender-neutral.

    Thanks for the other titles, Tashi and Beverly, these are all new to me so I look forward to taking a look at them.

    My husband was browsing for photos for a new Liar cover last night, he found some possibilities that I love.

  8. I just discovered this site; I have just linked to my post today about Book Covers and all that is between the covers.....thank you, I look forward to the ongoing dialogue.

  9. Hey, Ali! I have loved these posts for a while and I decided to participate starting this week! I hope you like my post.

  10. Excellent topics, Ali. I'll be back once I've done B!

  11. I wanted to do Topic B, but I felt I couldn't not do A. Didn't want people to stop by my blog and wonder why I opted to do B and not talk about the cover controversy Besides I had a few things to say about that anyway.

    Mr. Linky came back just in time.

  12. Argggggggggg! I had coding issues for well over an hour. My post is up. I'm off to read the links here.

    Great turnout on this one, Ali. Thanks.

  13. A little late, but I had to participate and just added m link. Great topic!