Monday, March 6, 2017

MMGM: Trina Schart Hyman Covers

Due to technical difficulties, Shannon Messenger will not be posting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday today. In lieu of a middle grade book review, I thought I'd highlight some of the MG I've been reading (or rather re-reading) lately.

It has often been said, "don't judge a book by its cover," but of course we always do. In fact, it is a designer's job to make a cover that sells the book. When I toured Penguin-Putnam a while back, we discussed at length the changes that sometimes happen because a member of the marketing team is unhappy with the cover (someone who often hasn't read the book, by the way.) Please don't misunderstand. I am grateful for those marketing teams. They live to drive sales of our books and their job is on the line if they aren't successful. They play their part in keeping the publisher in business. If publishers go out of business, writers, readers, and illustrators suffer. That said, here are some books whose covers did their job.

A Well-Timed Enchantment, 1982
by Vivian Vande Velde,
Cover by Trina Schart Hyman
My first Vivian Vande Velde book was A Hidden Magic, and it remains a favorite. So when I found A Well-Timed Enchantment at a book warehouse around 1988, it was a must-have. The only thing I remembered about it? I wasn't crazy about the ending. On rereading, I noted the dedication:
To Elizabeth (even if you don't like the ending)

That didn't bode well. The story follows Deanna as she vacations with her mother in the French countryside. It isn't long before Deanna and a neighborhood cat end up enchanted by fairies back in medieval France on a desperate quest.  The humor borders on the ridiculous. Horn Book calls it "slapstick." But what bothered me this second time through (and thirty years later) was the helpless heroine. Deanna takes charge of her situation, but she spends a lot of time getting interrupted, shoved around, and thwarted...not very heroic.

It's okay for the main character to lose control of the situation, especially in a comedy where the frustrating results can be hilarious. Unfortunately, as a reader I mostly just felt annoyed that Deanna didn't walk away from these buffoons and get on with her quest. In Lemony Snicket's The Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaires are surrounded by idiots, but they persevere in stoic resignation. In Lloyd Alexander's The Cat Who Wished to Be A Man, Lionel is so na├»ve, and nearly everyone else so ridiculous, that he blunders through his adventure accidentally setting things right. The whole thing is comic genius. But in Well-Timed Enchantment, I just felt frustrated instead. It's still worth reading, but I'm not sure if I'll be taking Robertson Davies's advice on this one.

Cover photo of my Ex libris copy of
Seven Spells to Farewell, 1982
by Betty Baker
Cover illustration by Trina Schart Hyman

Seven Spells to Farewell, by Betty Baker was one of the first books I bought on eBay in the early 90s, I think. How delightful when I realized I could search for those titles that were impossible to find, and actually get my hands on them! The story follows scullery maid Dru who dreams of attending the sorcerer's academy in faraway Farewell. She joins a travelling caravan which includes a talking raven and a mathematical pig. I remembered loving this book and on rereading last month, fell in love all over again. The novel does have some problems. The plot tends to run too smoothly, for one. That is not to say the characters' quest is without incident, but each time the troupe comes up against an obstacle, they take the steps necessary to solve it...and generally do. The main character in this book is more modern: not a helpless damsel battered by uncontrollable circumstances, but a doer determined to shape her fate. The dialogue was a bit bland, but the world-building was pleasant and the characters endearing. An enjoyable bit of magical realism, if you can find it.

Wishes, Kisses, and Pigs,
by Betsy Gould Hearne
Cover by Trina Schart Hyman

You can see my MMGM review of  Betsy Gould Hearne's Wishes, Kisses, and Pigs on the post from February 6, 2017. If anything, I liked this one better the second time around. I originally picked up a copy through my son's Scholastic Book flyer in 2001. He was too young for it then, but I relived the joy of opening a book club brochure and discovering treasure. I read it in one big gul, as I recall, and felt some disappointment. I can't imagine why. I found this little hundred-or-so pages delightfully quirky. A bit like Brave, now that I think about it.

See the pattern emerging here?

Trina Schart Hyman

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I am addicted to the art of Trina Schart Hyman. I own dozens of her books and am not above buying a book I've never heard of because Trina illustrated the cover. When she passed away in 2004, I took the loss personally. Her art has that effect on people. Though there will never be more of her art, she left us a rich legacy that I've spent almost forty years plumbing. Each of these titles comes from my collection.

I hope you have fun discovering her work, letting these and other book covers entice you to places unknown.

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