I’m reading a book about a boy. It’s a new paperback – I picked it up in Waterstones as part of a buy-one-get-one-half-price deal. I got up to page 6 and was tempted to throw the book across the room.
Why? Because the title says boy, the blurb says little boy and the cover shows a picture of a young (white Caucasian) boy. With all the references, I think it’s safe to assume that the cover is meant to depict the boy in question. But page 6, and the protagonist is pondering the ethnicity of the boy in question as he is so dark-skinned.
So why is our cover model white? Dark haired yes, and not white white. But clearly of Caucasian origin. Do the publishers think the book will sell more copies if the cover shows a white person? Does it matter? I think it does, yes. I read a lot of articles campaigning for more culturally-diverse fiction and I think it’s important – especially for children – to be able to read about characters ‘like’ themselves, to identify with them and maybe aspire to be like them. I’m not far enough into this book yet to know whether said boy’s ethnic origins are important to the story, but since it’s important enough to mention and important enough to wonder about, it ought to be important enough to find a child for the cover that at least looks the part.
I’m not saying that all book covers should replicate the story in minute detail. God knows I’ve seen enough bad covers where the author has insisted on having a dragon, a sword, a red-headed female warrior, a magical artefact and a wizard with stars on his cape (because that’s what the story is about, don’t you know?) – and the result is cluttered, amateur and frankly silly. A cover is meant to convey genre, give you a hint of the style of the book and entice you to read the blurb and then the opening paragraph. But since the cover of my book is just a boy, why on earth couldn’t it be a dark-skinned boy?
And now I've just looked on Amazon and it's a title-stuffer: A gripping psychological thriller full of twists you won't see coming ... No really, I will. Trust me on that one.