Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reaching Readers: Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover


Back in the day when I was an awkward tween, complete with braces, glasses, and frizzy hair, I was very aware that some of my classmates looked a lot better than I did. Many of them dated the boys I crushed on, won “Best Looking” in the yearbook, or simply attracted attention by not doing anything at all. I used to wonder if some of those pretty people would still have all that attention if the rest of the world was blind. If nobody could see what others looked like, would that change how they thought of them?

I certainly remember dating guys simply because I thought they were cute, only later to find out that there wasn’t much substance underneath. Finding someone physically attractive, in general, is what draws us to them in the first place. The other stuff, we learn later.

As I got older, I realized that sometimes, the outside did match the inside. Sometimes, beautiful people were truly compassionate, kind, and thoughtful. Other times, they weren’t. And I found the same was true for the reverse. Sometimes, physically unattractive people were truly compassionate, kind, and thoughtful. Other times, they weren’t. And this is why we’re told not to judge a book by its cover.

But we still can’t help ourselves sometimes.

When Amy Hand, the brilliant children’s librarian at The Camden Public Library in Camden, Maine, offered to hold RUBY REINVENTED’s launch party there, of course I agreed! And when she suggested we hold a kid’s fashion show as part of the event, I nearly fainted with excitement.

What happened next surprised both of us.

I asked my daughter’s seventh grade class if they would like to participate in the event, and an equal number of boys and girls signed up to do the fashion show. These boys were just as enthusiastic as the girls, and when they strutted their stuff down the runway, they looked FAB-U-LOUS.


And then the next surprise hit.

All of those boys couldn’t wait to read the book. While I do like to think RUBY REINVENTED can be enjoyed by both boys and girls, the cover (which is absolutely gorgeous) is definitely marketed toward girls.

But the boys didn’t care. They saw past the outside and dove straight into the inside. I was thrilled to hear from all those boys a few weeks later. They loved the book. They stayed up late reading it. They wanted to know if there would be a sequel.

When I wrote RUBY, I didn’t write it thinking that girls would want to read it and boys wouldn’t. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. I just hoped kids would like the story, I hoped that they could relate to someone who didn’t know how she fit in. Hasn’t every kid everywhere wondered who they were, deep down inside?

I’m sure a big reason these particular boys read the book was because I wrote it, and they know me. Recently I was lucky enough to attend nErD Camp Northern New England, where I participated on a panel of how to reach readers “Beyond Books.” I asked the participants, most of whom were teachers and librarians, if they found that author visits increased excitement about reading. They all enthusiastically said yes.


When I do school visits, the boys are just as eager and energetic as the girls are, no matter what the cover of my book looks like. Nearly as many boys purchase my books during these visits as girls do, which is the way it should be. I like to think that all books are for all kids, and that gender doesn’t matter at all when it comes to a good story.

When we talk to kids about the inside of our books--the struggles with friendships, families, and figuring out where we belong--they are much more eager to read those books than if they were just browsing the bookstore and glancing at covers. Author visits, whether in-person or via Skype, is one way to do that. I’d love to hear other ways you help your kids not to judge a book by their covers!




6 comments:

  1. We are very aware of helping all readers read all books in my library, but MANY boys are reluctant to read books with girls on the cover. Try handing Vernon's Hamster Princess to a 7th grade boy-- even one who liked Dragonbreath. There's usually a nose wrinkle, and often the boys will physically back away from me! That's a social expectation that comes from home, and it isn't easily overcome. We'll be having our 7th annual Guys Read Pink in my school this February, and I'll be sure to tell my boys that there were boys who enjoyed Ruby Reinvented. This goes a long way in encouraging my reluctant readers to pick up something they normally wouldn't!

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    1. Thank you, Ms. Yingling! I often wonder if boys who have older sisters who are readers are more likely to pick up a book with a "girly" cover, since it's already in their house (but maybe they read it late at night under the covers with a flashlight so nobody can see)! ;) I can't wait to hear more about your Guys Read Pink project! Such a great idea.

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  2. I love the picture Ronni! My son was always reluctant to read books where there were no boys on the cover. I actually got him to read the LitTle House books with me by starting with Farmer Boy, which he loved, and then we went on to the rest of them and he became a lot more open to reading anything (I think he was around 8 then). Ms. Yingling is right - so often that comes from home and I over that he boys in Camden are going-ho for Ruby!

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    1. YES Wendy! Reading aloud is another great way to get someone who might not like the book's cover engaged in the book. I didn't even think of that one... thank you! Or how about making those paper bag book covers that we used to use in high school (I'm totally dating myself here) so the kids can't see the cover?!

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