The Duds

Before identifying duds, I feel I should acknowledge that this is just one person’s opinion. One thing I’ve learned from years of reading book reviews, and several attendances at YALSA’s Best Books deliberation – the times when actual teenagers attend and give their opinions – is that all of this is so subjective it may be pointless to identify the best and worst. I offer up my picks merely as fodder for discussion. In advance, apologies to anyone who disagrees and feels insulted by my choices. No insult is intended.

1. Don’t Call Me Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer (Greenwillow)

Ishmael 1
A chartreuse whale with a hook on top and a green spring?? What the HELL is this? This is a really ugly shape that sort of looks whalish – and is backed up by a reference to a book no teen wants to read. I can’t even imagine what the publisher was thinking. I would like to know, though, if someone out there was on the inside.
The color is attractive, but I just do not see kids being drawn to this big green blob with a title that calls up a classic many kids have shoved down their throats in school or summer reading.
I think it’s really a shame because this sounds like an excellent read, and a good book for booklists on bullying.
The author is Australian, and the book was first published there by Omnibus in 2006 with this cover (I think – but it does say Scholastic on it) ,
Ishmael 2
which is somewhat ordinary, but I’d rather pick this one up than the one with the Greenwillow cover.
It may very well be that once you read the book you have a perfect understanding of the pea-green springed whale. But it offers little to draw teens in in the first place. I’d like to see this one debated by the target audience…

2. What I Meant by Marie Lamba (Random House)

What I Meant
An unpleasing shape, poorly drawn, on lots of white space with 1950’s font choices. I can’t wait for the paperback because this is another book that sounds good and seems to fit nicely into library multicultural collection development. Nothing here gives me the slightest clue that this is about an Indian American family. That would be fine if that wasn’t a focus of the story, but it sounds like it is.

3. Ferret Island by Richard W. Jennings (Walter Lorraine/Houghton)

Ferret Island
I was going to say that this muddy, impressionistic beach painting is too abstract to interest teens – then I read the Booklist review and it says “The impressionistic cover painting won’t draw any readers…” so I am assured that I am not the only one who believes it. If I think it, and the Booklist reviewer thinks it, what was said at the publisher’s discussion when this cover was proposed? Another quote from Booklist “a gang of vicious, sheep-size ferrets” – well hey! Not that I believe in sensationalist book covers, but… if a teen has a choice between this and a book with “vicious, sheep-size ferrets” on it, um… which one is he going to pick up?? A reading through other reviews leads me to believe there’s lots of fodder here for a cover that doesn’t look like a painting in an art gallery. Let’s hope they do better with the paperback.

There are others. But I’m going to end it here, because I feel considerably worse about pointing out the unsuccessful covers than I do about the successful ones.

Don’t Call Me Ishmael: Fourteen-year-old Ishmael Leseur is certain that his name is the cause of his unhappy school life as the victim of the worst bully in his class, but when a new boy arrives, he shows Ishmael that things could be different. (Age 14+) Jacket art by Robert J. Beyers II. Jacket design by Sylvie Le Floc’h.
What I Meant: Having to share her home with her demanding and devious aunt from India makes it all the more difficult for fifteen-year-old Sang to deal with such things as her parents thinking she is too young to date, getting less than perfect grades, and being shut out by her long-time best friend. (Ages 12+)  Jacket illustration by Cindy Revell. Jacket design by Nicole de las Heras.
Ferret Island: Stranded on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, fourteen-year-old Will Finn discovers a race of giant ferrets and a reclusive author who plans to use the animals in a plot against McDonald’s. (Ages 8-12) Jacket photo: Digital Vision/Getty Images. Jacket design: Kathy Black.

3 Responses to “The Duds”

  1. What I Meant is cute. Give it a try!

  2. teenbookreview Says:

    What I Meant is good, but don’t wait for the paperback because last I heard, there wasn’t going to be one. The planned paperback and already-written sequel were cancelled.

  3. It’s sad but some of my favorite books, like King Dork, have pretty uninspiring covers. I was so happy with the new Dairy Queen cover because the original cow with a tiara really didn’t capture the book or make anyone want to read it (including me).

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