01 September 2006

Cover Art of Rin

In 2001, HarperCollins published Rowan of Rin, by Australian Emily Rodda. The hardcover jacket art shows young Rowan looking trepidaciously at a magical map that only he can read. Why is he feeling anxious? It's not clear from his gaze, though close examination shows a looming mountain and dragon-shaped cloud behind him.

The jackets for the next three in the series followed suit, showing young Rowan in the foreground, usually looking a bit nervous or under threat. Only Rowan and the Travelers showed a cocky boy. (The first paperback edition of Rowan of Rin had different art, also emphasizing the young title character.)

In 2004, Harper reissued Rowan of Rin in paperback as part of a series given that name. The book now has quite different cover art, showing the frosty dragon at the end of the quest. Rowan himself has disappeared. The other new paperback reprints also emphasize monsters as sensationally as a Marvel comic book from 1960.

(The hardcover jacket for the series's fifth title takes the same approach but sneaks Rowan, now an adolescent with locks of hair falling rakishly down his face, into an inset.)

On the Child_Lit list, New Mexico librarian and college instructor Linnea Hendrickson recently wrote:

We had the first Rowan title on our Battle of the Books list, but I had a hard time getting kids to check it out. When I'd show them the cover with a sweet, baby-faced Rowan on the cover, they'd decline, even after they had expressed an interest when I gave them a brief synopsis of the story. . . . Then, I saw the new paperback editions of those books, with marvelous dragons and monsters on the covers. I shamelessly downloaded and copied covers...over the old ones, on both paperback and hardcover copies, and put up an 8x11 picture of one cover over the new books display. Suddenly, these books were so hot!

Of course, the original, "baby-faced" cover art reflects the first book exactly. Rowan is a fearful boy, forced to go on a dangerous quest for the sake of his village. Over the course of the (somewhat programmatic) adventure, he reveals and then realizes that he has a backbone of steel. That's what makes Rowan of Rin special. Lots of fantasy adventures have dragons; only a few have a hero so dubious about his own capabilities.

But young fantasy readers apparently don't want to know they're reading a book about a rabbity little boy facing up to monsters. They prefer to see the monsters.

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