Inspired by something very exciting happening here at Hot Key HQ, I’ve been giving this whole children vs. adult edition of children’s books some thought. In reality it’s only the books with ‘crossover appeal’ that get separate children’s and adult editions. Unsurprisingly however, the covers handle these elements in very different ways depending on the target audience. Here are the covers for THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS:
While I really like both covers, and think each works well for the target audience the adult edition makes it patently obvious what the story and tone of the book are; you’re not going to expect to find a romance between those covers. On the other hand, the children’s one is familiar, with it’s classic look and simplicity, yet compared to the adult edition it doesn’t come close to hinting at the fact that this is a book about the holocaust. Is this a good thing? Or is it a bit too safe, even patronising towards
its young readers?
One of my favourite books, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, has been published in both adult and children’s editions for years because of its crossover appeal: beautiful writing, fantastic character depiction, some rather highbrow references and an incredibly acute way of resonating with everyone who reads it. Although it has become known as one of the classics of children’s literature, the original cover doesn’t make it clear whether it was intended for children or adults. The adult and children’s editions I am familiar with however, present the book in different ways.
For me the adult cover conveys the whole tone of the book almost flawlessly: it’s subtle, deceptively and effectively simple, yearning, and even a little awkward. It’s obvious when it was written and set, and that it is part of the ‘hot-water bottle’, vintage feeling type of literature. (The same can be said for the current adult edition). This children’s one on the other hand feels flat. To me all it says is ‘young girl falling in love’ – it could be the cover for any number of YA novels. Certainly, the book is a coming of age story and an illustration of the potency of first love, themes incredibly common to YA novels now, so I suppose the cover works from that perspective. However, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is so much more than a love story, not only read by teenage girls. Books like this speak to everyone in different ways and the covers should reflect that.
(On a side note to those of you who have read it, do I even need to say it?? Why have they put Rose on the cover?! It shouldn’t be Rose!) (I should add that this edition is out of print and the current children’s one is lovely).
I suppose it was with the whole Harry Potter phenomena that the adult edition of children’s books really took off, spurred on by reports of adults reading the brightly coloured books behind newspapers on their morning commute. The adult edition did away with the colour co-ordination that made looking at your complete set so satisfying, and the illustrations, which to me spoke of the adventure, energy and imagination each Harry Potter book contained. Instead Harry was rebranded in sleek black and white; no longer a boy wizard but a fantasy hero. Glance at an adult edition now and it could be yet another book in the GAME OF THRONES series.
It’s fair to say that adult editions are a reaction to the disparaging question ‘Why are you reading a children’s book?’ My initial reaction would be to hiss back through clenched teeth ‘What’s wrong with reading a children’s book?’ It makes me wonder whether people are embarrassed to be seen reading children’s literature, and how much of a shame that is because they’re missing out on a huge variety of brilliant books.
There are some books that simply resist being so easily categorized as ‘children’s’, ‘romance’ or ‘fantasy’. This may be down to the quality of writing, the themes that are focused on, or the issues that are dealt with. Whatever the reason there is something special about these books that make them transcend the ordinary, and reach into realms of the profound and universal. Adult editions are needed because they knock down the barriers of age-range or genre. They encourage a wider variety of people to pick up those books that are so wonderful, everyone can take something from them.
I’ll give the last word to our very own Sarah Odedina: ‘We are delighted to be publishing MAGGOT MOON for an adult audience. It is a wonderful book and like many other great works for young readers will appeal to an adult audience because of its subtle sophistication and brilliant story telling. Sally Gardner has written a book that really does have utterly universal appeal.’
I’m pleased to introduce our very own adult edition cover for Maggot Moon. Let us know what you think about this new look for Maggot Moon, and we’re curious to hear your thoughts on adult editions in general.