Photos Preferred Over Drawings

This short GalleyCat piece on classic kids’ book repackaging ends with a quote I found thought-provoking:

A Wrinkle in Time cover

Allison Edheimer, 9, wants the photo version of the Little House series. “I’d rather read something where I can picture the person,” she says. Rachael Ross, 10, agrees: “I like seeing real people better than drawings,” she says. “Drawings look sort of fake.”

Now, they’re talking about replacing covers and interior illustrations on classic books such as Little House on the Prairie and A Wrinkle in Time (where a quick Amazon search turns up three cover versions, none of which are the oddly glum one I remember, shown here).

Is this another example of the never-ending complaint that kids don’t have the imagination skills they used to? (“Why, we didn’t have TV when I was a kid. We had radio, and we had to make up the pictures ourselves!”) A sign of the strange usage of “fake” for a generation raised on “reality” shows? Or just a recognition that improving technology brings increasing artistic opportunities?

8 Responses to “Photos Preferred Over Drawings”

  1. Rachel Says:

    This fad was creeping into existance when I was a kid; I remember trying my best to find copies of books with DRAWINGS, not photos on the cover.
    For me, photo illustrations destroy immersion. If I can’t form my own mental image of the characters, I can’t identify with them; I can’t discreetly slip myself into their skins (or them into mine?).
    It goes with Scott McCloud’s concept of closure: the less detail an image has, the easier it is to identify with.

  2. Kiki Says:

    Working in an elementary library I have never noticed any problem with drawings on the cover, but having just taken a quick poll – 4 average 5th grade girls – they inform me they would much rather have photos on the cover. They prefer the “realistic” look. The question is, what happens if a model is used for the cover, and at a later date a movie is made of the book and a totally different actress/actor is used in the role? How real will it be then?

    I’ve always known they preferred photos in non-fiction, I just didn’t think it had bled over to the fiction.

    I don’t think it’s a lack of imagination – just laziness. They don’t want to be put to the trouble of coming up with something on their own.

  3. Lyle Says:

    That made me think back and realize that my tastes in book covers as a kid gravitated either towards “cartoony” (for lack of a better word) illustrations or photos. For some reason, I never liked it when the cover had a photorealistic-style painting.

  4. Lyle Says:

    Kiki… that sort of thing used to bother me as a kid in a general sense. When it came to book series, I’d refuse to buy copies that had a cover that didn’t match the ones I owned. (For example, I wouldn’t have purchased a John Bellairs book that didn’t have a Gorey or Gorey-esque cover, looking for one that matched the ones I owned.) That went for both illustrated (with art styles matching) and photograph (with models matching) covers. Back then, I’d feel like I had an incomplete set, sometimes re-purchasing the books I already had so that they’d match the ones in the stores.

  5. Roche Says:

    This might be an artifact of child development. There’s a period in late elementary school where kids get really interested in realism. (Sells a lot of DK publishing how things work books.) There’s a number of reasons for it that don’t have to do with being unimaginative.

    My experience when I was a kid was intense disappointment and a reluctance to pick up books where the cover art was too “uninformative” about what the people & world in the book were like. Combine that with a vauge title and an ambiguous blurb on the back, and I wouldn’t take the risk. Kids don’t know about genres from a depth of experience, so other cues are needed to build up the whole picture. I would speculate, it is possible that the desire for realistic pictures is an expression of a desire for more context.*

    The sweet spot for amount and kind of illustrations is most likely the Mary GrandPre covers and interior illos for the American edition Harry Potter books, for the younger set.** The Star Trek series fiction published by Pocket Books had a house style that might also meet these needs: realistic portraiture on a background that suggests setting, plot summary blurbs on back and on the inside cover, and a self-evident genre. Here’s a good example: Duane’s Wounded Sky, featuring artwork by Vallejo. It’s odd, but I recall that very cover illustration for Wrinkle in Time, and the feeling of frustration that it told me nothing about what to expect in the story, other than a certain amount of creepiness.

    Maybe looking back at past midlist genere fiction titles, and seeing what kinds of illustrations worked to sell them might be a good idea. Or talking to sf/mystery/fantasy publishers and find out why they do what they do.

    *more context is one of the reasons I read this blog, today ;)
    **really nice typography on the inside too, but no one notices such things anymore.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Oooh, very interesting analysis, thank you!

  7. James Schee Says:

    Actually, looking at that cover on A Wrinkle in Time, I probably wouldn’t even pick it up to look at it as its pretty darn ugly.

    I have seen where the Harry Potter books covers have changed over time though. The first books had very little detailed drawings on the covers. Yet the last few have been very detailed to the point where they are almost photos. So there may be something to this.

  8. Josie Says:

    When I was a kid I liked the ones of “real people” on fantastic backdrops. Fantasy girls with wicked-cool swords. Fantasy art generally really.

    Paintings were fine but I had no use for abstract people. Also, I’d get irate if they didn’t look as described in the book.




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