And now, I’d like to take a brief moment to talk about dust jackets and, specifically, the role of dust jackets on children’s books. I’ve started this post several times before, but I’ve always found myself paralyzed with the fear that this mini-rant would turn into a bad parody of really awful 1990s stand-up comedy. “What’s the deal with dust jackets?” my hacky inner voice would ask. “Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one?” But, if this makes me sound like a bad Seinfeld clone, so be it. I just have to say this out loud – I really, really don’t get the point of dust jackets on kids’ books.
My wife and I have argued about this point from almost the first day we started reading to our daughter and I still don’t think we’ll ever see eye to eye about it. I’d sit to read with our daughter at bedtime and immediately take the dust jacket off and toss it on the floor. This drove my wife crazy. “Why are you doing that?” she’d ask, and I’d point to several other mangled dust jackets and say, “It just gives her something else to rip.” I loved reading beautiful, Caldecott-worthy picture books to my daughter long before she could speak and, as her questing baby hands enjoyed the tactile pleasures of touching those gorgeous picture books, inevitably, her hands would find the edges of the dust jackets and pull and rip and gouge and tear.
Eventually, when she could speak, my daughter started referring to the dust jackets as “wrappers” and she’d get FURIOUS if I left one on before I read the book to her. “Take the wrapper off, Daddy!” she’d yell. “I don’t like the wrappers!” After a while, since she had such an obvious aversion to the dust jackets, I just stopped putting them back on. We ended up with a pile of unloved dust jackets flattened down underneath her bedroom bookcase. And I kept finding more and more situations where I would pre-remove the dust jackets from her books. Taking a book on a car trip? Just another piece to lose – let’s take it off. Planning on having my daughter read along with me? Let’s take off the dust jacket to give her little hands one less thing to worry about when she’s holding the book herself.
Again, this drove my wife nuts. “They protect the book!” she argued. “From what?” I’d counter. In my mind, they just made the books more fragile – they’re the most rip-able part of a book – and what exactly can a dust jacket protect the book from anyway? Dust? Is that really a big concern? Spills? Most paperbacks and hardcovers aren’t made out of newsprint. They have enough of a laminate finish that, if I spill some milk on the cover, it’ll wipe off pretty easily. I just don’t see how a dust jacket actually protects a book, particularly a children’s book, which is going to have a lot of wear and tear thanks to its target audience. If I’m SO worried about protecting the book, I’d almost rather pay the extra cash for a library binding edition of the book rather than putting my faith in a thin paper wrapper.
You know when you buy a DVD and they have that flyer with some of the DVD specs glued to the back of the package and you immediately pull it off and throw it away? That’s how I view most dust jackets. They just seem like extraneous packaging to me. And I think, particularly for kids 8 and under, the value of that packaging is completely lost on the book’s audience.
The ONLY reasons I can really see for the existence of dust jackets on kids’ books are aesthetic reasons. I’m a big fan of book design, so, if the designer has a really compelling, visually engaging vision for the dust jacket, I can kind of get onboard with that. However, the VAST majority of kids’ titles I see don’t really utilize the dust jacket as any particular form of artistic expression. Most of the time, if you remove the dust jacket, the physical cover of the book looks EXACTLY like the art on the dust jacket. In those situations, that’s when I normally just end up adding the cover to our ever-growing pile of dust jackets under my daughter’s bookcase and hoping my wife doesn’t notice.
So, dear readers, I’m putting this question out to you – can you convince me of the value of dust jackets for children’s books?
I am open to having my mind changed on this issue, so, please, use the comments section below, and explain to me how I’m COMPLETELY misunderstanding the issue. My wife is a very, very smart lady – much smarter than I am – so the fact that she’s on the side of the dust jackets probably says a lot. But I just haven’t seen any evidence that dust jackets really bring anything to the table for young readers.
If you can change my mind on this issue, I will gladly publish an “I NOW ADORE DUST JACKETS” love letter/retraction on the blog, but – if the only arguments in their favor are the standard “they protect the book” and “they’re pretty” rhetoric – I’m going to have to stick to my guns and continue my long-standing smear campaign against the dust jackets in my daughter’s home library.
Thank you for your kind consideration. (Down with dust jackets!)