Cover Stories: A Girl Called Problem

girl-layoutKatie Quirk is here to share the story behind the cover of her Kirkus-starred novel, A Girl Called Problem. The notoriously tough Kirkus called the book "A mesmerizing read that expands young readers’ worldview even as the pages turn." (Also? The cover is lovely.) Yes! Here's Katie: "I should start by saying I love the cover for A Girl Called Problem. It's better than anything I imagined, and yet I did suffer from a few moments of panic along the way.

eerdmans"You see, A Girl Called Problem is lucky to be housed at a small press--Eerdmans Book for Young Readers. They actually had two mentions in the most recent ALA awards, so they do their job well, but they're certainly not wading in money. As a result, I tried to set my expectations low in terms of cover art.

"Last fall, I got an email from my editor saying they had a sketch for the cover. I knew enough to realize that authors have very little say in cover art, so I was grateful that she was including me in the conversation at all, but when I scrolled down to the image, I must admit I was disappointed.

girlcalledproblemcover"The figure looked awkward and older than the book's main character, Shida, whom she was supposed to depict; and the whole thing  looked low budget. I gave my editor some general feedback--zebras weren't authentic to this setting and perhaps we could make Shida look younger--but I decided to keep my mouth shut and to avoid saying what I really felt, which was discouraged.

"What I didn't realize was that this was truly just a sketch. The very talented artist, Richard Tuschman, who had also designed the beautiful cover for Moon Over Manifest, would hire a model, take some photos, and do some of his magical digital photo artistry, blending in a flamboyant tree and a vivid sky.

girl_fpo"A few weeks later, this is what they sent me (right). I was blown away. I loved it. The dirt road and vegetation and flamboyant tree looked like they were right out of East Africa. The colors were rich and vivid, just like I remembered Tanzania. The model was perfect--everything from her face, to her hair, to her dress, which looked worn, but stylish enough to appeal to modern readers. I was so pleased that it took me a couple of weeks to realize that something critical was missing: Shida wasn't wearing her medicine pouch! My heart sunk--Shida always wore her medicine pouch, but how could I point this out now? I hadn't thought to correct Richard or my editor when I should have--at the sketch stage. And though Richard is clearly a master of image manipulation, he would never be able to paint the pouch in over all those folds and wrinkles around Shida's waist. Nevertheless, a week later this was the image they sent me (below left):


"Unbelievable. There was her pouch and it looked perfect.

"I really could not be happier with the cover. I've spoken with other authors who were only peripherally consulted about their book covers. In one case, the author was given the choice between two covers she wasn't thrilled about, but she strongly recommended they choose the one with the girl with dark (rather than blond) hair, because she described that character's dark hair in great detail. Not too much later, she learned that the publisher had decided on the model with blond hair! I've found that one benefit of working with a small press is that they have generously involved me in every step of the process--right up to the book's stunning cover."

Thanks, Katie! I love a happy ending like this and the cover is just beautiful. Read the story behind this book on Sara Crowe's blog, and I dare you not to rush out and get it. So inspiring!