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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Cover Collection 4: Pre-Caldecott edition! THE ANTLERED SHIP, by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The F

Welcome to Cover Collection, my (mostly) weekly blog series in which I take a closer look at my favorite book covers and talk about what makes them work.

This week and for the next few weeks, in honor of the upcoming Newbery and Caldecott announcements, I want to talk about covers that grabbed me while my family was conducting our own Mock Caldecott jury session. (Look for that post later this week.) Today, I’m going to talk about the gorgeously glowing cover of THE ANTLERED SHIP, which was created by Terry and Eric Fan (illustrators) and Lauren Rille (book designer).

The gorgeously glowing cover of THE ANTLERED SHIP, art by the Fan brothers, design by Lauren Rille

And I’m going to start with something I don’t usually start with, which is the paper. This paper is DIVINE. I’m pretty sure that Lauren Rille went to Mount Olympus and cut a deal with the gods, because my friends, this paper feels like heaven. It’s like watercolor paper, but without the weird rumpliness that happens when you stink at using watercolors and use too much water.* It is a gift for your fingertips. And it adds to the effect of the whole cover, because this gorgeous watercolor painting of an antlered ship emerging from the rocks and foam is, of course, on paper that feels like watercolor paper. AND:

It is a bit of a lie. Or maybe simply an added layer of illusion, which is what this whole picture book is, really -- a journey of the imagination, and a collection of illusions and metaphors that tell us a deeper truth. Or maybe it’s both. Because reader: this is not a watercolor painting.

The copyright page tells us that the illustrations, including the jacket art, were “rendered in graphite and ballpoint pen, then colored digitally.” THEY MADE A BEAUTIFUL WATERCOLOR PAINTING WITH GRAPHITE AND BALLPOINT PEN AND DIGITAL COLORS.

I am dead. I mean, really. I’m hanging up my paintbrushes, because this is outstanding. I don’t usually curse on here, but PEOPLE. Holy golden antlers! Bow down to the Fan brothers, folks. They deserve it.

Okay. So, the paper is an outstanding choice. And also, the watercolor-y-ness (which is a technical term for the quality of the art) is an outstanding choice. It gives the scene an ethereal FEELING, which is absolutely appropriate to the ethereal nature of the antlered ship itself. The way the colors of the sky blend into one another, and the way the foam crashes up against the rocks... It’s very Monet-like, but with more crispness where the solids meet the air. I love looking at that sky; I could fall into it.

I think a big part of why I feel like I could fall into it is that the tones of the image lend it so much warmth. Some of you have perhaps gone exploring out on the open ocean and in the coves off the rocky North Atlantic coast, so you already know where I’m going with this, but for those of you who haven’t: it is not a warm place. It's...rather chilly, and being out on that water is not an altogether pleasant experience, unless you happen to like being wet and cold and wind-whipped and surrounded by fog all at once. But this cover, with its pinks and oranges and warm browns, makes me forget all that, and that is as it should be. (And the deeper pink towards the right-hand edge of the cover, drawing the eye and therefore the hand there, right where you would hold the cover to open the book, is a smart and sly and excellently placed detail.)

And yet, the ship feels solid. It’s crisp outlines, those texture lines all over the wood of the ship, the wood of the antlered masthead... It comes alive. I can practically feel the grain of the wood beneath my hands, just by looking at it. I really love the attention the Fan brothers paid to different textures in this illustration (and throughout the book, but we’re not talking about that here).

I also love that the ship is facing the reader, and the occupants of the ship are facing the reader, as if they are coming to get us, to take us on a grand adventure. Which they are, really -- that’s what books do. But it’s often treated as an incidental thing, and positioning the ship and its occupants this way both acknowledges this book’s purpose as a vehicle for transportation of the mind, and actively engages the reader in making the decision to take that journey. They break the proverbial “fourth wall” -- they are addressing the person holding the book, holding our gaze.

There are also some fine details here: the font used for the title, and the sections of compass rose that flank the title, that are evocative of an old pirate map; the gulls soaring towards the ship from the left-hand side of the image, that both guide our eye and balance out the tall rocks on the right-hand side; the red pennant, clearly being blown to the right... Everything pointing to the right-hand-side, saying, “open me”.

You should.

*Not that I have ever done this.**

** That is a lie, I do this all the time, help, I am inept.

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