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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Cover Collection 5: Pre-Caldecott Edition! AFTER THE FALL, written and illustrated by Dan Santat

Welcome to Cover Collection, my (mostly) weekly blog series in which I look at covers that I love and take them apart a little bit to see what makes them work.

Right now I’m looking at picture book covers, because we’re building up to the ALA Youth Media Award announcements on February 12th starting at 8am mountain time, WHICH YOU CAN WATCH LIVE, DO IT, DOOOOO IIIIIIIIIT. (You should watch the whole thing, because YEAH BOOK AWARDS, but this year I'm highlighting the Caldecott award with this series, since the Caldecott is the award given to picture books. I try to read a book before I blog about its cover, since the cover's relationship to the story itself is such a big part of what makes a cover work, and I can't read novels fast enough, my friends. So, Caldecott!)

Today, we’re looking at the cover of AFTER THE FALL: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again, written and illustrated by Dan Santat, designed by Andrew Arnold. Take a gander:

AFTER THE FALL: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again, by Dan Santat

This cover is so good, folks. I can't possibly talk about everything.

The thing that jumps out at me right away is the treatment of the text on the page. I love the way the main title, AFTER THE FALL, is SO huge -- it completely dominates the cover -- and it looks like it’s on metal plates that have been bolted to the wall somehow. It gives the book a really urban feel, despite the vines creeping up the wall, and I spent some time just appreciating the way the book places us in the story’s setting even before we’ve opened it. And it’s also a reference to the story of Humpty Dumpty -- a reminder that he broke into pieces and was then patched together again, just like the letters that make up the title. It’s a really nice detail that makes this cover design integral to the telling of the story. And the rest of the text elements (the author's name, the subtitle) are there on the cover, but they’re unobtrusively there. The primary story is given its due.

I also like how all the text elements are raised -- because they should stand out in some way, and that extra bit of texture makes the book more of a pleasure to hold -- except for the words, “Caldecott Medal Winner”. Almost like the book is saying, “I’m really not bragging or anything, but, this thing DID happen.” It’s a nice bit of self-deprecation, in that OBVIOUSLY, if you have a big award in your pocket, you have to put it on there, but really, that’s not what this book is about. I like it. It feels like a good design decision. There’s no braggadocio here; just plain old stating of the facts.

And before we move on from the text, I HAVE to give a shout-out to the spot gloss. I. Love. Spot gloss! I love the way it makes the cover interact with the light in the room, and I LOVE the way it makes certain portions of the art stand out, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE that it makes my hands stick just a little bit on the cover. Like the book is saying, “Wait: don’t put me down. Hold on to me for just a little longer.” Spot gloss is THE BEST THING to happen to book covers EVER. Do books with spot gloss on the covers get read more than books without it? I'm betting they do. Someone do a study on that.

Spot gloss is the best.

Okay, so: now we need to talk about color, and the way this cover uses it. A few months ago, I went to a writers’ and illustrators’ conference in Toronto and sat in on Barbara Reid’s talk on color. (If you ever get a chance to hear Barbara Reid talk about illustration, DO IT. She BLEW MY MIND.) One of the things she said that really stayed with me was that cool colors can sometimes be warm, and this cover exemplifies that in a really neat way. I love how there are blues at both the top and bottom of the scene, which gives it a really nice symmetry. But somehow, the blue sky feels warm and welcoming, while the blue shadows at the bottom feel cold and ominous and dark. And the arrow in the title -- the arrow that “the” is bolted to, the RED arrow -- draws the eye, as red tends to do, and also points down into that deep dark space below. It’s a subtle bit of foreshadowing that tells us there are some dark times ahead for Humpty Dumpty, and that this book isn’t going to gloss swiftly over the broken period of his life the way the nursery rhyme does. And yet, that bright orange glow in the “E” at the end of “After” hints that there is hope in the “after” portion of Humpty’s story. In a way, the whole story arc is represented here, on the cover. It’s beautifully done.

As with all the covers so far, the more I look at this one, the more I appreciate about it. There is so much more to say, but I’ve taken up enough of your time.

What do you think? What did I miss? What do you love about it? Drop some thoughts in the comments, and let’s have a conversation. And check in tomorrow, for my family's Caldecott picks!

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