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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Cover Collection 26: Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes, With Art and Design by Barbara Grzeslo

We're a few days late, because the conference threw off my posting schedule, but we're still here with Cover Collection, my so-far-weekly blog series in which I talk about book covers I love, and what I love about them.

This week, I want to highlight the cover of ORDINARY HAZARDS, a YA memoir in free verse by Nikki Grimes, with art by the cover designer, Barbara Grzeslo. Look at how striking this cover is:

A spray-painted silver butterfly drips outside the lines

Two! Shiny! Medals!

There are a few different things about this cover that really work for me. The first, and most obvious, is the use of one central, striking image to grab and hold the viewer's attention, on a black background. Memoir in free verse is a form of writing that cuts straight to the heart of the emotion in each moment throughout the book, and this cover design imitates that focus by presenting us with one key image that carries a great deal of emotional weight.

So let's focus on the image itself: What I notice about this is that there is an outline of a butterfly, but the colors filling it in--delicate shades of silver, lavender, pale green, and pale blue--are just sort of splattered in the general direction of the outline, but they don't fill it in well. They're sort of dripping beyond the outline, and there are places within the outline that the colors never reach, and it's beautiful, but it's also a mess. Holding together, but not completely.

And then there's the fact that the image is a butterfly: a symbol of metamorphosis, of awakening, of becoming. Of growing into oneself. It's perfect for a memoir about a child who survives horrors, battered and torn, and comes out the other side, awakening as a poet who sheds beauty on the world.

This is all I have time for, but I could go on forever. I'm going to leave you with this: go read this book. It is a work of art.

And if you have thoughts about the cover, drop them in the comments, and we'll continue the conversation.

UPDATE: Nikki Grimes was kind enough to respond to my tweet about this post, and she pointed out that the book has a case cover, which I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't even looked for! For those of you who don't know, a case cover is a separate piece of art that goes on the front cover of a book beneath the dust jacket. Normally when I talk about book covers, what I'm REALLY talking about is jacket art--the art on the dust jacket of a book. But since often the cover beneath the jacket features either the same art or no art whatsoever, the jacket art functions as the book's cover. But some books get special treatment (Small World did, and here's a video that Mr. Schu made revealing the case cover that Jen Corace made), and Ordinary Hazards is one of those books! Check it out!

Lavender, yellow, pale green, light blue, and black butterfly on a white background

The butterfly is REAL! I really love this--I love the interactivity between the jacket art and the case cover: the way you peel the jacket away to reveal this beautiful creature. It's a symbol of the resilience of life and love, and it's the best use of a case cover design I've seen in a long, long time.

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