One night several years ago, I found Fablehaven at the grocery store for five dollars and decided to try it out. Within about a week I’d lent it to my husband and bought a second copy to give to our niece, and they both also loved it. We recommended it to my parents and my siblings and my in-laws, who all loved it. When the last book came out, my husband and I went to Borders (RIP) to pick up a copy, and then we read it aloud on the way home because we couldn’t wait to get started.
I feel a lot of personal connection to books I’ve loved, and when I come across them in bookstores or the library where I work, I always stop to look at them or touch their covers—kind of like saying hello. But when I did that the other day, I discovered that we’d bought some new editions for the children’s section, and they have new covers. These are the ones I’m familiar with:
and these are the new designs:
But what did I notice when I picked them up, that caused my stomach to sink in gradual disappointment? Who has, apparently, become the singular hero of the series, instead of the cause of a significant amount of the trouble his older sister gets them out of?
Who is dramatically in the forefront of the first two covers while his sister follows far in the distance? Who is the gallant rider of both a centaur and an eagle in the next two covers, his older sister clinging fearfully to him as his passenger? Given this obnoxious and sexist theme, I can’t figure out why Kendra seems to be the only one on the fifth book cover; has it just been too long since I read them, and is there some plot point that explains Seth’s absence? Maybe they figured boys would already be hooked by the fifth book, so having a gross girl on the cover wouldn’t turn them away.
While googling the covers, I happened across this explanation by the artist that made me even more furious—I suppose because it confirmed Seth’s completely unwarranted takeover was intentional, and not a subconscious accident:
Here is one of the first sketches I came up with for the project. The two siblings take a ride on the shoulders of a golem made of earth and stone. You’ll see in the second iteration of the sketch that I switched the positions of the boy and the girl. Girls seem to be ok with reading a book with a boy featured on the cover, but boys don’t seem to be too keen with reading a book with a girl as the focus. So even though Kendra is the star in the book, her brother Seth had to be the star of the cover.
— from artist Eric Deschamps’s website
It’s surprising, honestly, to see people still say such things sincerely, as though they’re unaware of how unacceptable that attitude is.
I don’t know to what extent Brandon Mull would have been involved in the redesign, but I have to assume he at least gave them a green light, which really surprises me; after all, he’s the one who wrote Kendra the fantastic way she is. And despite the fact that Shadow Mountain is an imprint of Deseret Book, which is owned by the Mormon church, which is far from a bastion of gender equality—despite all these things and my knowledge of how patriarchal most aspects of the world still are, I am surprised and disappointed by this deliberate step backward.
To Brandon Mull, Eric Deschamps, Shadow Mountain, and Deseret Book:
Reconsider your redesign. It’s unfair—to your characters and to your readers. It’s nonsensical, because it completely misrepresents the actual story. And it’s sexist—which is something I shouldn’t have to explain to you in goddamn 2015.
Let’s remember what century it is, shall we? And let’s not use overt sexism to sell books to children.
That would be great. Thanks.