On Designing a Judy Blume Book Cover (for Adults!)
Kelly Blair, Blume Superfan, Reveals Some Secrets of the Book Designer
Like many of us, I grew up reading Judy Blume novels, furtively passing Forever and Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret around the halls at school. They made my friends and I feel seen and understood; we were being let in on the secrets of our awkward almost-adulthood, braces and all.
Fast forward many years, my art director at Knopf, Carol Devine Carson, tells me there is new book by Judy Blume, my childhood literary hero. Her first in 15 years. Would I want to design the cover? No pressure.
This book was a bit of a departure for Judy Blume. An adult novel, set in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey in the late 1950s, when Blume was a teenager. It revolves around the true story of three plane crashes in two years, all in that same small town. My first thought was, whatever happens, we shouldn’t show a plane. Sometimes, it’s good to be proven wrong.
Judy’s longtime editor Carole Baron and I brainstormed about what direction to take the cover. We both thought it should be a fresh start, totally different from Judy’s previous adult novels. Something graphic and bold, no photographs. A kaleidoscope plays a significant sentimental role in the story. We thought its colorful fragments could be a good metaphor for the mood of the story. I started playing with patterns, taking my color cues from the 1950s.
These were fun, but the feedback I got was that the book should look much bigger and more commercial.
I broke the type out of the panel, hand lettered it, and started to make it more of a focal point of the design.
While Judy and Carole liked these, they still weren’t quite hitting the mark narratively. Newspaper articles play a large role in the story, so I brought that texture into play, with overprinted type and illustration nodding to the time period.
Around this time, we got some pushback on this direction from sales and marketing. Could we try something more traditional? I mocked up some solutions using vintage postcards from Elizabeth, NJ.
Maybe illustrating the town was the way to go?
We all missed the newspaper, so we doubled back and arrived at the final cover. Alas, the plane made the cut. The elements clicked together; the final jacket was bold and fresh, with a vintage flavor, which was the goal. Judy was lovely to work with, gracious and full of encouragement. My middle-school self is still giddily passing notes about the whole experience.