A lot of the books fell into one of four categories:
1.) Books featuring African-American characters, often with themes involving prejudice/racism
The most famous example here is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960), which garnered a fantastic reception and won the Pulitzer Prize. I think it was originally intended for an adult audience, but was adopted into high school curriculum because of the strong appeal for younger readers (I read it for school, although I had a really bad English teacher that year, which unfortunately kind of ruined the book for me).
Given the context – the African-American Civil Rights Movement that was going on in the 1960s – this trend makes a lot of sense. In 1969 the Coretta Scott King Award was created (named after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s wife), which was given for "books about the African American experience, that are written for a youth audience (high school or below)."
In terms of covers, they seemed to tend towards either simple, silhouette images with contrasting reddish, black and white hues...
...or smudgy sketches toned in a dismal combination of grey and washed-out green. I definitely prefer the first choice.
2.) Fantasy, mostly of the epic/traditional bent
We saw this area gain some ground in the earlier 1900s, with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and T.H. White. But that was nothing compared to the 1960s, where a bunch of authors took their example and ran with it. Books published in the 1960s that are now known as YA fantasy classics were: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1961; 1963 Newbery Medal winner), The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (one of these was a 1966 Newbery Honor book, and another won the 1969 Newbery Medal), Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (1965), and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968).
The cover trend here seems to be shades of blue and green. I'm actually sort of liking the plain but symbolic sci-fi design of the A Wrinkle in Time cover.
Of the books mentioned here the ones I really, really adore are the books by Lloyd Alexander. I absolutely love the journey we are taken on with Taran from impetuous Assistant Pig-keeper to thoughtful leader. The characters are all so distinctive and full of life, personality, and humor that you can't help but fall in love with all of them. (Well, maybe not Arawn the Death-lord. But that's kind of the point.)
Admittedly, their first edition covers leave something to be desired. Okay, a lot to be desired.
I realized when I saw these covers that I actually *had* a first edition copy of The Black Cauldron at one point! It was a library discard, falling apart down the middle, and I have no idea what happened to it. I thought the cover was totally ugly so once I got a book of the entire Prydain Chronicles, I have the feeling that this one got given away to charity or something...
3.) Wilderness survival stories
These included Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) and The Black Pearl (1967; Newbery Honor book), as well as The Cay by Theodore Taylor (1969), The Loner by Ester Wier (1963; 1964 Newbery Honor book), and The Curse of the Viking Grave by Farley Mowat (1966; sequel to Lost in the Barrens, 1956).
I think this is where the "close-up of a face" trend began in YA cover design.
But there were a couple covers that bucked the norm. Case in point:
|Why have a close-up of a face when you can have a close-up of a GIANT STINGRAY?|
|Not to mention what mustard yellow parkas will do for your cover...|
Covers aside, this type of story never seems to get old; we saw them way back in the 1800s in the form of Swiss Family Robinson and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. However, I think these 1960s ones were perhaps a little less about the "adventure" part of it and a bit more about the struggle to survive in the face of nature's dangers. I know Island of the Blue Dolphins is popular but I wasn't a big fan. However, I remember reading The Cay in Grade 6 or 7 and really enjoying it.
4.) Realistic fiction, many of which were "problem novels"
The book that arguably made the biggest splash in YA literature in the 1960s was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967). Written for teens, about teens, and BY a teen (she was 18 when it was published!) made it exceptionally different from everything else. Also, it contained content that led it to be banned in some places: gang violence, minors smoking/drinking, mature language, and...wait for it...FAMILY DYSFUNCTION. Shocking!
I have a confession: I don't think I've ever read The Outsiders, at least not cover to cover. I know it's often required for school, but for some reason it wasn't part of our curriculum, and I think I may have tried it but not gotten very far before putting it down. But perhaps I could be convinced to give it another try...
|Not a copy with this cover though...it creeps me out. It looks like either several people joined at the hip or a very mutated spider. Anyone else getting that?|
Others that could be considered "problem" novels (I guess these are what we call "issue" books now), portraying adolescent life in a more realistic manner, include Paul Zindel's The Pigman (1968) and My Darling, My Hamburger (1969), as well as It's Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville (1964; Newbery Medal book) and Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones by Ann Head (1967). These books addressed topics like teen pregnancy and abortion, drinking, body image, and family strife.
I like the use of perspective in both of these covers, but I have to wonder: what's up with all of those benches in The Pigman cover? It's been a long time since I've read it but I don't recall that wooden benches played a crucial role...
|This is giving off a major 'psychedelic '60s silhouette' vibe. Also, BEST TITLE EVER.|
So, how many of the books mentioned here have you read? Any you would strongly recommend? What cover is your favourite? (Or, um, the one you least dislike?) And anyone want to take a stab at convincing me to read The Outsiders? :D