Covering Ugliness. Part 2: Children’s Nightmares

Today we continue with our self-appointed and majorly depressing job of ugly book cover muckcrackers. After two parts on fantasy we decided to plunge into the world of glitter, fluff and rainbows and find the ugliest children’s book covers on the shelves of the local book megastore. We did start with pounding hearts because in our minds we already saw disgustingly amateurish illustrations and scary typography but, to our surprise, the bad covers did not dominate the section of the store: instead we had to search a little. Of course, when we did we found exactly what we were looking for and more but, optimistically, a large portion of children’s book is not as ugly as what we present under the link.

We consider this a particularly important part of the series because how can children exposed to such bad design grow up to demand something better? They can’t and so kitsch-producers and hacks continue to thrive and create these:

This series of books proposes simple activities that prepare children for later challenges of writing. As a kid I loved those: I could spend hours combining dots and filling in pictures. But they didn’t have Comic Sans then so, even though I don’t remember what my books looked like, they must have been better. Also, this is one of the biggest myths that seem to thrive among children-oriented bad designers, that children somehow prefer Comic Sans to any decent-looking typeface. We even once heard a lecture about legibility for children when the lecturer, with a stony face and no signs of shame, claimed that her research proves Comic Sans is ideal for children. (For those easily influenced, of course it isn’t.) One more thing that bothers us about these covers is how the U is transformed into, we assume, a warped pencil and we really don’t know why.

Most ugly covers can be found among fairy tales because they seem to invite all the kitsch solutions designers can think of and so the next few examples illustrate them. Above is something called Magic Fairy Tales. What we find wrong with it: a) terrible color scheme, if this proud term can even apply, b) clumsy, naive illustration, c) messy composition, d) oh yes, glitter (that’s what the close-up is supposed to show), e) ugly script combined with Copperplate Gothic, f) the fact that somebody published it and dares to charge parents for forever ruining their children’s taste.

Fairy tale nightmare continues. First two covers come from, we assume, a series called The Golden Book of World’s Fairy Tales. This is another example of a color- and composition-challenged illustrator producing extreme kitsch that will haunt your child’s dreams. We find particularly problematic the expressions on the female animals. Do you know that bizarre branch of manga where people lust after women who have fox or cat body parts? Now we know what they read as children.

The third book wouldn’t have made it to our review, despite the lack of color sense and bad typography, were it not for the female cutout sticking out from among the flowers and looming over the prince with her bad makeup and false smile. We’d much prefer if the evil witch was drawn in like everything else. (In seriousness, the book is called Fairy Tales of my Childhood Read by Anna Dereszowska and we assume that’s her on the photo but this is still a remarkably bad way of combining all the elements.)

There was a time when people complained that Disney and their interpretations of fairy tales would dominate children’s imagination so that no other vision of classic characters will have place in the world. This isn’t what happened. Instead, Disney vision dominated the imagination of illustrators and those who didn’t land an actual Disney job comfort themselves with drawing cheaper knockoffs. I’m sure you can figure it out but for order’s sake from left to right Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty. To make up for not having rights to use the original Disney drawings, the publisher added some sort of handle so you can carry the book around like a suitcase. For some reason.

Another series here, and again we have bad typography, terrible colors and in case of the first cover, more Disney knockoffs. The second book actually has some unique-ish style of illustration, albeit not very good, but the use of typography remains relentlessly bad.

And the last one on the right is just one example of myriads similar covers. You see tons of pink, stick-figure girl, flowers, stars, ribbons and what not – there you go, you’ve found a perfect book for the little girl in your life who might not yet have been turned completely brainless by Barbie and My Little Pony. However, let’s be clear. This is a convention that might be irritating in its pervasiveness and in publishers’ assumption that little girls (or their parents) won’t touch anything that is not pink, but from a designing point of view, this book is not as amateurish as the previous examples.

Finally, something we found at the very end but it surpassed our expectations, or rather fears. By miles. As said before, we feared we might find something disgusting in children’s section but this… disgusting would be a compliment. This book is a Bible-inspired little monster guaranteed to scar your child for life. It’s called Rhymed Bible for Children and we hate the rhymes (we’d translate them but it takes a pen of a true master; or else one of those guys who write poems for bad birthday cards) but they’re masterpieces compared with illustrations. First up, you can see the cover, with a half of God uglifying the world, then a close-up of God (who for some reason is balding). Then one of the ugliest spreads we found and we can’t really describe the faces of those characters without using a very un-PC word. The old man and the red riding hood disturb as particularly. And very strongly. Then some more illustrations, all of which should be punishable by law.

This book came like a blow in the face at a point when we were contentedly nodding to ourselves and murmuring “It’s not so bad with children’s books.” And then a kick in the kidneys, the more we saw of it. At home we found the website of the illustrator responsible for this absolute horror, which made us almost suicidal. Apparently, this absolutely amateurish destroyer of children’s taste has published tons and tons of books, games and other stuff. With perfect self-contention he says things like “can you believe I’m not a schooled illustrator” (this was implied, not said, but yes, we can, seriously), “I work for money not for ideals” (I can’t imagine anybody accusing him of having ideals) and, life motto, “it’s better to sin and regret it than regret not having sinned.” Beneath a series of coloring books’ covers from his website. Words fail us.

1 comment
  1. Heeehee I love this post 🙂 Funny thing is that everyone knows that lower case is easier to read than capitals but the so called ‘child friendly’ comic sans font cover uses capitals in its main title. guess they only did half their research 🙂

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