Monday, February 15, 2016

Blue Birds: The Evolution of a Cover + Giveaway

As I write, sometimes an image for a book’s cover starts to form in my mind. Back in 2014, when my editor told me cover discussions for my historical novel, Blue Birds, were underway, I took a moment to get on paper the idea I that had been with me almost from the start. It wasn’t meant as direction for illustrators Elena and Anna Balbusso, it was simply a chance for me to record what I had been picturing for months.

Because Blue Birds tells the story of friendship, I knew both girls needed to be on the cover. But how to do this was complicated. Kimi wore only a skirt -- the clothing typical of the Roanoke Indians in the summer months. This sketch was my simple solution.

I set it aside, having shown no one. So it was with great surprise and a handful of goosebumps that I saw the cover art for the first time.

I was struck with the similarity between the ideas: my two characters, Kimi (on the left) and Alis (on the right) holding the wooden bird they share. Even details about which girl was on which side, whose hand was above and whose beneath -- they were exactly the same. If you look closely, the pearls I included in my sketch are also present in the picture. And with gorgeous depictions of local flora (the white flowers are the "star-centered beauties" Alis picks for her mother), the Balbussos were able to place both girls front and center.

When the cover was revealed at The Nerdy Book Club the summer of 2014, Art Director Irene Vandervoort shared her "aim [for Blue Birds] was for art that spoke to the book and felt classic and timeless... I wanted there to be no mistaking that this was/is a book of historical fiction. The most important aspect of the cover to me was to show these two very different girls and their unlikely friendship and bond."

The Balbussos said "The central idea of the cover is to communicate the meeting of the girls of two different cultures and their friendship through their mutual gaze and the union of their hands (one with light skin and one with dark-skinned). We chose the path of symmetrical composition to show both girls very similar but of a different race, without privileging one girl but equal representation. Their eyes meet for communicating friendship, equality, complicity."

Friendship. Equality. Girls who are similar, even in their difference. These ideas were everything I hoped the cover art would tell about the story and are exactly what the Balbussos so beautifully created.

This January the paperback version of Blue Birds released with a different cover, one that's both new and entirely familiar. I love the way it comes full circle, echoes the idea that started as I drafted, stayed with me as I revised.

I'm giving away one paperback copy to a Project Mayhem reader. To enter, simply leave a comment below. The contest closes Thursday, February 18 with the winner announced the following day. U.S. residents only, please.


  1. So interesting that these lovely covers are true to your vision! (Don't enter me, I live in Canada).

  2. That is almost unbelievable! I am sure there were so many scenes that the artist could have chosen - it is crazy that she mad a drawing so close to your vision.
    Congratulations on the book cover and the book itself.

  3. Wow! Amazing....and yet, not surprising. The universe wanted this story told in this way and conspired to make it happen in you two (reading Big Magic right now can you tell?!). It's our absolute gift to be able to see the fruition of your combined talents. Keep on imagining and've got something special to share!

  4. So beautiful. Sadly I am outside the U.S. but I looked up the book on The Book Depository and it's quite affordable. Hopefully I can swing a March/April purchase of the paperback. Thanks for stopping by and it's awesome that you and the cover designer's mind somehow synced. :)

  5. It is wonderful when the idea of the story and the cover are one and the same. The cohesiveness is what will draw readers in.

  6. Oh, how heart-tingly that your sketch is so close to the final version! I'm so glad you shared this with us. And I love what they've done with the paperback :)

  7. Oh, I adore this. And both covers are beautiful and timeless. I know you are thrilled. <3


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!