Susan Levine, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, "has succeeded in writing the rare policy history that is also a page turner," according to Meghan K. Winchell, Reviews in American History. On the question of how to illustrate such a title, Levine had some opinions.
Here is her Cover Story:
"As I was writing my book, School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program, I was continually looking for images both to illustrate points in the book and, ultimately for the cover.
"I found an image I thought would be perfect for the cover. It was a photo from a 1940s CIO newspaper of a group of children in a school lunchroom. But the production department told me the quality of the original wasn’t good enough to reproduce so they sent me an alternative. It was a picture of a school food tray with a hotdog and French fries – exactly the type of image I wanted to avoid!
"I didn’t want my book to be viewed as yet another book about bad food! I wanted the message to be that the quality of food in our schools – and the decisions about which children get subsidized meals – are the result of political choices. That’s why I insisted that the cover had to have people in it – preferably children – not just 'bad food.'
"I went around and around with the marketing department. They thought the book would sell better with a hotdog on the cover. In my view, they didn’t understand the point of the book at all.
"Finally, though, someone in marketing came up with a photo of two girls drinking milk in a 1940s school cafeteria. It was similar to my original choice so even though one of the girls is drinking chocolate milk, I decided it was close enough to my vision to agree to use it. After that, it was smooth sailing. I really liked the design the publisher came up with and have been happy with the final product."
Thanks, Susan! I, for one, am glad there's not a hot dog on the cover. That feels more Coney Island than School Lunches to me. I also think the inclusion of schoolchildren is important -- this is at least partly their story. (And in black and white, I can't even tell that one girl has chocolate milk!)
What do you guys think?
Melissa Walker is the author of four Young Adult novels, including the Violet trilogy and Lovestruck Summer. She is co-creator of the popular teen newsletter I Heart Daily and the awkward-stage blog Before You Were Hot, as well as the blogger for readergirlz.com. Her author blog, where Cover Stories originated, is melissacwalker.com.