cropped cover of 1971 Penguin Books TKAM

Penguin Books, 1971

This week is a book! Penguin Books’ 1971 edition of To Kill A Mockingbird.

derek birdsall close up

The font can be a little hard to read, so here is what the cover says:

Pulitzer Prize winner as 1960’s best novel.

82 weeks in U.S.A. best-seller list.

Over 5,000,000 (five million) copies sold!

There’s been nothing like this book since ‘Gone with the Wind’

I searched really hard for this book after I got my Applestein-Sweren Prize. I just loved the cover art – so reminiscent of the opening credits of the movie! For the longest time, I thought it was an intentional reference, until I read an interview with the cover designer, Derek Birdsall. In his interview with Creative Review, he makes no mention of the movie. Instead, he says that because Penguin’s contract to publish a paperback edition of TKAM was such a boon for them, he wanted something to reflect how big it was for the publishing house. He tried to get his son, then 10, to write the cover. However, the cover text needed to be big and, as Birdsall puts it, “you’ve got to exaggerate this kind of thing and a child doesn’t do that” (Creative Review, 2011). The text colors, blue, orange, and purple, were simply his favorite colors at the time. He admits this cover is not his favorite. I find it an interesting cover; the font and dead bird promise a child’s POV; the actual text promises an adult book.

This edition first ran in 1964, four years after publication in the U.S. My copy is, I think, from 1971 as that is the latest date on the inside cover. (According to the fine print, reprinted 3 times in 1971!) My favorite part of this book is how it says twice in different places that the book is “not for sale in the U.S.A. or Canada.” In 1971, this book cost: 35p in the United Kingdom; $1.20 in Australia and New Zealand; R0.85 in South America. For comparison, the new (2015) edition costs £7.99 in Waterstones now. What a deal. (I don’t own the 2015 edition yet. One more reason to go visit England!)

My OTHER favorite part of this book is the summary on the back, which I am going to reproduce in full and hope Penguin Books doesn’t mind since it’s over forty years old:

“A book you’ll keep to read again and again

Recounted through the clear eyes of childhood this magnificent novel tells the story of a small motherless family in the American South. The adventures of Scout and her brother Jem are unforgettably impressed on the reader’s mind, as they progress from childish pranks to active championship of their lawyer father, Atticus, battling for the rights of a Negro accused of rape. But this sombre theme is never permitted to cloud the story, and the whole life of ‘a tired old town’ in Alabama seems to be caught and preserved in the characters of the family’s neighbors.”

I love it, from the emphasis on motherless to the “this sombre theme”. Did we…did we read the same book? “This sombre theme” does not cloud the story? The sombre theme is the story!

My copy has some water damage and is well loved. I bought it in 2012 on Etsy.

derek birdsall cover


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