Paula Danziger: A Cover Retrospective

It’s been a long time since I did one of these posts, but the So You Want to Read YA? series got me thinking about classic/timeless YA titles, and I thought it about time to talk about vintage covers and their more modern incarnations. While looking around for the right cover to post of Paula Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, I knew I had to share what her style has looked like past and present.

I can’t find the exact dates for each of these covers, so I didn’t include that information. I haven’t read any of these books, so my comments are based solely on the cover. Also, there’s no way I can hit all of her books, so these are a handful of my favorite titles and cover changes. If I’m missing editions you know of, I’d love a link to the image.

First up: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

The first three covers for The Cat Ate My Gymsuit (and the next batch) feature a girl sporting a long-sleeved pink shirt — two being sweatshirts. I like how the first two covers give us a girl who has rolled up the bottoms of her jeans and the second one just has her in flood waters. Also there was a change in shoe color from brown to pink. Notice how she went from a long-haired blonde to a medium-haired blonde to a long-haired brunette? In the first two covers, she’s not getting up to play at all, but in the last one, she looks like she’s straight up annoyed to have to be involved in a game. Actually, the first cover suggests the girl isn’t moving for anything, while the second one suggests she’s not being allowed to play and she’s disappointed. What’s consistent across the covers, aside from the pink shirt, is the use of green. There is a lot of it all over the place. Also consistent is that the girl looks like a typical girl — she’s not tiny! She’s not overly made up! She looks like any high school girl would look . . . in those time periods, at least.

The next two incarnations of the cover also bring us a girl in a pink shirt, but this time they’re both illustrated. The girl on the left gets the long-sleeve sweatshirt effect while the one on the right gets the short-sleeve treatment. Both are doing something with paper or a petition and neither of them seems to have anything athletic on their minds at all. Both are brunette, but the girl on the left has the shorter look while the one on the right gets the long hair. And interestingly, here’s where it seems to me the shape of the girl changes: she’s average on the left, but she sure looks tiny on the right. I know it’s illustrated, but it’s still noteworthy given how these two covers are definitely later versions than the ones above. We also only get half of their bodies in the image, so I can’t tell if they’re rolling the bottoms of their pants or what color their shoes are. Also interesting is the cover on the right is our first visit by a cat.  

More half-body shots! I think all three of the girls in these covers look pretty similar to one another, despite being quite different looking from the girls in the prior covers. All three are donning glasses (how often do we see that on covers anymore?) and they’ve all got long blonde hair going on. Likewise, all three girls appear to be sitting in some sort of classroom or school setting — the girl on the far right might be in a cafeteria or library, I can’t quite tell — and none of them look even close to being on an athletic field. None of them are wearing pink and in fact, they’re all sporting very different looking shirts. I dig how all three have very round faces and they all look like typical girls of the time, though maybe the girl on the left looks like she might be really young. Note, too, how Danziger’s name is so much larger on the left and right covers than on the one in the middle, as well as the ones further up. There are no cats to be found in any of these covers.

The last two covers don’t feature a girl at all but are illustrated and, I believe, the two most current renditions. I like the one on the right — yes it has a cat, but I really like the use of the chalk-style font for the title. It’s simplistic but it stands out to me because of that. On the right, we get another cat, as well as paw prints, and we’re given an image of gym shorts. Another step up from the rolled up jeans and the flood waters. The girl has disappeared, though, and in both instances, she’s been replaced by an object. More notable, though, is that both covers seem to appeal to a much younger readership than the prior ones. These covers scream middle grade to me, and even though I haven’t read this book, I’d classify it as much more middle grade than YA. This better reaches that readership and it gives a more timeless look than the covers featuring a girl (because all of those girls were showing their age).  

Did you know there was a companion to this book, too? It’s called There’s a Bat in Bunk Five (which also has some amazing covers worth looking up).

Next up: The Divorce Express

Let’s start with the series of covers that have something similar in common: they feature a white character and a character of color. Also common among all of these covers is that the characters are either waiting for or are on a bus. Beyond that, let’s talk about how many differences there are. How about in the left cover, the girl looks destroyed and upset (presumably about a divorce). Looks like her friend is maybe trying to comfort her, but she is having none of it. And why would she in such awesome cowboy boots? The sign behind them says “Sandwiches.” I don’t know about you, but that touch really ties everything together for me.

Okay, so that middle cover. I can’t tell the gender of the person on the left. It could be a girl or it could be a guy. It’s not entirely clear, and that Cosby-era sweater isn’t doing him/her any favors. More noteworthy is that s/he is clearly not upset. Just confused (me too, buddy). The closer you look, it seems like they might be smiling, even. And their friend, who is clearly a girl, is really engaging them in conversation; the hands are out and talking. Is the guy/girl wearing a collared shirt under that sweater? All I can say is that cover really has a lot to digest so please, take your time to appreciate it.

The cover on the right is about as far from the other two as possible: just the heads of the girls, and they both look quite delighted to be on that bus, don’t they? I dig the blonde girl’s headband. For one of them experiencing the effects of a divorce, they sure don’t look too upset about it.

This cover stands alone for a reason: here we lose the person of color on the cover and instead get two white girls. It’s unclear if they’re at a bus stop or just hanging out with some baggage. Check out the girl on the right’s vest, too. Classy. 

Then we get these, where we don’t have two girls at all anymore. Instead, a lone white girl. In the left hand cover, we get our first stock image, and like the ladies modeling for The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, she gets the long-sleeved sweatshirt treatment AND jeans that are a tad too short. But she’s on the bus this time, and she looks pretty reflective about it. Our middle cover and our right cover take away anything real and give us covers that, again, look much more middle grade appealing than teen appealing because of their illustrative style. The cover in the middle is clearly part of the same series as the illustrated cover from Cat above, and I like how the bus is incorporated in this one. Because that girl doesn’t have a bag nor does she have a sad look to her, so were it not for that, I’d think she was just hanging out looking cute. The girl on the left at least looks packed and ready to head out. Note what’s in her hand: a bus ticket. Smart way to include that.

So I guess if we’re going to lose our friend of color, then we’re going to lose our friend all together, at least we kept the bus (almost) consistent throughout these covers.

Let’s look at It’s An Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World, which is the companion to the book above. Also, is it just me or did Danziger get to have the best titles for her books? Worth noting is that most of these covers carry similar trends in their design as Divorce Express since they were repackages or sold together specially with the new look.

So all of the covers for It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World feature two girls and the bulk feature a white girl with her friend of color. But these three stand out to me because they definitely appeal to the younger readers. The cover on the left is definitely of middle school girls, rather than high school girls, and the same can be said about the illustrated girls in the middle. For me, the girls on the right are pretty unremarkable, but they still look young. And doesn’t that cover have a very Juno feel to it? Also, long-sleeved sweatshirt on the girl there, even though it’s illustrated. Oh, did you notice the vest on the girl in the first cover, too?

It’s good to see some things are consistent.

In both of these covers, the girls are hanging out on the swing set. Looks like they’re having some intense conversation, too. I find it interesting that in the left, the girls are both white and in the right, it’s possible the one girl is of color. Possible.  I’m impressed that the girls on the right have pants that appear to fit them, too. Overall, though, these covers aren’t that much to write about. Our real winners are the next two.

It appears to me that if you want to be on a Paula Danziger cover, you best own a long-sleeved sweatshirt and only in a solid color. But more importantly, spend a minute checking out the blue shoes on the girl holding the boxes in the left cover. Between those and the orangey-pink pants the other girl is wearing, it’s almost as if this cover is modeling today’s fashion trends. I love how messy the room is and I love how it looks like one girl is doing all the work while the other is laughing. And is that garbage all over the floor?

I spent a long time thinking about the cover on the right. It’s the embodiment of a perfect cover to discuss but the problem is there are so many things worth noting, I’m afraid I’ll miss something. Is it the belted dress shirt with magenta leggings? Or that old-style phone? The hair on both the girls? The fact they’re doing precisely the opposite of the girls in the cover on the left, since they appear to be decorating, instead of packing? And is it me or do those girls look way older than the girls who are in the first cover I posted of this book?

Last title to look at: Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?

It looks like the covers on the left and the middle are the same image, but if you look carefully, they’re slightly different. It’s the same couple, but the image is shifted a bit so that you can see more of the school doors behind them. Also, it might just be me, but the girl in the middle image is definitely giving that boy much more of a seductive look than in the first one. Either way, it’s a nice looking couple, isn’t it? Definitely straight out of the late 1970s or early 1980s. They even coordinated their red-and-white striped shirts. Now check out the cover on the right: looks like our lovely male model got the long-sleeved solid color sweatshirt memo. Which is good seeing the girl has quite the design going on with hers. He balances her for sure. Is it just me or are their legs really weird looking? It’s definitely an odd illustration. Of note in all of these covers is that the couples are standing outside the school.

We have couples in both covers this time, and what I find interesting is that even though the cover on the right is illustrated, it makes the pair look like high schoolers. If anything, I’d say the cover on the left makes the couple look older than high school. Maybe it’s the outfits, in that they’re way more put together and prep looking than the other couples have been. What’s got me a little confused though is that neither of these covers even fit the title. Are they the parents? The couple on the right looks downright thrilled, like maybe they just started dating and are still in that stage where they like one another. And the couple on the left are holding hands. How and what does this have to do with their parents? Let alone malpractice.

But just in case you were worried we wouldn’t get there, here’s this cover:

Here’s a couple doing some research in a library, presumably about what it takes to sue your parents. Well, at least she is doing some research. He looks like he might be researching her more than the book. Also: her vest.

And here is where the malpractice comes in. Look at how those teens are treating the books! Look at how loud she is clearly being in the library! I mean, I’m glad they’re so happy to have found what they needed, but good grief. Tone it down a bit. Also, is it me or is that desk flush with the stacks? More malpractice, as the ADA wouldn’t be too thrilled with that library’s set up. Those shelves also look like they’re very tall, don’t they?

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterestshare on Tumblr


  1. says

    I remember loving Paula Danzinger's books when I was younger, but the only one I distinctly remember reading (AND still have!) is There's a Bat in Bunk Five.

    Overall, I really like the original covers the best. Maybe it's because they are the covers I grew up with and bring back a sense of nostalgia. However, after your analyses of the covers the originals do appear to often be the best representation of the covers. The illustrated covers really turn me off – they seem too generic!

    Also, I totally agree with you on Danzinger having the best titles. They were always so weird but catchy! I had never noticed the rolled or short jeans, long sweatshirt trend until now, but WOW did they ever stick with it, haha!

    Great post – it was so much fun to walk back down memory lane :)

  2. says

    Love this post! I never realized there were so many different versions of her books. The Juno-esque covers are new to me, but I kind of like them.

  3. says

    I loved Paula Danzinger. The chalkboard cover of THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT is the one my class read in elementary. That was the first book I ever read that dealt with a family going through divorce and it stuck in my head because I thought it was so weird. But it wasn't that long before my parents divorced.

  4. says

    Very perceptive graphic analysis, but I can't believe you did all this ruminating without having read the books. Please, please get back to us with your thoughts about the covers after you know what at least one of the stories is about.

    • says

      I DO plan on reading them, but I don't see why there is a problem with discussing graphic elements of a cover without having read the story. Indeed, it adds depth, but it doesn't detract from visual analysis.

  5. says

    I enjoyed the books and, without condemning a study of only the covers, WOULD enjoy reading a study of how well the covers relate to the book. E.g.: is it disappointing that there's no cat character in "The Cat Ate My Gymsuit"?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *