In our Saddle Club podcast episode, we talked about the various editions’ different book covers and Carole’s ambiguous racial identity. Since a podcast is not a visual medium, I wanted to collect a few covers here so you can see what we’re talking about.
As best I can tell, this is the original 1988 cover. Carole’s weirdly cast in shadow.
This next edition looks like the same girl as the first one but flipped out of the shadow into the light? And also she got some chickens? Also, that horse is not cobalt.
This next cover features all 3 girls. Which is which? Who knows? (Presumably, knowing what we know about Carole from the series as a whole, she’s on the right. All we know about Stevie is that she’s blonde and I wouldn’t call any of these girls blonde. Maybe the one on the left has some blonde-ish highlights?)
Here’s the cover of the 1996 reprint edition. She looks more recognizably like a light-skinned black girl. (And Cobalt, the horse, is also black, as described in the book.)
But wait, here’s a cover for an Overdrive e-book collecting the first 2 Saddle Club books.
Finally, here’s Carole from the Saddle Club TV show, as played by Keenan Macwilliam.
I want to make clear that this is not like a pre-movie Hunger Games Rue situation, where Rue is clearly described as black in the book’s text but a lot of white readers didn’t pick up on it. (And, in many cases, then got mad about it.) None of the Saddle Club girls are physically described at all in the book we read, except for an offhand mention of Stevie’s blonde hair. For all we know, all three girls could be black (and maybe one of them dyes her hair). However, most readers, especially white readers, assume characters are white unless stated otherwise.
With all of these book covers, I think if you look at them pre-armed with the knowledge (gained from other books in the series, or perhaps from familiarity with the Saddle Club TV show) that Carole is black, you could recognize Carole as a WOC, albeit one on the lighter end of the spectrum of color. But with most of them, especially as a white person with existing biases, one could also easily view Carole as white. (Of course, Carole could well be black and white–lots of people are mixed race, and people of color come in all shades.) But the combination of very light-skinned cover models and a lack of physical description in this particular book make it pretty easy for a reader (especially a white reader) to just assume Carole is white. For what it’s worth, the original series author, Bonnie Bryant, also appears to be white.
Did these covers whitewash Carole (as is common in book covers)? Is she meant to be mixed race? Is she meant to have been depicted with darker skin? I literally don’t know, it was not mentioned in the text of the only Saddle Club book I have ever read. But whitewashing characters of color–both on book covers as well as movie/TV adaptations for books–continues to be a problem in 2017.
There’s a lot to unpack with Carole and these book covers, and I don’t have the time or expertise to dive deep, so here’s a quick link roundup:
- White as the Default by Marissa Rei Sebastian
- Hugo-Winning Author Nnedi Okorafor on How Whitewashing Once Came To Her Book Cover
- It Matters If You’re Black Or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers by Annie Schutte
- From Nina to Lemonade, Why We’re Still So Bad at Talking About Colorism by Mallika Rao
- Diversity in 2016 YA Book Covers (So Far)
- Faces of Color on 2017 YA Book Covers
- The Diversity Gap in Children’s Book Publishing 2017
- We Need Diverse Books Booklists
If you have more thoughts, leave a comment or tweet @worstbestseller!