Who doesn’t love a vintage photograph from the author’s childhood on the cover of her memoir? When the image is just right, these covers are among the best. But if a photo that speaks directly to the story does not exist, why force an inappropriate one upon the book? Better to have a completely different sort of cover than to make the book (and reader) suffer from the publisher’s conviction that only a childhood photo will do.

For example, in the hardcover copy of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood, a cow is shown standing on a bed, which is mildly intriguing, until we find out that the cow is not in this story at all. There is one sentence in which the grandfather references the cow, now long gone (presumably before the author was born), and Granny smiles at the memory. That’s it.  Placing this nonevent on the cover is misleading to the reader and, more importantly, creates an incongruity between the cover and interior that is disorienting.

The paperback version is no better. We see a laughing little girl holding a creature (or a toy?) that is aggravatingly impossible to identify until we get to Chapter 7, where we learn that it’s a chameleon—and we find out that the girl is not the author. I felt deceived by this. For seven chapters I looked at the cover and thought this was the girl telling the story.  Because why else would she be prominently featured on the cover? After all, it’s not an attention-grabbing picture in any way, nor does it say “Africa.” It’s just an ordinary snapshot that could have been taken anywhere.

Click here for a complete review of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle.

By Donna Long