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Why is it always the redhead? —or— How to use stock photos sparingly

While perusing Cliques by Toney Allman, part of Lucent Books’ long-running Hot Topics series for middle-schoolers, I noticed this poor girl, presumably being teased about her hair.

“Why is it always the redhead?” thought I. From Anne Shirley (and doesn’t it look like this little lady’s ready to break her slate over somebody’s head?), to that other beloved little orphan with a similar-sounding name, to Ron Weasley, and Julianne Moore’s Freckleface Strawberry alter ego, we gingers must develop a thick, if easily sunburned, skin. But wait; don’t feel too sorry for stock photo girl. Here’s a different picture from the same book:

Little Red looks like the aggressor; just another fiery, hot-tempered one of us.*

Which brings me to my point: if you’re going to use staged photos in your books (I’m talking to you, endless nonfiction series), first try to mix it up a little; don’t assume your readers won’t recognize the same kid in two different pictures. Next, please, oh, please put a little more thought into your audience. We say this over and over again in reviews, but what teens are going to take seriously a book—purportedly aimed right at them—that uses such totally square (and in the case of the aforementioned Angry Carrot, too young) supporting images? Another example, this time from Jenny MacKay’s Hot Topics title Gangs:


A group of Abercrombie-wearing kids sitting around an outdoor mall does not a street gang make, and no teens—be they “queen bees,” “goth kids,” “nerds,” or “floaters”—will be fooled into thinking otherwise.

—Elissa Gershowitz aka Pippi

*(see Facebook page: “Why Are Bullies in Movies Always Fat Red-Headed Kids with Freckles?”)

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. Gingerseller says:

    >Dear Elissa aka Pippi:
    OH, NO!
    We plead guilty to adding ANOTHER red-headed bully to the pantheon. Maureen Wartski's middle-grade novel YURI"S BRUSH WITH MAGIC has not one but TWO red-headed bullies — Halsey Fowler and his grandmother, Cora. I am sending a review copy to Roger, asap; see if you can get your hands on it. My sincere apologies in advance.
    Amy Spaulding
    Sleepy Hollow Books

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