Feb 29 2012: Seven Book Cover Designs from Psychology and Education Reports (Pelican, 1961 – 1969)

I suppose, this being a leap year, that this small gallery of book cover designs from the 1960s Pelican non-fiction stable, amounts to a sort of ‘bonus post’ for the 365 days originally planned for this project: its presence means there’ll actually be 366 days of posts covered here instead. The images themselves cover a range of approaches to the representation of their educational and psychological subjects, from the child’s painting of the D.W. Winnicott volume to the geometric abstractions used for John Holt and George Pickering’s books (so strong are the latter, in graphic terms, that I recognised the Holt from its presence at a friend’s flat, framed as an artwork in its own right). Interestingly, while the look of the series is varied, the format gives them all a strong house style, a by-product of the uniform blue spines and sans serif typeface. With that house look taken care of, the designers seem free to pursue very distinct interpretations of the (occasionally somewhat abstract) material contained behind the vivid jackets. Nigel Grant’s Soviet Education uses monochrome photography (as does the odd one out here, Willem van der Eyken’s report on pre-school development for Penguin) while the two approaches are neatly fused in C.W. Valentine’s The Normal Child and Some of His Abnormalities which places a photograph at the centre of a schematic geometric design, and goes on – in its pages – to consider the “the great range of individual differences among mentally healthy children”, a range whose narrowing, in recent decades, may well have contributed to the growth in reporting of mental illness as marketable treatments are developed for what are, in essence, entirely normal responses to a world that seems increasingly tailor made to produce breakdown in all but the most detached and sociopathic of human minds. In total, these seven books cover many of the bases and hinterlands of the post-war period’s strong interest in new ways of preparing the human for a more rational and equal society. Much of what these authors have to say is a little dated: much else remains highly relevant and extends that progressive ideal into a future we may yet choose to implement.

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