Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


When my father was serving in the United States Army during World War II he was stationed on several remote spots in the Aleutian Islands.  My mom, queen of holiday cheer, wanted to send him a package at Christmas reminding him of the Michigan outdoors he loved so well.  It was securely wrapped in brown paper and she placed sturdy red ribbon around it.  As a finishing touch she added several small pine branches tied within the bow.  My dad was teased by the men in his unit for weeks about getting a box with two sticks tied in the ribbon.  A lengthy journey left a trail of pine needles across the miles.

Getting a letter or package, expected or unexpected, in the mail always holds a bit of wonderful in it.  When you add decorations on the outside or colorful commemorative stamps, it sends an extra message. (Placing the Batman stamps on my bills, makes me hope the opener's spirits will soar.) Special Delivery (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, March 3, 2015) written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is about a girl with a goal willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.


When Sadie is hailed by a friend questioning where she is going, it is answered with a no-nonsense reply.  It's important to note Sadie is in the company of an elephant, not a baby (not that it would make a difference) but a full-grown elephant.  She is intent on making sure this creature is sent to her Great-Aunt Josephine who she believes needs the company.

Her arrival at the less than ordinary post office under the care of a laid-back but vigilant postman is met with total professionalism.  After her requests are made, he, with a calculator in hand, determines she is going to need a lot of stamps.  We are talking about thousands of stamps, readers.

Leaving Jim, the postman, with the elephant in tow, Sadie heads to her next possible mode of transportation.  Without batting an eye, the proud owner of an airplane is happy to loan it to our determined gal.  Not heeding the suggestion of plenty of fuel needed to carry the weight of an elephant, Sadie soars (roars) into the sky.

Fortunately the duo crash into a river with a willing alligator nearby.  A watery float brings them to the tracks supplying the pathway for Engine #75.  Sadie calls out her thanks to Alligator along with a promise as she and the elephant ride the rails.

It's not every day a train crewed by a thieving bunch of monkeys with a taste for legumes takes on a girl and her elephant as passengers but, as you may have noted; this is no ordinary journey or story.  Thankfully for Sadie and her pachyderm pal a station is reached where a much-needed diet change is in order.  A gracious driver of a frosty treat truck agrees to take them on the final leg of their travels.

They are most certainly enthusiastically greeted upon their arrival by Great-Aunt Josephine.  We are certainly surprised to see what we see.  And Sadie makes good on her promise, another sort of special delivery.

With every reading of this book, I can't help but hope Philip C. Stead had as much fun writing this story of Sadie and her adventures as readers will each time they read it.  First you have a girl loving her Great-Aunt Josephine enough to send her a package to quell her aloneness followed by the realization of her wanting to send one of the largest land mammals on our planet.  Her initiative in flying a plane, riding an alligator, and sharing a train with monkeys is so improbable; you have to love her spirit as you continue grinning broadly.  It's one of the aspects I like about Stead's characters; their daring to dream and dream big.

Told in dialogue, Sadie's matter of fact questions, answers and observations followed by the equally matter of fact conversational exchanges with the other human characters will have you chuckling at the unlikeliness of this ever happening; except within the pages of a book created by Stead.  It's the calm which provides the comedy. The repetition of particular key phrases welcomes readers into the narrative.  Here is a sample passage.

"Hey, Jim.  I'd like to mail this elephant, please, to my Great-Aunt Josephine---
who lives almost completely alone and could really use the company."
"Please be gentle with him.  Do not bend him, or drop him, or 
shake him much at all.  He is fragile and very easily might break."

Rendered using pen and ink and watercolor, Matthew Cordell's distinctive style invites close inspection on the dust jacket.  His interpretation of the famous Inverted Jenny airmail stamp is sure to promote discussions about stamps and history.  I find myself smiling at the way we are introduced to Sadie and the elephant, both looking rather emotional about the flight.  On the back, to the left Sadie is holding a pan over a campfire as if she is cooking the ISBN.  Gathered around it are four of the black-and-white-striped-shirt-wearing monkeys, masks over their eyes.

Removing the jacket reveals a book case resplendent in thumbprint-size postage stamps. (I gasped at seeing this.) Every single one (there are at least one hundred) features a different design.  You could spend days matching them to characters from this book, significant objects, icons or places and tributes paid to other people and literary wonders.  Gadzooks!  A dusty lavender color covers the opening and closing endpapers.

The first three pages open the story before we come to the verso and title page.  Cordell has a flock of birds pulling a banner showcasing the title, flying from right to left.  We caught a glimpse of them on the previous page.  As Sadie walks along behind the elephant we see a trail of peanuts coming from her backpack.  Throughout the book a particular trio follows this gal and her huge friend.  You have to look for them.

Readers will enjoy pausing after each page turn to view the numerous details placed by Cordell in each image.  The depictions of the characters are marvelous.  The expressions on the elephant's face during each phase of the trip tell a tale all their own.  Several of the illustrations are without any narrative, the hand-lettered words and visuals carrying the story forward fantastically.

One of my most loved illustrations (actually the whole airplane sequence, among others) is when Sadie zooms off in the airplane.  Below we can see a tiny Mary with her pet pig running along carrying the gas can as she shouts out


Riding in the second, back, seat wearing goggles, the elephant is terrified.  Sadie wearing her cap, goggles and scarf, grips the wheel with determination.  Peanuts fly out the back.

You must, yes everyone, get a copy of Special Delivery written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell for your professional and personal bookshelves.  This is the kind of collaboration that will make you believe in the impossible.  You might want to stock up on peanuts and look for signs of elephants in residence after reading it aloud.  And if you don't have a stamp collection yet, you'll probably want to start one as soon as you can get to the post office. I can't wait to read this to a group of children.

To learn more about Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell please follow the links attached to their names to access their individual websites.  This link takes you to Philip C. Stead's blog where he has posted a marvelous video highlighting the opportunity to win original artwork used in this book.  Here is a conversation between Erin E. Stead, Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell at Number Five Bus Presents...  Publishers Weekly hosted Matthew Cordell recently, Q & A with Matthew Cordell.  Author and blogger Julie Danielson hosted Neal Porter, Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Special Delivery: A Visit with Matthew Cordell & Philip Stead and Even a Moment with Neal Porter.  Matthew Cordell chats with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner at the Let's Get Busy Podcast.  Here's the link to a great article at BookPage, Stamp Of Approval On Adventure about this title.  Be sure to visit the publisher's website to catch a glimpse of more interior images and a peek at a portion of the book case.

Special Delivery is being featured in a trifecta by teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher at Watch. Connect. Read, at sharpread hosted by reading advocate and educator Colby Sharp and at the Nerdy Book Club with a post by Philip C. Stead.

UPDATE:  Please follow this link to an interview of Matthew Cordell at Debbie Ridpath Ohi's blog, Inkygirl.com

UPDATE:  During the week of March 17, 2015 Matthew Cordell sent out tweets containing illustrations from the book.  Enjoy.

UPDATE: On May 20, 2015 Matthew Cordell was a guest at The Little Crooked Cottage   It's a great tour of his studio.

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