These essential, significant stories remind us of stories in our own lives. They remind us of a fleeting moment when an animal too large to be a coyote moved from the shore of Lake Michigan, out of the brush, and crossed the road in front of you and your dog, of another time when a larger dog charged out of the woods bent on attacking you and your dog but right before your eyes your sweet fifty-pound Labrador pulled back her lips and barred her teeth turning into a wolf and of a long journey to your house after parent-teacher conferences at night during a blinding snowstorm when you pulled alongside a stopped car and a sobbing woman with children begged you to help her get home by following your car tracks.
On Christmas Day 2016 I read a book, a brilliant book, with many points to ponder but first it will, like all great stories, resonate with and awaken memories in anyone who reads it. This title, Wolf In The Snow (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, January 3, 2017), written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is nearly wordless but the artwork speaks with such depth you can feel its truth and warmth fill you from your head to your toes. It ties the souls of all beings together. It asks us to be our best selves.
On the first page after the opening endpapers we are on the outside in the softly falling snow looking inside the window of a home. A man and a woman are drinking cups of morning coffee as a young girl and her dog exchange affectionate gestures. In the next two-page image the dog sends his human off to school with three sharp barks.
The snow is still falling as she trudges along. In the distance a pack of wolves gather, the leader lifting his voice in a howl. We have now reached the verso and title pages. After school the child all dressed in red heads for home. The snow is falling more heavily now. The wolf pack is on the move.
Soon the snow is so thick it's more than difficult to see. A wolf pup drops back from the pack, unable to keep up with the pace. Trying to find their way to safety and security the paths of the little girl and the pup merge. Kindness bridges a gap. Howls answer a howl.
Placing another first conquers one fear after another. Then, time stands still in the frozen snowy night. Fatigue takes its toll. A link time cannot erase favors a courageous, compassionate heart.
In a conversation with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on December 15, 2015 Matthew Cordell shares a single drawing from which this story grew. It's a testament to his wonderful sense of story, imagination and creativity that this book was born. The blending of the two worlds, domestic and wild, is flawless and most beautiful.
The opened dust jacket reveals two separate scenes, the little girl in red with the wolf pup and a lone wolf, on the left, atop a hill howling. The sky and snow carries over the spine to create the effect of oneness between these two images. The book case is stunning. On the right and left, framed in white, are five pictures. They represent the best of two worlds, a possible future. The opening and closing endpapers are a robin's egg blue.
Rendered in pen and ink with watercolor, Matthew Cordell warmly invites us into the story with his first picture. His signature style is lively and brimming with emotion. We get a very real sense of the love shared in this family and between the girl and her dog. (I love that she waves good-by to her dog as she leaves for school in answer to the dog's barks.)
To introduce the domestic and wild worlds, establishing a contrast as well as a connection, Cordell uses white space and loose circular pictures. Tension is supplied in moving from two-page illustrations to the circular picture pages. This also provides pacing. The placement of the characters and elements present many emotional and pivotal points. (No matter how many times I've read this book, I am near tears more than once.) The effect created by Cordell's style is identical to being in a real snowstorm or blizzard. You can almost hear the wind wailing.
One of my many favorite pictures covers two pages edge to edge. It's a close up of the wolf pack on the move. Across the top is the pale blue sky filled with snowflakes. A line of trees divides the sky and the land. Most of the illustration has a dry, grassy background quickly getting covered with snow. Four adult wolves move to the left along with the pup. The leader is very close to the reader on the right. You can tell how bitter the temperature is by their frosty breaths. The detail here (in all the pictures) is exquisite.
When Wolf In The Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is released next week rush as quickly as possible to get a copy for your personal and professional collections. I will be purchasing multiple copies to give away. This book is a marvelous, timeless treasure. Thank you Matthew. We need books like this more than ever.
To discover more about Matthew Cordell and his other work please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name. Please watch the book trailer which was premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. I think you'll enjoy Matthew's responses to John's sentence starters. Matthew Cordell chats about this title at School Library Journal: Preview: The Crusty Nibs. Matthew answers five questions at author James Preller's blog. Matthew is featured at The Little Crooked Cottage, Miss Marple's Musings, and Andrea Skyberg's website. Matthew Cordell wrote a post for November Picture Book Month 2016, Why Picture Books Are Important.
5 starred reviews for WOLF IN THE SNOW! Coming SOOOOOON from @FeiwelFriends @MacKidsBooks! January 3! pic.twitter.com/gr1hkNd81v— Matthew Cordell (@cordellmatthew) December 27, 2016
UPDATE: Matthew Cordell visits with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to chat about the evolution of this title and some other projects. On February 12, 2018 Matthew Cordell received the Caldecott Medal for this title. Here is an article appearing in Publishers Weekly, A Sleepless Night, A Joyous Morning: Matthew Cordell on Winning the Caldecott.
Here is Matthew's Caldecott Medal Acceptance speech.
Here is an introductory article by his wife, Julie in The Horn Book.
Matthew writes a blog post after the award ceremony on June 24, 2018.