Quote of the Month

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

Into The Realm Of Story

It started Friday evening.  It has not stopped.  A second winter weather advisory in forty-eight hours has been issued.  It recently turned into a winter storm warning.  Local school children are going to bed wearing pajamas turned inside out.  Ice cubes are disappearing from the freezer and being flushed down the toilet.  Spoons are placed under pillows.  These gals and guys are doing everything they can to hear the radio or television announce tomorrow morning---Snow Day!

A snow day is a gift from Mother Nature.  It's a time to abandon routine.  It's a time to celebrate the unexpected.  King Alice (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, September 25, 2018) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is about embracing the present with joy.


Good morning, 

"Y-a-a-a-a-w-n . . . Morning , Alice," said Dad.

Alice forcefully replies she wants to be called King Alice, not Queen, but King.  Alice can hardly wait to begin this day, but her dad is less than enthusiastic at her suggestions involving cooking and beauty makeovers.  When she declares she has a new idea both Mom and Dad believe it might have potential.

It's going to be a book about King Alice and the royal brave knights (everyone else).  First, they are seated having a breakfast of cereal shaped like dragons.  Her royal highness wants everyone to be tidy and to use their napkins.  She also says this is the end of the book.  Oh, oh . . .

Mom and Dad are sure it needs to be longer, so Alice has another idea.  Chapter two is a Princess Tea Party complete with a burping Knight Baby.  Now Alice is bored but Dad is not.  While playing with a set of Kitty Babies a brainstorm rains down on this energetic gal.  It's a pirate invasion in chapter five (Chapters three and four have vanished.) but the day is saved by a tooting monarch.

After lunch a television show sparks another action-packed episode in the book.  An over-zealous rider does get a time out.  Even kings need to temper their actions and apologize.  The appearance of fairies and I'm sorry dust adds another chapter to the book.  Dinner time and bath time lead King Alice to her closing chapter.  As peace and quiet settle over the household, Alice suddenly sits up in bed.


In this book, in all his books, Matthew Cordell creates an immediate connection with his readers.  The heart of his story reaches into the hearts of his readers.  He has a keen perception of people of all ages.  This perception is revealed in this narrative and the dialogue between the characters.

We quickly come to understand the personalities of Alice, her dad, mom and baby brother.  Alice's energy and lightning-like ideas, Dad's patience and creativity, Mom's patience and support and baby brother's typical behavior (spitting his lunch at dad) supply us with family dynamics and humor.  Here are two passages; the first from a portion of the snow day book and the other from the title story.

Chapter 5
Then the pirates came in their big pirate
car!  Captain Bellyfish walked around 
and said, "I'm the toughest pirate on Earth!" 

"I'm so, so, so, so, so sorry I bonked you with my unicorn, Daddy.
You are funny and nice and you draw good and smell good and
are neat and nice and will you still play with me now, Daddy?"

On the opened dust jacket readers get a glimpse of the original narrative on the right and the snow day story on the left.  King Alice is standing straight and tall in front of the mirror, pages of the book and crayons scattered around her.  She is definitely in command of the situation.  The title letters in gold are raised.

On the back, more crayons frame the four corners of a page from the book.  King Alice and Princess Dad are happily riding on the back of a unicorn.  King Alice and Princess Dad are written in crayon and in different fonts on lined yellow paper.  The drawing of the duo is pure Matthew Cordell.

The book case is the front and back of the snow day book on lined yellow paper.  On the front King Alice is standing in a regal pose, with eyes closed.  The title text is on top and at the bottom it says

by Alice + Dad.

To the left, on the back, King Alice and a brave knight are eating dragon-shaped cereal as fairies fly above them and two unicorns peek in from the left and right.  The opening and closing endpapers are in purple . . . for royalty.

In a signature technique Matthew begins his visual story prior to the title page with a circular image of the family's home amid a snow storm.  In a speech bubble those two words children love to hear are shouted from a window.  On the verso and title pages we see Alice get up with the family cat, make her crown and continue with her attire until she stands on a crate holding her scepter.

The illustrations are rendered

using pen and ink, watercolor, and whatever colored pencils and markers Matthew Cordell could find from his kids' stash of art supplies.

The large amount of white space draws our attention to the characters and their actions.  Matthew's loose lines supply animation.  His addition of sound effect words adds to the narrative and the comedy.  Readers will find themselves pausing to notice all the tiny elements in each picture.  The presence of the cat and its expressions add to the laughter factor.

Whenever King Alice and her dad are writing and drawing in their book, their pages on the yellow lined paper with crayon drawings follow the narrative.  Sometimes one of Alice's ideas is not a chapter but a double-or single page captioned image.  It's interesting to compare these with the actual happenings.

Several times during the first narrative Matthew displays full page and double-page illustrations with no text.  These contribute to the pacing and the atmosphere in the home.  Matthew closes the book with images in loose circles; just as he did in the beginning.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is early in the book.  Alice as King is standing on her crate with her scepter (back scratcher) on her dad's right shoulder.  Her dad is standing next to her.  The family cat is rubbing against Dad's leg and purring.  Everyone has their backs to us as they stare out the window at the snowy landscape.  Alice is saying

What'll we do 

Dad is thinking

Ugh . . .
More snow . . .

You know this is going to be a day filled with adventure and lots of giggles and grins.

Although winter has not officially arrived there are places receiving significant amounts of snow already.  King Alice written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is certainly a classic snow day book but more importantly it gives us a very personal peek at the life of a family.  Each of the characters is respected and allowed to be their very best.  This is clear in the dialogue and in the illustrations.  Be prepared with crayons, colored pencils and markers along with lined paper as soon as you read this aloud to one or more listeners.  What could be better than making a book together?  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Matthew Cordell and his other work, please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  Matthew maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  Matthew stops to chat with Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  The book trailer is revealed on A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.  This title is also featured at author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There is loads of artwork.  Matthew is also interviewed by Elizabeth Dulemba about this book on her site.  You can view interior images on the publisher's website.

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