For forty-seven years and counting, it has been a privilege to work within and enjoy a world centered in children's literature. Book by book my already considerable respect for authors and illustrators has grown every year. With each new title I hold in my hands and read, it still grows.
One of the greatest joys of being a teacher librarian, other than sharing books with all readers, is the honor of watching an author, illustrator, or author illustrator begin and master their art. Underlying every word they write and every element in the images they make is a passion for bringing their absolute best to children, readers, of all ages. In 2021 one of these creators has released two books within a week of each other. To me, these titles demonstrate this individual's skill. Bear Island (Feiwel And Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, January 26, 2021) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell addresses the life-changing event of great loss.
In a series of five wordless illustrations, with the exception of the words above on the final picture, prior to the title page, we learn of the value of Charlie, the family's canine member. The family is Louise, Mom, Dad, and Charlie living in a home on a lake. Near the home is an island.
One day, in a small rowboat, Louise goes to the island, thinking about Charlie. Missing him, she wanders alone there. She finally, after quite a while, decides to leave. She grabs a stick and hits a nearby tree. In a flash, butterflies surround Louise. Several deer come from the woods near her. Louise is starting to feel a shift in her soul, but suddenly that stops.
Large, loud noises send the butterflies and deer away. A bear stands near Louise, roaring. She is afraid and mad, mad about so many things. She roars back, waving her stick. The bear lies down. As she goes to her boat to leave, Louise looks back at the bear. In him, she senses herself.
Day after day, Louise returns to the island. Some days for her, and for Bear, are better than others, but together they are making a difference. Through the seasons, life on the island is shifting. It is not the only place change is happening. Even though winter is coming, Louise continues to visit the island until one day, Bear is missing. When she finally finds him, a hard truth envelopes her. It is fortunately followed by other wonderful truths.
Each sentence by this author states succinctly what can be seen and thought. Matthew Cordell leaves room in his narrative for readers to find connections to their own life experiences. His word choices are sensory, welcoming us into this story. He also employs repetition to reinforce and intensify a particular moment. Here is a passage.
But then . . . came a noise.
A crunching of leaves noise . . .
A snapping of trees noise . . .
A chuffing of breath noise . . .
When you stare at the bear spread across the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, what do you see? Do you see the use of light and shadow? Do you see the texture and color of the bear's fur? Do you see how the top of his head and the shape of the island are one? Why is Louise standing on his head? There is so much in this initial image for readers to notice and understand. The title text is varnished. To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white, is a loosely framed circular picture. This picture features the island, shades of turquoise water lapping against its shores. Butterflies hover over the treetops.
A bright spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers. On the first page is a baseball nearly life-size on white. It is followed by Louise throwing the ball to a running Charlie. In the next three pages we know Charlie is gone. The color palette is sepia for the grief Louise, Mom, and Dad are feeling. The two-page picture for the verso, dedication and title pages is a close-up of the water around the island. Fish swim in the upper corners. On the right, on a small stone above the water rests a gorgeous butterfly, its color in contrast to the water.
in pen and ink with watercolor and sometimes gouache
the images mirror and elevate the story. At first, they continue in the sepia tones (and again at the end) altering in size from two-page visuals, single-page pictures, to a circular image on a single page and at times multiple images are placed together to depict the passage of time. The shapes of these multiple images vary. They are loose circles, vertical panels, squares, or rectangles. A crisp white background heightens the impact of many of these illustrations.
Matthew has a gift for using powerful wordless visuals. He does so with great effect in this book. Their emotional force will leave you breathless.
One of my many, many favorite pictures is one of ten spread across two pages. It is a small rectangle. It is framed in a loose black line. Inside are Louise and Bear. They are in the water, looking out across it with their backs to us. Louise is standing with her stick, using is like a staff. Bear is seated in the water next to her.
This book, Bear Island written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is one to heal the hole left by loss. It speaks directly to how grief wraps around us, but how we can replace it with something else. A closed door can also open. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Matthew Cordell, you can visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Matthew has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Matthew and this book are featured by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, at her space at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production and by author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. At the publisher's website you can view interior images.
Oh, there is nothing like holding a book in your hands with the return of a fiery, determined protagonist within its pages. We first met her in a montage of modes of transportation as she, with the most heartfelt of reasons, desired to make a gift of an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine. This is Special Delivery. In The Only Fish In The Sea, she sets off on a stormy sea accompanied by a friend and a unruly crew to rescue a tiny pet, a gift, tossed away. Sadie is back!
This time, Sadie's Aunt Josephine takes center stage, regaling readers and Sadie with a particularly crazy feat from her youth. Follow That Frog! (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 2, 2021) written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is an adventure loaded with non-stop action and laugh-out-loud hilarity. You'll begin to understand why Sadie exhibits certain characteristics as she faces life's challenges.
Grrr . . .
HEY, AUNT JOSEPHINE!
Sadie has started her day, carrying a tray with a pot of tea and cups to her Aunt Josephine's bedroom. She opens the curtains in her aunt's bedroom. There is a steady and very loud knocking at the door to Aunt Josephine's home. Aunt Josephine does not want to answer the door and wishes to do nothing more than sleep to noon.
After all her around-the-world escapades, she deserves her rest. Then she launches into a tale of
cataloging amphibians for the scientific team of Admiral Rodriguez
in the wilds of Peru at the tender age of nine. Admiral Rodriquez, we discover, has died in a weird event involving bananas. His son has a serious crush on Josephine.
While gazing at Josephine's beauty, this son is devoured by an enormous frog. (Are you laughing yet?) Momentarily stunned, Josephine springs into action. She has to catalog that frog! Josephine and her loyal canine companion, Orion Francis Nelson, are in persistent pursuit, finding themselves in the hot regions of southern Argentina.
The frog, tiring of riding a rhea, leaps north toward the Panama Canal. Josephine and her dog manage to catch up as it heads west. To their dismay, the vessel they secure to follow the ravenous leaper helps them get totally lost. Nevertheless, Josephine stays upbeat until a band of pirates near the Canary Islands take away her vessel. They are left stranded.
As fate would have it, a whale provides much-needed assistance. Josephine, now touring around the globe searching for the frog via alternative forms of travel, tries to never gives up. To this day she has never located that frog. This is her one regret. Sadie, ever the optimist, offers wise words.
With every reading, you will be laughing more and more as the sheer absurdity of this tale told in dialogue strikes every humorous chord in your body. Philip C. Stead has taken his well-crafted characters and heightens their exploits to extraordinary. Just when you believe it can't possibly get more outrageous, it does in the best possible manner.
Philip C. Stead's choice of verbs and adjectives has readers following every twist and turn. Even though, we, like Sadie, are listening to this story, it is as if we are there in every single second. This is this author's gift to us. There is a part of us that knows this would never happen, but as we read this story, it is the truth. Here is a passage.
I gave chase, northward, aboard a reluctant tortoise,
disembarking at the Panama Canal,
where the frog took a sharp left turn, heading west into the tempestuous waters.
By opening the dust jacket, you get the full advantage of the design and artwork by Matthew Cordell. To the left, on the back, Aunt Josephine is sitting up in bed under her colorful quilt. Sadie is standing next to the bed, sipping a cup of tea. Chickens are meandering in the room, some looking for food and others looking up with the dog toward the front of the dust jacket. A rooster on one of the bedposts is crowing. Speech clouds spread from Aunt Josephine, puffing toward the spine. One of those clouds frames the ISBN. On the right, front, a large cloud borders the scene of a young Aunt Josephine chasing the frog with her pal, Orion Francis Nelson. Two methods of travel, the tortoise and rhea, are moving as fast as they can. The giant frog and the title text are varnished.
The book case cleverly presents JOSEPHINE'S FIELD GUIDE. The canvas is lined pages. The larger entries are taped to the pages. On the front, right side, are drawings and a photograph of frogs. Some are labeled. There are smaller sketches and flora taped to the pages. On the back, the left, is a diagram of the inside of a frog, a drawing of the rhea and several other photographs. Smaller elements hint at events to come.
The opening and closing endpapers are a bright green. On the first single page and first double-page picture before the verso, dedication, and title pages, we see Sadie standing inside in front of the door, her back to us. She then moves toward her Aunt Josephine's bedroom. Oh, my goodness . . . the intricate numerous details will have you pausing. On the walls you will see memorabilia from Josephine's travels and those of Sadie from the two previous books. The expressions on the chickens' faces and the antics of the dog are fabulous and funny.
The chickens and dog continue to be aggravated by the knocking on the verso and dedication page. On the title page, Sadie opens her aunt's bedroom curtains. This is the placeholder for the title text.
White space is an important part in all these illustrations. They highlight each line and supply a place for the present-day Josephine to tell her story to Sadie as larger images to the right and across several pages portray her past. In fact, in the present day readers will delight in watching how the morning proceeds. It is guaranteed you will see something new in the illustrations every time you read this book.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the text:
. . . run and run and run with no particular destination in mind.
It spreads across two pages. The cloud's background signifies the desert. On a path of her own making Josephine speeds across on her motorcycle, wearing proper attire and with her dog at her side. A parrot flies along with the duo. Weaving and looping around the sand is the rhea carrying this huge frog. The facial looks on both the frog and rhea are humorous with a capital H. For seven of the pictures of the frog and rhea, they are together. In the eighth set, the frog jumps from the relieved and startled rhea's back.
Whether you've read the first two books, you must have a copy of Follow That Frog! written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell for your professional and personal collections. Although to be honest, having all three books makes for richer reading. In both words and images, this is storytelling at its finest.
To learn more about Philip C. Stead and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. At Penguin Random House, you can view a few images. The book release party was at The Book Stall. You can watch it now. At Books of Wonder, you can register for a future event.