Quote of the Month

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

Friday, January 28, 2022

Poles Apart , But . . .

It is safe to say the phrase "opposites attract" will continue to be researched and debated for many years to come.  There are supporting factors on both sides.  If you think about it, as I have, what a loss for our world if there were no "opposites".  What if we walked outside to discover all snowflakes were alike?  What if scanning the forested hills in autumn, there was only a single color?  What if our planet was populated in a single species in one color, one size and one shape rather than the abundance of species in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes, flourishing in a variety of habitats in various seasons?  

Can not the same be said for the individuals in our lives?  This does not mean we don't feel a certain joy in spending time with kindred spirits. We do, but is the joy any less when we feel a rapport, sometimes for our entire lives, with someone deemed to be our opposite?  In Cornbread & Poppy (Little, Brown and Company, January 4, 2021), a new early reader series, Caldecott Medalist (Wolf In The Snow) Matthew Cordell explores in three chapters the enduring friendship of two mice who approach many things differently except for one thing.

The First Snow
It was winter.  The first snowflake had fallen.

Cornbread, snug in his home, was organizing all the food he had collected in autumn.  He tucked away fruit preserves, grains, and cheese.  He worried and planned to make sure he had enough to last the long winter.  

Poppy, his friend, did not worry or plan.  She was a carefree soul, preferring to spend her time biking, hiking and seeking out all kinds of adventure.  She did not gather fruit, grains, or cheese.  Her food, even at this early date, was nearly gone.

Now her phrase,

Nah, I'll do it later!

was coming back to haunt her.  Cornbread went with Poppy to all the vendors and nearby neighbors.  They had no food.  When Poppy suggested they travel up Holler Mountain, he grew frantic.  (Even daring Poppy had misgivings about trekking up the mountain, but she needed to eat.)

Cornbread offered a series of reasons not to go up the mountain.  The most serious one was the disappearance of the last mouse to scale the heights, but Poppy was his best friend.  They packed essentials in Poppy's wagon, donned warm clothing, and began to climb in the rapidly increasing snowfall.

To say, they found food on the steep ascent would not be true.  To say, they did not meet their mortal enemy, an owl, would not be true.  To say they had not one but several shocking encounters would be totally true!  There were a lot of surprises on Holler Mountain (and afterward), but the best thing about this risky wintery endeavor was the one thing Cornbread and Poppy always had in common, their affection for each other.

After having read this charming title several times, I can say with certainty the pacing is pure perfection.  The blend of narrative and conversation done with a keen sense of humor by Matthew Cordell had me bursting aloud with laughter more than once.  In these three chapters, Matthew Cordell establishes the personalities of the two friends through a rhythmic presentation of their opposite habits and life views.  He takes you to the edge of a situation with you expecting it to go a certain way and when it does not, you are drawn further into the story of Cornbread and Poppy.  Here is a passage.

The snow crunch. . .crunch. . .crunch. . .crunched
around them.  The owl had landed.

Sniff. . .sniff. . . "Is that mice I smell?" said a

Cornbread and Poppy shivered.  The shrub

"I like mice!" said the voice.

The shrub shivered.

Poppy grabbed a stone and stood up.

"I'll save you, Cornbread!  Run!"

One of the first things you notice about the open and matching dust jacket and book case is the signature lines and intricate details often found in the artwork of Matthew Cordell.  The clothing, shoes, scrollwork on the furniture, the artwork on the walls, and Holler Mountain in the distance through the window are all clues to the adventures which are to follow in the pages of the book.  Do you notice how the tea in Poppy's cup is splashing out?  That's probably because she rarely sits still.  And what is flying near the peak of Holler Mountain?  The color palette shown here is used throughout the book.

To the left of the spine, on the back, Cornbread and Poppy, now wearing skis with poles, are gliding through evergreens down a snowy slope.  Why are they wearing backpacks?  And is cautious Cornbread smiling?  You can feel your anticipation growing.

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright, light turquoise like the sky over Holler Mountain.  After the title page which shows us portraits of Cornbread and Poppy against the majesty of Holler Mountain, we read the dedication above a picture of the duo standing together.  It says:

To Julie---
the Poppy to my Cornbread

The illustrations rendered

in pen and ink with watercolor

shift in size to complement and elevate the text.  They fill portions of a page, an entire page with loose framing, or are grouped together to show the passage of time.  There is one two-page wordless visual.  Sometimes tiny sound effects are included.

If the pictures represent a thought or memory, a scalloped border outlines the scene.  The elements in the images ask you to pause.  The signs for each of the merchants reflect what they sell and the current status of their goods.  The town grump has a doormat reading NOPE.  The expressions on the faces of the characters leave no doubt as to their emotional state.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single page picture, loosely framed.  Within the frame is Holler Mountain.  Standing, side by side, with most of their bodies in the frame are Poppy and Cornbread.  They are staring up at the mountain at its base.  Their feet are outside the frame as is Poppy's wagon.  This is not just a picture of a mountain two mice are about to climb.  This represents everything about Cornbread and Poppy.  No matter what they have to scale in life, they will do it together, regardless of the reason for them being where they are.

After reading this first book in a new early reader series, Cornbread & Poppy written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, you'll want to climb to the top of Holler Mountain and shout out how wonderful it is.  Not only is it engaging from beginning to end for an individual to read, but as a read aloud your listeners will be asking you to read it repeatedly.  And you will, because each time is like the first time.  I highly recommend you have a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.  AND the next book in the series, Cornbread & Poppy at the Carnival, is set to release toward the end of June, 2022.

To learn more about Matthew Cordell and his other work, please access his website by following the link attached to his name.  Matthew Cordell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can (and will) enjoy listening to a podcast with Matthew speaking about this book.  Matthew Cordell and this book are highlighted at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There is process artwork.

Matthew Cordell Presents CORNBREAD & POPPY from LB School on Vimeo.

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