Did You Like Wolf in the Snow? A Cover Reveal for Matthew Cordell’s Next Wordless Book: Explorers
A show of hands. How many people here enjoyed Matthew Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow? Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm. So that’s, uh, lemme count here . . . (one, two, three, four…) … that’s everybody. Everybody here liked Wolf in the Snow. Except maybe those of you over there in the corner that haven’t read it yet. Well, you’re in for a treat. See, it’s this nearly wordless book that won a Caldecott for Awesomeness (fairly certain that’s what’s written on the medal itself: “Caldecott for Awesomeness 2019”). A book with heart and brains and killer illustrations of very realistic looking wolves.
Now Matthew Cordell is the hardest working man in baseball, as they say, rivaled only by Dan Santat and LeUyen Pham, for sheer output. Makes sense that in time he’d produce another picture book in the Wolf In the Snow vein. And when the very nice people at Macmillan asked me if I wanted to do a bit of a cover reveal for this new book, do you know what I said? I said yes, please, and thank you, because I am a polite soul. And heck, why not throw in a little interview with Mr. Cordell for spice? A cover reveal is nice, but a little background on said cover can be even nicer. Particularly when it covers things like how an author/illustrator balances work time and personal appearances in the wake of a Caldecott win.
Just to give you some context, here’s the description of the book (on sale September 24th!):
When a family goes to a local museum, a boy notices a homeless man sitting outside, making brightly colored origami birds. He convinces his dad to buy a bird the man makes just for him.Once inside the museum, his little sister takes the bird and launches it into the air. Is it lost? Soon another boy helps him look, and the paper bird brings two families—and two new friends—together.With the style he used in Wolf in the Snow, Matt Cordell shows how an ordinary family outing can be both extraordinary and magical.
Betsy Bird: Hi Matt! Let’s talk shop. Now Explorers isn’t the first picture book you’ve both authored and illustrated since your Caldecott win for Wolf In the Snow, but it does appear to be more closely aligned in terms of tone and content. Did you start working on this before or after your win?
Matthew Cordell: If memory serves, I pitched the idea of Explorers to my Wolf editor, Liz Szabla, sometime before the big Caldecott news. Wolf had already had a solid reception in terms of reviews and it had just received the Boston Globe-Horn Book honor. So we were looking for a “next book” that was in line with the vibe of Wolf. King Alice was already done by that point (and a very different book from Wolf!), so I sat on it for a while and Explorers began to materialize.
BB: What’s your work schedule been like since you won the Caldecott? Is it just a sea of unending school visits or do you have some downtime to get work done?
MC: Heh… there’s definitely been a treasure trove of travel and appearances in the last year. It’s been a bit of a challenge to find the right balance between author appearances and book production. I’ve had to get some deadline extensions from a few very gracious publishers. I’m still playing a bit of catch up, really, but I’m not too far off schedule. (whew!) Next month, I’ll be going on my first ever book-related trip outside of the US. I’ve been invited to do a book festival in Hong Kong. Then a week after that, I’ll be on a plane to Disneyworld with the family for a week. That should be an interesting few weeks!
BB: Tell me a little bit about the impetus of this book. Where did it come from?
MC: One of my favorite things is visiting museums with my family. I’ve loved museums all my life, but I find it especially inspiring to do as a family. To watch my kids encounter so much that’s new to them. Museums are these never-ending buffets of culture, history, science, information, knowledge. There’s such a wonderfully diverse range of patrons that visit museums too. People of all age, race, nationality, and spirituality. It’s just an amazingly beneficial environment to get absorbed into for a day. If more families visited museums, today’s adults in particular, I think the world would be a much more understanding place. So, Explorers is about a family that goes on an adventure within the walls of a museum. At first, it’s an eye-opening adventure that comes from encountering the exhibits at the museum. But it becomes even richer than that when another family–one that is different from the first family–happens into a conflict in the story, and the eyes of these explorers are opened even wider. Explorers speaks to the vastness of humanity, but also to its smallness. Our similarities as people are much bigger–or should be bigger–than our differences.
BB: Is it based on any particular museum?
MC: I love museums of all shapes and sizes–art museums, natural history museums, science museums… the whole lot. There is some art on display in this book, but the museum in Explorers is mostly of the natural history variety. I just really wanted to draw dinosaur bones! And I did feel that a natural history museum has a lot of artifacts and historical cultural references on display, which would be helpful in telling this particular story. I love Chicago’s Field Museum. It is one of my favorites of all time, anywhere. So Explorers is very much a love note to the Field. But it probably has a bit of New York’s American Museum of Natural History in it. And Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. And The British Museum in London. With a hint of Chicago’s Museum at the Art Institute of Chicago.
BB: Sometimes folks have very adamant opinions on wordless books. For example, some people just hate the term “wordless”. Does this book have words? If it does, how are they used within the art?
MC: It’s true. I think it throws people off. To open a book and it’s all just pictures. It requires a bit more work of the reader, to interpret a story on pictures alone. And with the ever-shrinking attention-spans of our culture, that’s a challenge. Though I must say, it does seem to be more challenging for adults than the young readers. No offense, grown-ups. There are some words in this book, but they are like the words in Wolf In the Snow. They are “sound words” that are sort of sewn into the art. I like putting that into my wordless books. I think it comes from my love for comics. All the “pow!” and “thwack!” and “thwip!” words that color the pages of comics and graphic novels. So there’s onomatopoeia throughout. Is it a wordless book through and through? It depends on who’s asking. If it’s someone who hates the term “wordless”, then no. This is not a wordless book.
BB: And finally, what are you working on next?
MC: I’m currently wrapping up final art for a Candlewick picture book with author Kara LaReau titled Baby Clown. It’s a fun and funny story that takes place in a circus. A couple of clowns in the circus have a baby (which becomes, naturally, a baby clown), and it’s ruining the circus with all of its crying! That will be out next spring. And I’m in sketches for a picture book biography I’ve written about my longtime hero, Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers), titled Hello, Neighbor!. It’s been a project I’d dreamt of doing for, like, a decade. And it’s finally a real deal. All the t’s have been crossed and i’s dotted and Fred Rogers Productions is working with Neal Porter, Holiday House, and me to make this the official Mister Rogers picture book bio. That’s coming next summer. Beyond those two projects, I’m also brainstorming what my follow-up will be to Explorers. Explorers isn’t even out yet, but that’s how these things work! Just this week, a great idea bubbled up during one of my morning walks. Now to see if my editor feels the same about it…
Thank you so much, Matthew, and to the folks at Macmillan for letting me get all this lovely lovely info.
And now, of course, the cover.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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