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A girl is lost in a snowstorm. A wolf cub is lost, too. How will they find their way home?

Max's Boat Pick


By Matthew Cordell

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (January 3, 2017)

Thanks for visiting again, Matthew! This time, can you share how Wolf in the Snow came about? Matthew Cordell: "It all started with a drawing I made of a girl in a red coat standing in a snow-covered field across from an adult wolf. I often draw things that pop into my head and this was just one of those things. It wasn’t for a story I’d been working on, or for a book under contract. I posted the drawing on all of the regular social media channels, and people were very positive and curious about the drawing. I actually liked it quite a bit too, but I had no idea what—if anything—could be said about just the one picture."

The original drawing by Matthew Cordell that inspired Wolf in the Snow (below):

"So, instead of trying to write something, I decided to research wolves. Up to that point in my life, all I knew of wolves was from negative depictions in pop culture. Like old fairy and folk tales as well as more recent films and television that shows wolves as aggressive and vicious. Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, etc. With just a bit of research, I learned that these negative portrayals of wolves go back centuries. Most significantly, they are unfair and untrue. Wolves live in strongly bonded families (wolf packs) and hunt only out of necessity. They are intelligent, loving, and, yes, can be defensive if threatened. But they do not set out to kill for sport, and they either fear or have little to no interest in humans. After realizing what I thought to be true were long and twisted falsehoods, I started to see a story take shape that addressed fears and prejudice. The girl and the wolf in that drawing would be two lost souls set into a frightening, bleak, and isolated landscape to help tell that story."

Interior spreads from Matthew Cordell's Wolf in the Snow (below):

You now have two characters that wear a red (or off-red) cape! Do you just love Little Red Riding Hood? "I think I just like the color red! I am not a person who has a definitive favorite color, but red is great for screaming off the page. I’m often asked about Little Red Riding hood, and the honest answer is I don’t really think about that story. With Wolf in the Snow, I was working on my sketch dummy in early days, sharing the story and color character studies with my illustrator friends. The first thing someone asked was if I was trying to write a sort of anti-Little Red Riding hood story. I actually wasn’t, but from that point on that’s what it became. Maybe subconsciously, I wanted to write a wolf-positive story, and my subconscious started pulling from Little Red, which is a centuries-old, world-renowned, anti-wolf story. I think most of us know it well enough, in one form or another. The one thing I do like about Little Red is the sort of quest/adventure aspect of the story."

Interior spreads from Matthew Cordell's Wolf in the Snow (below):

What's next for you? "Gratefully, I’m keeping busy with multiple projects on the desk and on the horizon for publication. Next to be released will be the fourth book in my Cornbread and Poppy beginning reader series, Cornbread and Poppy for the Win—where our two mice heroes find themselves enlisted in a high-stakes cycle race. After that is The Ship in the Window, a picture book written by author, illustrator, librarian (triple threat!) pal, Travis Jonker—I provided illustrations for that one. I’m currently working on two picture books in different stages of completion. I’m drawing final art for my next author/illustrator picture book, To See an Owl, and I’m beginning sketches for a David Bowie picture book biography I’ve written. I’m super excited about all of these projects!"

What are your all-time favorite picture books?

Frog and Toad (all Frog and Toad books) by Arnold Lobel (technically not picture books, but let’s bend the rules for these pitch-perfect illustrated books)

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Evergreen the squirrel is afraid of many things: thunder, hawks, and the dark paths of Buckthorn Forest. But when her mother tasks Evergreen with delivering soup to her sick Granny Oak, the little squirrel must face her fears and make the journey.


By Matthew Cordell

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (February 7, 2023)

Hello Matthew! It's an honor to have you visit Max's Boat. You are so amazingly prolific, with books that range from contemplative and serious to light-hearted and funny, nearly wordless to early reader, and with a visual style that can switch on a dime—sometimes in the same book!

Can you share how Evergreen came about?

Matthew Cordell: "I started writing Evergreen during the pandemic. I wanted to tell a story about a community overcome with sickness with one central character and hero who was somehow immune and able to help the others. That was the first outline. I was telling my wife about it and she very astutely said, 'who is going to want to read a book about THAT when all this is over?? Maybe just have one sick person and a main character who comes to the rescue.' It was good advice! Without the overwhelming problem of everyone being sick, though, it wasn’t high stakes enough. So, I made Evergreen a very timid squirrel who is, at first, not up to the task. And soon after, I wove in another layer of complexity by having each new character, met on Evergreen’s quest, defy our expectations and prejudices. A fluffy bunny who is a rotten thief, a fierce squirrel-eating hawk who befriends Evergreen, etc. But overall, I just wanted to write a fun adventure story, with many surprises and twists and turns. In years previous, I had been writing picture books that were much more serious in tone. Books about prejudice, alienation, and even death. I wanted to write a story that was fun to read (and fun for me to read aloud), but still had some emotion and surprise. So, I made Evergreen a very timid squirrel who is, at first, not up to the task. And soon after, I wove in another layer of complexity by having each new character, met on Evergreen’s quest, defy our expectations and prejudices."

Matthew Cordell's early sketches of Evergreen (below):

Matthew Cordell's early sketches and a final spread of Evergreen's mama from Evergreen:

Matthew Cordell's early sketches and a final spread of Briar from Evergreen:

Matthew Cordell's early sketches and a final spread of Ember from Evergreen:

Matthew Cordell's early sketches and a final spread of Grandpa Sprig from Evergreen:

Matthew Cordell's early sketches and a final spread of the Bear from Evergreen:

"There are many great quest picture books I used as inspiration for Evergreen, where a central character goes from one obstacle to the next, until finally arriving at a climactic ending. Some of my favorites are Brave Irene by William Steig, Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham, Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. Before Evergreen, I illustrated another one of my favorites, Special Delivery, by my pal, Philip Stead."

Which picture book creators do you most admire? "In terms of legacy picture book makers, my personal favorites tend to be messy, unkempt, scribbly, yet very stylish. I think my top three would be Quentin Blake, Arnold Lobel, and John Burningham. I love art that takes risks, and is uncharacteristically beautiful. Ugly beautiful, I call it. Something that you aren’t quite sure about, at first glance. When we see things that are out of the ordinary and new to us, we aren’t always sure if we like it or not. We have to think about it. This is the art and these are the artists that move me.

In terms of contemporary favorites, I have many talented friends whose work I love and inspires me daily. But for fear of leaving someone out and alienating someone else, I will mention, instead, a few names of creators I’ve discovered over the past year or so, who are new to me, doing something new and inventive (to my eyes) and I’m excited to see what they’ll do next—Eliza Kinkz, Gracey Zhang, Zoe Si, Hannah Bess Ross, and Julián Nariño."

Papá's Magical Water-Jug Clock by Jesús Trejo and Eliza Kinkz

When Rubin Plays by Gracey Zhang

Kaboom! A Volcano Erupts by Jessica Kulekjian and Zoe Si

Lore of the Stars: Folklore and Wisdom from the Skies Above by Claire Cock-Starkey and Hannah Bess Ross

Every night when Daddy gets home from work, Olivia gives him a big hug and knows that the evening will be full of love—and fun. But every morning when Daddy goes to work, Olivia worries, worries, worries. Be safe, she and Momma tell him. But what if he isn’t? Sometimes other people aren’t, like the people Olivia sees on the news.

Max's Boat Pick


By Brittany J. Thurman and Shamar Knight-Justice

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (January 16, 2024)

Thanks for coming onboard again, Brittany! Can you share how Forever and Always come about? 

BJT: "I don’t remember writing the first draft of Forever and Always, but I do remember the situations happening when this story and Olivia’s voice popped into my head. In 2018, Antwon Rose, Jr was a young Black Pittsburgh teen who lost his life at the hands of law enforcement. I remember the marches, protests, and hurt that stayed on the faces of his loved ones. Around this time, more injustices occurred across the country, and I felt so unsettled. Many questions erupted in my mind. What is safety? How does this continue to happen? What does it mean to be secure and who gets that right? We should all be able to return home to those we love.


I began to write draft after draft, until the book sold. During the time of revision between 2020-2021, more people were taken from this Earth who should still be here. Their stories became a part of this story.


While the initial idea of Forever and Always revolved around these issues, I also thought of how unpredictable our world is. Safety can mean so many things to so many people, no matter where we are. Olivia’s voice came first. Her words and story fueled my mind as if she were standing right beside me. I vividly saw and heard her love for her father, like the love so many kids around this world have for theirs. I think that Forever and Always is a story that has always been with me. As a child who dealt with anxiety and worry, perhaps Olivia has been in my mind for decades, just waiting to be set free."


There's a page in your book where the Momma sees a picture of a man on her phone "who looks like Daddy, sounds like Daddy, could be Daddy," but did not make it home. What did YOU mean by that, and what do you think young readers will take away from it? "With news and information at our fingertips, in seconds we become aware of what is occurring around us, whether it is in our cities, or countries away. I wrote those words after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. I knew that if my safety and security felt shaken after this tragedy, then children must have had similar feelings, too. As George Floyd called for his mother, the sound of that yearning could have so easily been another father, uncle, brother, mother, sister, aunt… the list goes on. 


As a child, I worried about so much, especially for those around me. If too much time passed between a loved one leaving the house and the time they were supposed to come home, I panicked. We have a right to safety and security, whether we are inside our homes or not. I want kids to know they are not alone in their feelings and while worry often comes along with waiting, so does hope."


For those who love Forever and Always, what would you also suggest? There are many books that I would pair with Forever and Always, but two that stick out are Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera and Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson and E.B. Lewis. Both books contain wonderful protagonists and the parents they love. The young child in Me and Mama notices all the things her mother does and how the two are similar.

In Daddy Speaks Love, the story revolves around the daughter/father bond and all the ways he brings joy."



On the topic of daugther/father bonds, I love the way you portrayed Olivia's bond with her father—especially with the dancing scene. And of course I was curious—what sort of "old school" music were you envisioning Olivia and Daddy dancing to? "My grandmother has a record player full of albums. These artists and songs played over holiday dinners, or on the radio along road trips. I envision Olivia and Daddy dancing to the musical artists who have held influence over rhythm, blues, and jazz and whose music ignites our souls, drawing us closer to each other. Those artists and their songs are Tina Turner ('The Best'), Stevie Wonder ('Isn’t She Lovely'), and Bill Withers ('Lovely Day')."


“Then I look at you

And the world's alright with me

Just one look at you

And I know it's gonna be

A lovely day”

—Bill Withers, "Lovely Day"

What's next for you? "I am excited for the fourth book in the Fearless series by Mandy Gonzalez to come out on April 2nd, 2024. It was a joy to co-write Fearless: Boulevard of Dreams, which was published in 2022. The fourth book, Fearless: The Takeover follows a young Broadway star who realizes that there is so much more to life besides social media after her online platforms are hacked.


Then, in 2025, I will have several titles to hit shelves. Come Catch a Dream, illustrated by Islenia Mil, follows a young boy named Remi whose only dream is to spin on ice. I loved to ice skate when I was a child, but I could never get those twirls right. Come Catch a Dream was inspired by this former passion and a quote from one of my favorite poets, Georgia Douglas Johnson: 'The right to make my dreams come true, I ask, nay, I demand of life.'


In the winter of 2025, my first non-fiction picture book will debut. The First Library: The True Story of the First Library by and For Black America is illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera and tells of the Western Branch Library, located in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Created out of the need to have a library of their own in the early 1900s, this branch became the first in the country run by Black America and created for the Black community. The librarians of this location, without formal training in library science, inspired the establishment of branches for Black communities across the country."

You have so many books in the pipeline! I'm truly in awe. What new and forthcoming books are you most excited about?

Elijah’s Easter Suit by Brentom Jackson and Emmanuel Boateng


"As a kid, I vividly remember how special Easter was to my family. It was a treat to pick out an Easter dress, shoes, and to get my hair styled. I am excited about Elijah’s Easter Suit, which is described as, ‘In a story full of style, sass, and significance, a young boy goes on a quest for the perfect Easter church outfit, inspired by elders from his community…’"

Sydney’s Big Speech by Malcolm Newsome and Jade Orlando


"In Sydney’s Big Speech, young Sydney is reluctant to speak up in class. Deemed as shy, Sydney is inspired by Black women leaders, knowing that she too can give a great speech. As a person who was labeled shy when I was a kid, and as an adult who enjoys thinking a lot more than talking, I am excited to meet Sydney and for kids to be inspired by her newfound confidence."



What's on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "I think this book is on everyone’s list and it is always at the top of mine. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I used to read this story to preschoolers each winter. I made felt pieces to accompany the characters and setting. Once we finished reading, we would retell the story through the felt pieces. Peter is a timeless character that so many can relate to today. Just as it was vastly important for Black kids to see themselves in books as children full of joy when The Snowy Day came out in 1962, it is equally important for that same joyful representation today. Go Peter!"

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