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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Matthew Cordell, EVERGREEN

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.



EVERGREEN

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









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