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Wolf in the Snow: Matthew Cordell’s 2017 BGHB Picture Book Honor Speech

Long before I became entrenched in the world of making sequential art for books, I spent much of my youth and young adulthood looking at and making art that hangs on a wall. Art that communicates its message within a single image. So, now and again, I still get an itch to draw a picture that simply begins and ends with just one, single, standalone image. I must say, there’s a certain satisfaction in getting in and out and being done. But this can be a problem for someone who, now, tends to speak in sequential images.

Four years ago, I drew a picture of a girl in a red coat staring down an adult black wolf in a snow-covered field. I liked the graphic color combination of the black, the red, and the white. I liked the suspense created by the child and the wolf and the unanswered question of what was happening or not happening or what was going to happen between the two. I especially liked that it was done. But then it became a problem for someone who, now, tends to speak in sequential images.

These characters nagged at me. I wanted to draw them again. I wanted to find their story. But I’d never been good at pulling a story out of a single image. So I didn’t want to try to do that. Not yet, at least. Instead, I read about wolves. I learned about wolves. And the most glaring discovery I made was that, contrary to what I’d grown up believing, wolves are not the bloodthirsty beasts we’d read about in the likes of “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Wolves have been demonized and hunted by humans largely because of widely believed misperceptions. People have disliked and distrusted wolves, and they hurt them for it. In turn, wolves have disliked and distrusted humans, and they fear them for it. And it’s all wrong. And on it goes.

It didn’t take me long to connect the dots and see how a similar story was being played out amongst people. People of different sexual orientations, different races, and different religions. (Mind you, this was even before the grueling election year of 2016 and what’s come after.) Then, suddenly, the story presented itself.

How do we break these cycles of anger, fear, and misperception? How do we look beyond what we think we know, in order to save someone and to allow ourselves to be saved? It seems so incredibly simple, yet it stays so incredibly complicated.

We must challenge ourselves with these questions and how we might find answers for change. And I will continue to share my sequential images and the truths I’ve learned. I will continue to hope for the best in all of us.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB17.

Matthew Cordell About Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell's Wolf in the Snow (Feiwel) is a 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Honor Book.

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