Publishers’ Preview: Picture Books: Five Questions for Matthew Cordell

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine
This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Picture Books, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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A red-jacketed girl braves a snowstorm to return a lost wolf pup to its pack — but then she gets lost, too. Matthew Cordell’s mostly wordless adventure Wolf in the Snow ends happily, with both youngsters safely back home with their families.

1. Is it more difficult to illustrate your own story, or one by somebody else?

There’s more (self-imposed) pressure when I’m illustrating someone else’s story. I hope the author will be satisfied with what I’ve done with her or his words. When I’m drawing my own story, the only immediate person I might disappoint is me. And I can handle disappointing myself.

2. Do you try your works-in-progress out on your children?

I’m pretty self-conscious about showing work to anyone before it’s finished. I keep things close to the drawing table and between my editor and/or art director and me. Unless I get stuck; then I’ll lean on a friend or two. Maybe I should rope my kids into some sort of picture book case-study situation. That could go either really well or really badly.

3. What’s the relationship between Wolf in the Snow and “Little Red Riding Hood”?

Before there was much of a story, I was working on some drawings of a girl in a red coat encountering an adult wolf in the sprawling, snowy wilderness. I liked the striking graphic quality of the red, black (of the wolf’s fur), and white. A friend I shared the drawings with pointed out the visual connection to “Little Red Riding Hood.” It felt too on-the-nose, and I thought about changing the coat from red to orange or green. But as I worked out the story and furthered my research, I began to understand that wolves have such a bad rap because of those old wolf-hating tales. At that point, it became a sort of anti-“Little Red Riding Hood.” And the coat stayed red.

4. And what’s the relationship between The Only Fish in the Sea (your collaboration with Philip C. Stead, also published this year) and Wolf in the Snow?

These two books were made around the same time, but there’s not a lot of common ground. They are both adventure stories with strong female protagonists. They were both drawn in my basement.

5. Are you more afraid of the ocean or the woods?

Definitely the ocean. At least if things go wrong in the woods, I can run.

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