WISH: Interview with Matthew Cordell (+BEAR ISLAND GIVEAWAY)

Hooray for animal families! I was lucky enough to be paired with Matt Cordell several years ago for our picture book ITSY BITSY BABY MOUSE, a story about a mouse who gets lost. ITSY BITSY is still twirling and whirling; teachers tell me they use the book to teach kids about how to prevent getting lost and what steps to take if they do get lost. Matt’s whimsical illustrations perfectly capture the fright ITSY BITSY feels when he  realizes he has twirled too far from home, as well as the joy he feels when he is finally reunited with his parents.   

Over the years, I have enjoyed Matt’s many amazing books, and I’m especially fond of WISH. It’s partly because I experienced the devastation of pregnancy loss many years ago before my husband and I had our son – and then there’s this irresistible elephant family, a lyrical text, and an emotion-filled story. Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. Fortunately, life also includes wonderful developments that change our journey forever.   

 

From the book description:

“As an elephant couple embarks on their life together, thoughts of children are far away — at first. But as the desire for a child grows, so do unexpected challenges. And it’s only after thwarted plans and bitter disappointment that their deepest wish miraculously comes true.”

Let’s hear from Matt about the creation of WISH. Plus, everyone who comments will be entered for a chance to win a giveaway of Matt’s brand new book, BEAR ISLAND!

What was your inspiration for creating WISH? 

Almost all of my books have been inspired by my family and my experiences as a husband and father to our two kids. WISH came from an especially personal place, as I wanted to go back to the time before my wife, Julie, and I started a family. It was a difficult, disappointing, and heartbreaking period of our lives. We wanted desperately to have children, but it wasn’t happening as planned. We had complications, delays, and even loss.

It took years before we were able to have our daughter, Romy, and those years were some of the most uncertain and alienating years I’ve lived. Not being able to have a baby is a surprising and lonely place to be, when you constantly see other couples having babies and raising children with seemingly no problem at all.

But we came to find out that infertility issues are all too common; it’s just that they aren’t often talked about. So, I wanted to make a picture book about that experience. The experience of waiting and wishing so much for a child to come and the difficulties with that – but also the experience of when it finally does happen and the overwhelming emotions that come with that long-awaited moment.

When I wrote the book, I really hoped that it would find its way into the large community of couples who are currently trying to start a family, or those who had endured a similar journey that Julie and I had, and wanted to share this experience with their little one(s). It’s been incredibly gratifying to see the book embraced by so many couples and families that have found it since it came out in 2015.

Tell us about your approach to this story and the illustrations

I generally try to write a manuscript before doing anything visual for all of my books. I just find it to be easier and more helpful if I have a more or less complete manuscript to work from before doing any drawing. So, with WISH, I wrote out the story completely straight away. And it came out relatively easily, as it really was such a personal place.

As I write, I do often start to visualize how pictures will take shape, even if I’m not putting anything down on paper at that point. I knew early on that I wanted the characters to be animals. An animal character is one approach for allowing a reader to envision themselves in that role. The idea of elephants came to me very early on. I wanted an animal that is strong, but also sensitive and insightful. Elephants are big and stoic, but they are also brilliant animals.

When it was time to draw the pictures, I wanted them to complement the sparse and poetic text of the story. I wanted the drawings to be loose and organic. I even drew the ink drawings with a bamboo pen instead of a steel nib! (essentially a sharpened piece of bamboo that I dipped into a bottle of ink for drawing) I wanted the art to have similar flow to the text. Lots of white space, loose pen and ink, loose watercolor. But also a bit of magic and sparkle.

You have written and illustrated many successful picture books, including the Caldecott-winning WOLF IN THE SNOW. What are your top tips?

-Write what you’re passionate about, not what you think someone else will be passionate about. I learned early on that it’s best if I rely on my own life and experience to come up with my books and ideas and art. Drawing from the things that make me happy, sad, or inspired will drive better and more authentic work. It’s good to know what is successful and being bought out there, but it can’t be a driving factor in my work. Using that as a starting point has never ended well in my experience.

-Take risks. Look at your own life and think about what makes you interesting and unique. It can only help to make your work stand out as well. Everyone has something, I believe. A lot of books are published every year, and if you can take risks and stand apart in some way that is unusual but authentic, it can only work to your benefit. And picture books need not be a place only for the wholesome, warm, and expected. There is plenty of opportunity and desire for the unexpected.

-Always read and study lots of picture books — past, present, and future. Always study the work of others. Know the history. Know what’s out now. Know what’s on the next lists. Learn from and get to know other creators and their work and work habits. Be informed, and it will only inform your own work and make it better.

What’s new and exciting? 

Thankfully, I’m keeping nice and busy these days. On January 26, my latest author/illustrator title, BEAR ISLAND, was released. It’s a book about love and grief and resilience. FOLLOW THAT FROG will be released on February 2. This is the third in a trilogy of books I’ve illustrated with my author/illustrator pal, Philip Stead.

I’m currently working on writing my next picture book and illustrating my first beginning reader books about two mouse friends, Cornbread and Poppy. (Who are not quite as itsy-bitsy as our little ITSY-BITSY BABY MOUSE!) And in spare moments, I’m working on two other potential projects I hope to bring to fruition in coming years. It’s good to be working!

I can’t wait to meet Cornbread and Poppy! Congratulations on all your new books! Sharing an excerpt from the description for BEAR ISLAND:

“Louise and her family are sad over the loss of their beloved dog, Charlie. “Life will not be the same,” Louise says, as she visits a little island that Charlie loved. But on a visit to the island after Charlie’s death, something strange happens: She meets a bear. At first, she’s afraid, but soon she realizes that the bear is sad, too. As Louise visits more often, she realizes that getting over loss takes time…Here is a lovely, poignant story about loss and healing that will bring comfort to even the youngest readers.”

Visit Matt Cordell on Twitter Matt is married to author Julie Halpern.

***GIVEAWAY***

For a chance to win a copy of BEAR ISLAND, leave a comment by February 8.

Thanks for reading & see you next time!

-Michelle

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of many acclaimed books for children. She loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in Michelle's work. Michelle's latest books are FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles and BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins. Her other books include HIBERNATION STATION, SUPER BUGS, and PIGGIES IN PAJAMAS. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. She is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. She now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband and son. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website: michellemeadows.com

60 Comments:

  1. Avatar
    Margaret Flint Suter

    Putting Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse on my find it list, thanks Michelle for this post, I enjoy Matthew’s work and now looking forward to exploring yours! Would love to win Bear Island, but know I will purchase it for my grands anyway! Thanks to you and Matthew for your insights!

  2. What a fabulous piece!

  3. I’m a huge Matthew Cordell fan. Thanks for the insight. It’s always inspiring.

  4. I love the concept of Wish. I have never thought of taking what most would consider an adult topic and turning it into a children’s story. Glad your “story” had a happy ending!

  5. How cool…thanks for sharing!

  6. Congratulations on all your successes! Bear Island sounds like a beautiful tale.

  7. I’m looking forward to reading these new titles. Love the interview and the many books you have out. Congratulations!

  8. Michelle and Matthew, thank you for this beautiful interview. I choked up a little bit about WISH and can’t wait to read it. Congratulations on all the new books too! I’ll be on the lookout for them.

  9. Matthew Cordell, you are amazing! Such attractive books!

  10. I love Wish -so heartfelt! Looking forward to your other books -congrats!

  11. So many wonderful picture books! Thank you for sharing your stories and process with us. Best wishes!

  12. Oh, “write what you’re passionate about, not what you think someone else will be passionate about!” Thank you for such good advice, and so excited for you with your new books coming out!

  13. Thank you for the interview and advice. I’m currently reading picture books (thankfully my library is back open) to study them as mentor text. Bear Island is high on my list, so thank you for the chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book.

  14. Matthew’s stories are so grounded, yet so hopeful -thanks for sharing, Michelle!

  15. Wonderful interview and helpful advice to be informed about the past, present and future market and to be interesting – in terms of taking risks and appreciating your unique journey!

  16. Both of your books sound so beautiful and so needed. I have a personal story I’ve been trying to write about for years, but hesitated because I was worried it would be “too dark” or “too sad” for kids, but it’s a subject that I think needs to see the light. Thank you for giving me the permission and inspiration to move forward with that project.

  17. I am a longtime Matthew Cordell fan and loved this interview. So much good stuff here. I missed ITSY BITSY but look forward to reading it! And I too know the heartache of miscarriage and had to alter my original vision of what my future family would look like. Very painful, but I’m so grateful for my one and only. Thanks, Matthew and Michelle. ♥️

  18. Fascinating! Congratulations on all your forthcoming books! Great advice and I can’t wait to see Bear Island!! LOVE the cover!

  19. This looks lovely! Beautiful cover! Congrats, Matthew!

  20. What a wonderful interview. Thanks for the post. I just ordered Bear Island.

  21. I always admire the ability to deal with heart wrenching topics in an uplifting way. Many of us suffer in silence. The right book can initiate a conversation.

  22. Thank you for the tips, and congratulations on your new books! BEAR ISLAND sounds lovely.

  23. Thank you for this post. Looking forward to reading this book and more by Matthew Cordell.

  24. Such gorgeous books. And I love the inspiration behind Matthew’s work.

  25. Thank you, Michelle, for featuring Matthew Cordell. I love his thoughts on how he writes about passions and interests that make one unique.

  26. We love Matthew. This was fun to read.

  27. Avatar
    Janet Frenck Sheets

    That illustration from WISH is beautiful. It sounds like you’ve created a book that will be meaningful to a lot of people.

  28. I have never read any of Matthew’s books… looking forward to reading them!

  29. This would be such a perfect book to share with your child who is dealing with losing a pet or other loss. The cover is beautiful.

  30. These books sounds wonderful. I especially liked the sound of Wish and Bear Island – isn’t writing healing?

  31. Want to hear more about Bear Island. thank you.

  32. Matthew, I love your work. Thank you for sharing your journey through sadness with us.

  33. This book looks gorgeous!

  34. What a wonderful, heartfelt, and informative interview!

  35. Thanks for sharing some of your book journeys with us, Matthew. I’m excited to read Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse and Bear Island!

  36. Wow, thank you so much, everyone, for these very kind and thoughtful comments! What a treat to read through them all. And thank you again, Michelle, for having me!

  37. Book looks great, think my twins would love it!

  38. I am sorry for your difficult time. It looks like some beautiful work has resulted from that time. I try to remember that in rough times there is something good that will no doubt result.

  39. Reading the first few lines of Michelle’s own story makes my eyes wet already. It’s great to know you have a wonderful family journey 🙂

  40. I love Matthew’s works and look forward to reading all of his new and upcoming books. He has such a great sensitive side expressed in his drawings and his words.

  41. Thank you, Michelle and Matthew, for a heartfelt interview!
    I’m already a big Matthew Cordell fan and I’m glad to know that
    fresh treasures await!

  42. Great interview, I love Wish and look forward to meeting Cornbread and Poppy!

  43. What a wonderful and heart-felt interview! Thank you for sharing! Off to look at Matthew Cordell’s books to order!

  44. Your stories are filled with such heart and emotion. I can’t wait to read BEAR ISLAND.

  45. Lovely story. Thank you both for sharing!

  46. What a lovely story. Thank you both for sharing!

  47. I have Bear Island on my library hold list. I am anxious to read it after losing my golden retriever in August. Thank you so much for your wonderful books, Matthew Cordell and for this interview.

  48. This was a wonderful interview and inspiring post. Just added many of Matthew’s books to my Want to Read list on GoodReads. Thank you!

  49. Thank you for this beautiful blog post, Michelle and Matthew. I’ll be on the lookout for all of your forthcoming titles. Congratulations!

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