I am thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to have Caldecott-winning illustrator Matthew Cordell
here today to talk about his new book, KING ALICE. Let's just get right to it, shall we?
Hi Matthew! First, I have to know. How has winning the Caldecott for WOLF IN THE SNOW changed your career/life? (AND CONGRATULATIONS!!!)
Thanks so much! It’s been one of the most amazing times of my life, that’s for sure. The Caldecott has changed a lot for me professionally. Right away, there were many foreign editions and offers, lots of requests for school visits and festivals and conferences, and book deals have been secured for years to come. It’s both a very fortunate and peculiar mindspace to be in. There are mind-blowing moments where I remember that I’m one of only 71 Caldecott Medalists since 1938--chosen from the countless number of books that have been published in that time. Then there are times (most of the time, honestly), where I’m really just going about my everyday work and life. Whether it’s drawing and painting or washing dishes and taking out trash. Or picking up groceries, wiping bottoms and getting the kids from school.
I'm excited about your newest book, KING ALICE! What was your creative process/medium? Can you walk us through it (i.e. what pen do you use)?
For most of my books, I use a combination of pen and ink and watercolor to make my illustrations. I like to use a variety of dip pens and nibs, choosing the right pen or nib for each book. Sometimes I use a bamboo pen to draw with, but in recent years, I’ve been drawing a lot with a J-type nib. It has a slightly blunt tip that doesn’t catch in the tooth of the cold press watercolor paper I use. For King Alice
, however, I added some different stuff into the mix. In this book, there is a book within in a book. It’s about a Dad and his precocious daughter and the day they spend together writing a drawing a book of their own. So in addition to my usual formula of pen and ink and watercolor, I used art supplies that most families would have lying around their house. Markers, crayons, and colored pencils…. All of which were lying around my house!
More images of Matthew's studio can be found at Andrea Skyberg's Blog.
What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Ah, I think I know what you mean! And I think this sort of response can be triggered by different things for different people. For me, it’s often about how well an illustration works with the text it’s supporting. Often times, it’s at a critical or emotional point in the story. It doesn’t need to be a full-spread, infinitely detailed or colorful picture for me. It can even be a spot illustration. But if the art perfectly captures that moment, it can literally give me the chills.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of King Alice?
is very much based on my own creative, headstrong daughter, Romy. And it’s very much based on a day we spent making a book together. Romy was about 5 years old at the time, and she knew I made books for a living. And she loves to make things too, so she asked if we could make a book together. At that time, Romy was really into the Wizard of Oz, so it ended up being a really unstructured retelling (if you could even call it that!) of that story. Drawing those characters and using some of the lines/text from the movie. We drew and wrote it together, using all of her art supplies. As soon as we finished, I knew I had to somehow use this experience in a book of my own!
e: I love that! What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I love making a new thing that I’m proud of. Putting something new and fresh and fun and different (or, at least, different for me) into the world. It’s a very satisfying thing to make a drawing and look at it, knowing it’s something you made with your own skills, from your own experiences. It doesn’t always work out so well, and that’s the tough or intimidating part of it all. But when it does, it’s magic. And it’s addictive! I’ve got to do it again and again.
e: I know what you mean, I'm addicted too!
Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I hope people will see that sometimes magical and special things can come from simple circumstances. The book, at its core, is very simple. A family is stuck in their house on a snowy day. They don’t have much to do. They never even leave their pajamas. It really is a comfortable/uncomfortable day-in-the-life of this family. But it’s the unique and funny dynamic between the Dad and the daughter and how they interpret an otherwise quiet or boring day, that makes this a special experience. The act of collaborating and making things and letting children take the lead and going along with their sometimes outlandish wishes. Simple, daily family dynamics are often times overlooked for just how fantastic they really are.
e: As a creator, what was your big take-away after winning the Caldecott?
The Caldecott Medal is awarded just once a year to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. That’s the official definition. But to win, the stars really have to align in so many ways. Believe me, I realize the amount of luck and universe blessings that need to come together for this to ultimately happen. Above all, I just feel extremely grateful to the committee (and to the universe) that this time it was me and my book.
e: I'm so glad you did! CONGRATULATIONS again!