Author/illustrator Matthew Cordell has been busy. At last count, he had seven book releases in 2012.
Check out Seven Impossible Things on Cece Bell's 'Rabbit & Robot.'
This is picture book-making at its best. Using masterful pacing, economical yet robust lines, and a satisfying explosion of color, Cordell tells a story that could be the story of most 21st-century American families, frequently plugged into the online world no matter their socioeconomic stratum. A young girl, trying to connect with family members more connected to their hand-held, electronic devices, heads outside and gets rapturously lost in nature and the world of her imagination. Cordell pulls it off with delicacy, a sophisticated restraint and a satisfying elegance. Oh, and humor to boot.
I pulled Matthew away from his own computer (or perhaps dinosaur) to ask him about this book.
At heart, this is a so-called "message book," though I think you do it so beautifully. Why did you want to do this book?
My daughter Romy, who was about 2 years old at the time, and I were playing with some of her toys in our family room. At arm’s reach was the beckoning glow of a laptop computer. I thought surely she would not know the difference if I stopped playing and went over to check my email. So I did. And it was going well enough at first, until I heard her little voice squeak from across the room, “Dada, stop checking email and play.”
I was shocked. Partly because I had no idea she knew the word “email.” But also because I was totally busted by my kid, whom I thought wouldn’t comprehend what I was doing. I felt neglectful, selfish, and guilty. Later, it occurred to me that I couldn’t be the only 21st-century parent who would have felt this exact same way.
Right away, I knew that the picture book was the perfect platform to tell this story. Parents and young children read picture books together. And in these moments of shared reading, they are not on the phone, computer, tablet (thankfully not so much yet anyway) and it is a perfect, quiet moment for this story to be heard and teased out by moms and dads and kids alike.Did you know from the beginning how the story would end?
The funny thing about this story is it all came out of me so fast and easy. The story formed in my head completely, beginning to end, so I roughed it out quickly before it had a chance to evaporate.
Of course, after it was picked up by Disney-Hyperion, there were many little tweaks here and there, but the basic narrative structure never really changed. There was one significant change, though, that my most excellent editor, Kevin Lewis, brought to the table that blew my mind. This was something that wasn’t in the original manuscript.
My original idea was that, once Lydia gets outside and starts inviting nature back into her life (leaves, rocks, bugs, flowers), this would be a building sequence, partly culminating with her befriending and riding atop a wild horse. After this, a stampede would build, which it does in the finished book, but my original idea was it would be a rollicking stampede of all and only horses.
Kevin pushed me to take it to a much greater place. He said that if the imagination was at work here, then really let the imagination do some work. That’s when I completely cut loose and brought in the stampede with dinosaurs and flying fish and flying whale, giraffe, lion, buffalo, etc. This is an incredibly important moment in the book, so I really must doff my cap to the wonderful collaborative genius of Mr. Lewis here.
I love the different cover illustration under the jacket. Whose idea was it to have a separate illustration for the jacket cover?
Speaking of collaboration, this was a really special moment we had while putting the jacket together.
I was on a conference call with Kevin and our excellent art director, Joann Hill, and I had brought up the idea of doing a separate image on the case cover than what would be on the jacket. I don’t remember who suggested what, but this whole brainstorm happened quickly and very organically. Someone suggested the jacket and case could be the same image but slightly different.
Then someone suggested Lydia could be the exact same and in the exact same position but in two different places from the story. We knew the jacket would be the technological end of things, because that’s the central theme, so someone said she could be running through that field of flowers.
It really was a lovely, goosebumpley creative moment.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.