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Archive for November 14th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

The last time a plucky and intrepid young girl risked a ferocious winter blizzard on the pages of a children’s book was back in 1986 when Irene Bobbin, a dressmaker’s daughter filled in for her ailing mother to deliver a dress to a duchess, whose castle was on the other side of a mountain.  The courageous adventurer is the titular character of William Steig’s Brave Irene, though the circumstances surrounding this hypothermic trek have little in common otherwise.  Fate, chance and reciprocal kindness save the day and leave young readers relieved after a hair-raising confrontation with the elements on an especially forbidding turf.

In a seemingly innocuous pictorial prologue a girl is initially spotted petting her dog in a living room as her parents hold coffee mugs with little concern for any measure of impending danger.  Wearing a red parka she heads off to a one room schoolhouse as the dog’s barking becomes more pronounced, while off in the distance a pack of wolves howl and scout hilly terrain.  Cordell sets the stage for what turns out to be as markedly perilous a raw adventure story  as any Jack London has ever turned out.  Not since Jerry Pinkney’s 2010 Caldecott Medal winner The Lion and the Mouse did an act of charity receive reciprocation in kind, and not since John Rocco’s 2014 Blizzard has snow as a crippling force of nature threatened the survival of those caught in the blanketing acceleration.  No doubt an adult reader might be thinking of the classic lines-  It lay drifted on the crosses and headstones, on the spears of the gate, on the thorns, but the target audience is left with the full gamut of emotions, ranging from consternation to exhaustion in a region controlled by ravenous wolves who are not by instinct able to show compassion for anyone stranded in their den.  After a stark and unostentatious title page of black letters over a background of snow falling, we see our fearless snow traveler bidding adieu her classmates, wall of whom as envisioned by Cordell are over the moon over with the white stuff, and adorned in varying colors.  Cordell’s highly stylized, unique scratch board illustrations were created for this book by pen and ink with watercolor, and the method is a perfect fit for a story where living creatures, tress and objects are partially obscured by an all-enveloping snowstorm  Yet the author-illustrator vividly paints his protagonists, sometimes full frontal to accentuate the urgency of the situation, and as ever is a master colorist controlling his canvas like a pictorial maestro, darkening primary hues to denote the fleeting daylight hours and creating by cotton ball saturation the most visceral and intense blizzard ever recorded in a picture book.  By his own admission  Cordell diverted with Wolf in the Snow from his standard simplified, shorthand drawing style. (more…)

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