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All Chapter Book Coverage

Chinese Menu by Grace Lin

Little, Brown | September 12

Chinese American food—General Tso’s Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken—is just as quintessentially American as hot dogs or apple pie (which originated from German and Dutch cuisine, respectively). Our mouths all water when we imagine a steaming takeout box of lo mein . . . but have you ever put your chopsticks down and stopped to wonder about the history behind your favorite Chinese American dishes? Acclaimed author Grace Lin—who won the American Library Association’s prestigious Children’s Literature Legacy Award in 2022—promises to whisk readers off into the origin stories of their favorite foods with Chinese Menu, a veritable feast of exciting folktales and rich illustrations. 

Dogtown by Katherine Applegate and Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Wallace West

Feiwel & Friends | September 19

Katherine Applegate (Animorphs series, The One and Only Ivan) and Gennifer Choldenko (Tales from Alcatraz series, Dad and the Dinosaur) have both been superstars in children’s literature for decades. With countless awards between them, they’re now joining forces alongside illustrator Wallace West for this illustrated middle grade novel about a dog shelter whose abandoned inhabitants include both real and robot dogs. Regardless of circuitry, both types of dog just want to go home: a fact realized by Chance (a mutt) and Metal Head (exactly what that sounds like) as they set aside their differences and join forces in searching for a place of belonging.

Kin by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford

Atheneum | September 19

Writer carole Boston Weatherford and her son, illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford, are a powerful duo, with no shortage of acclaim to their names: Carole has won four Caldecott Honors, a Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor—the last of which she won with You Can Fly, which was illustrated by Jeffery. Their latest middle grade novel-in-verse, Kin, is the product of extensive and painstaking efforts to piece together their family history through genealogical research. Jeffery’s intricate black and white illustrations accentuate Carole’s poetry, which conjures the voices of her ancestors in the context of not only their enslavement and pain but also their strength and triumphs. 

Oliver’s Great Big Universe by Jorge Cham

Amulet | September 26

Jorge Cham has created a hit web comic series (PHD Comics), a podcast with more than 600,000 monthly listeners (“Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe”), a bestselling adult nonfiction book (We Have No Idea) and an Emmy-nominated PBS Kids show (“Elinor Wonders Why”). Plus, he’s got a doctorate in mechanical engineering. Now he’s ready to make kids laugh out loud while exploring big topics like black holes, the solar system and even aliens with Oliver’s Great Big Universe, the first installment in an illustrated, diary-style middle grade series featuring 11-year-old Oliver as he takes on not only astrophysics but also . . . middle school.

The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris

Katherine Tegen | October 3

New York Times bestselling author Mac Barnett and Caldecott honoree Shawn Harris’ The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza adapted their hilarious online cartoon series—recorded live over Zoom during quarantine—to graphic novel format. This sequel continues the kooky adventures of First Cat, LOZ 4000 (a toenail-clipping robot) and the Moon Queen as they work to save the Queen after she gets poisoned—by soup, of all things.

Zilot & Other Important Rhymes by Bob Odenkirk, illustrated by Erin Odenkirk

Little, Brown | October 10

Hot on the heels of his legendary stint as crooked TV lawyer Saul Goodman, the beloved Emmy Award-winning actor (now starring in AMC’s “Lucky Hank”) and New York Times bestselling author (Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama) Bob Odenkirk is sure to charm both children and adults with this collection of poems, which originated twenty years ago as a way for Odenkirk to introduce the world of writing and illustrating to his children. Quarantine brought the family back to these whimsical rhymes, which feature memorable characters such as Tony Two-Feet the pigeon and a man named Willy Whimble who lives in an old tuna can. Anyway, Odenkirk’s ploy worked: His daughter, Erin Odenkirk, provides the book’s lively illustrations.

Ways to Build Dreams by Renée Watson

Bloomsbury | October 17

A recipient of the Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award, Renée Watson has delighted young readers everywhere with her bestselling Ryan Hart series, which dominated “Best of the Year” lists with its first installment, Ways to Make Sunshine. This final book celebrates Black joy as its bright titular protagonist learns more about her ancestors and local Black pioneers during Black History Month. The accomplishments and hopes of previous generations teach Ryan how to work towards her own dream—even when life isn’t so sunny.

Detective Duck: The Case of the Strange Splash by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, illustrated by Dan Santat

Amulet | October 17

The world is seeing a well-deserved Henry Winkler renaissance due to his turn as Gene Cousineau on “Barry,” but there was a time when the Emmy Award-winner was undergoing a lull in his acting career. His manager suggested Winkler write a children’s book about his experiences with dyslexia (which Winkler didn’t know he had until he was 31). Along with writer Lin Oliver, Winkler created the bestselling Hank Zipzer series, which led to a TV adaptation, as well as three other book series . . . Now, the power duo, along with Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Dan Santat, is back with the first installment in a new, full-color chapter book series about a crime-solving little duck named Willow Feathers McBeaver, who’s here to combat the human-caused problems occurring to her home ecosystem, the lovely Dogwood Pond.

Sir Morien by Holly Black and Kaliis Smith, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Little, Brown | October 24

Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles) is no stranger to capturing the imaginations of children, and she’s just the person needed, along with poet Kaliis Smith and illustrator Ebony Glenn, to cast a spotlight on the brave but little-known North African knight, Sir Morien, from Arthurian legend. In this charming picture book, Sir Morien sets off for England in search of the father he’s never met, but he soon finds out that questing is hard—and every knight he meets is eager to fight. 

Juniper’s Christmas by Eoin Colfer

Roaring Brook | October 31

Fans of the megahit Artemis Fowl series will receive an early Christmas present this year from Eoin Colfer: a new novel that promises more thrilling, fantastical escapades marked by his trademark humor and captivating style. After Juniper Lane’s mother goes missing, Juniper teams up with a mysterious, grumpy carpenter named Niko who owns flying reindeer yet insists he’s not Santa Claus. 

Discover all of BookPage’s most anticipated books of fall 2023.

This fall, readers can expect to be dazzled by offerings from beloved children's book creators such as Grace Lin and Eoin Colfer. Stars like Bob Odenkirk and Henry Winkler are also among those who promise to conquer our hearts with new laugh-out-loud books.
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When a small kitten named Trim learns that ships allow you to travel across the world, he realizes that’s what he wants to spend his life doing. With the help of the ship’s dog, Penny, Trim manages to get a position on the crew as the ship’s cat.

But life aboard the ship offers its own complications. The parrot, Jack, doesn’t seem to like Trim. Trim can climb up the mast, but it’s harder to climb back down. And there are so many words to describe parts of a ship! Can Trim master life aboard, or will he find himself sinking under the pressure?

The first in the new Adventures of Trim series by Deborah Hopkinson (a longtime BookPage contributor), Trim Sets Sail imagines the life of the most famous ship’s cat in history, who sailed on the HMS Investigator while its captain documented the coastline of Australia in the 1800s. Unlike Hopkinson’s nonfiction deep dives for older kids (Race Against Death, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster), history here acts merely as a backdrop for the fictionalized life of Trim. Hopkinson’s text focuses on the tumultuous emotional life and necessary education that takes place during the first days aboard the ship, while illustrator Kristy Caldwell’s colorful, endearing artwork conveys both the time period and the book’s charming cast of characters.

For kids who are voracious about learning new vocabulary, Trim Sets Sail gives opportunities both to use words they’ve already learned and to master words associated with ships. For instance, Penny points out that the bow of the ship rhymes with bow-wow, while Jack the parrot informs Trim that the starboard side of the ship is its right side. Woven through this delightful education is a sweet story about Trim trying, failing and trying again as he learns that the important thing on a ship is to work with the crew around you.

Trim Sets Sail acts as a perfect introduction to chapter books for kids who love cats, history or oceanic adventures. Pair with Jen Marlin’s Wind Riders series for a one-two punch of daring, big-hearted tales.

Trim Sets Sail acts as a perfect introduction to chapter books for kids who love cats, history or oceanic adventures.
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Breathtaking picture books, heartwarming chapter books and enthralling middle grade books await young readers—or anyone who enjoys a good story—in our list of most anticipated children’s books this fall.

Sam’s Super Seats by Keah Brown, illustrated by Sharee Miller
Kokila | August 23

Author Keah Brown created the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute to challenge widespread misperceptions and representations of disabled people, themes she also explored in The Pretty One, her essay collection for adult readers. In Sam’s Super Seats, her first picture book, Brown introduces Sam, a girl who has cerebral palsy, which means that sometimes she needs to sit down and rest. Engaging illustrations by Sharee Miller capture a fun shopping trip to the mall that Sam shares with her friends before the first day of school. Cheerful and conversational, Sam’s Super Seats is an intersectional addition to the back-to-school picture book canon.

Patchwork by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Putnam | August 30

In recent decades, the Newbery Medal has typically honored longer works of children’s literature, so author Matt de la Peña defied both convention and expectation by winning the 2016 Newbery for Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book that also earned illustrator Christian Robinson a Caldecott Honor. De la Peña has been on a hot streak ever since, publishing two more books with Robinson (Carmela Full of Wishes and Milo Imagines the World) as well as Love, which features art by Loren Long. 

In the meantime, illustrator Corinna Luyken has established a name for herself via thoughtful picture books, including the bestsellers My Heart and The Book of Mistakes, her 2017 debut, as well as through her work with writers such as Kate Hoefler (Nothing in Common) and Marcy Campbell (Something Good). Luyken and de la Peña’s first picture book together, Patchwork is a poetic ode to possibility that’s perfect for readers who love de la Peña’s lyricism and Luyken’s effortlessly impressionistic art.

A Taste of Magic by J. Elle
Bloomsbury | August 30

We don’t like to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we did highlight author J. Elle’s debut novel, a YA fantasy called Wings of Ebony, as one of our most anticipated books of 2021, and the book went on to become an instant bestseller and establish Elle as one of the most exciting new voices in YA. So we were thrilled when Elle’s first book for younger readers, A Taste of Magic, was announced. The story of a young witch named Kyana who enters a baking contest in the hopes of using the prize money to save her magical school, A Taste of Magic looks enchantingly scrumptious.

Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Loveis Wise
HarperCollins | September 6

Earlier this year, HarperCollins announced an ambitious new project: National Book Award-winning author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi would adapt six works by Zora Neale Hurston for young readers. Hurston is best known today as a novelist, but she also wrote short stories and collected folk tales as an anthropologist throughout the South. In this first volume, Kendi’s adaptation of one such short story is paired with vibrant illustrations by Loveis Wise, a rising star who has recently illustrated picture books by Ibi Zoboi (The People Remember) and Jeanne Walker Harvey (Ablaze With Color). We can’t think of two people more perfectly suited to bring Hurston’s work to a new generation of readers.

Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster | September 6

In the decade since middle grade author Stuart Gibbs published Spy School, a mystery novel about a boy named Ben who attends the CIA’s top secret Academy of Espionage, Gibbs has written nine more books in his Spy School series. What’s more, he’s also released books in four additional blockbuster series, publishing 14 titles across them. This year, Gibbs publishes his 10th Spy School novel, the opaquely titled Spy School: Project X, in which Ben will go head to head with his longtime nemesis. How is it possible, we ask, to create such consistently thrilling, entertaining reads at such a rapid pace while also getting the recommended eight hours of sleep every night? Our current working theory involves clones, but if Gibbs wants to enlighten us, he knows how to find us.

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown | September 13

In the 84-year history of the Caldecott Medal, only a handful of illustrators, including Barbara Cooney, David Wiesner, Leo and Diane Dillon and Robert McCloskey, have won multiple medals. Author-illustrator Sophie Blackall joined their rarified ranks in 2019 when she won her second medal for Hello Lighthouse. (She won her first in 2016 for Finding Winnie.) To create Farmhouse, Blackall incorporates mixed media into her illustrations as she tells a remarkably personal story about a family and their home. 

Odder by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso
Feiwel & Friends | September 20

Author Katherine Applegate has been turning kids into readers with fantastical stories filled with heart for more than two decades, and we’re fortunate that the 2013 Newbery Medalist shows no sign of slowing down. In order to know whether you’ll love this novel in verse about a young sea otter whose life is changed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, you really only need to look at the cover. Seriously, we dare you to attempt to resist its charms.

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Little, Brown | September 27

Poet Kwame Alexander took the world of children’s literature by storm when he won the 2015 Newbery Medal for The Crossover, a novel in verse. Not content to rest on his laurels, Alexander won a Newbery Honor in 2020 for The Undefeated, a picture book for which illustrator Kadir Nelson also won the Caldecott Medal. The Door of No Return sees Alexander take another exciting, ambitious step forward, this time into historical fiction. The novel opens in West Africa in 1860 and follows a boy named Kofi who is swept up into the unstoppable current of history.

Meanwhile Back on Earth . . . by Oliver Jeffers
Philomel | October 4

Author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers is one of the most successful picture book creators working today. He’s sold more than 12 million copies of titles that include Stuck, The Heart and the Bottle and, of course, The Day the Crayons Quit, which features text by author Drew Daywalt paired with Jeffers’ unmistakable artwork. Meanwhile Back on Earth continues a theme Jeffers has been exploring since his 2017 book, Here We Are, portraying a parent introducing their children to some aspect of human existence. In this case, Jeffers addresses the long history of conflict among people.

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
Balzer + Bray | October 4

If you loved Wall-E and Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot, or if looking at the recently released photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope filled you with awe and wonder, you won’t want to miss Jasmine Warga’s middle grade novel A Rover’s Story. Warga has a knack for plumbing the emotional depths of a story, so imbuing a Mars rover with humanity and heart seems like exactly the sort of new challenge we love to see authors take on.  

The Real Dada Mother Goose by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Julia Rothman
Candlewick | October 11

Author Jon Scieszka began his kidlit career with three postmodern picture books: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, illustrated by Lane Smith; The Frog Prince, Continued, illustrated by Steven Johnson; and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, another collaboration with Smith that earned a Caldecott Honor. In the three decades since, Scieszka has brought his signature humor to chapter books, middle grade novels and a memoir. He even served as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He comes full circle with The Real Dada Mother Goose, partnering with illustrator Julia Rothman to offer a new take on another beloved work of children’s literature, Blanche Fisher Wright’s The Real Mother Goose. We can practically hear the storytime giggles now.

I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
Neal Porter | October 11

Picture books illustrated by multiple illustrators aren’t unheard of, though in such cases, each illustrator typically works individually, creating separate images and giving each page a different look and feel. It’s much less common for illustrators to truly collaborate and create artwork together, as Caldecott Medalists Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal did with I Don’t Care, a quirky ode to friendship with text by bestselling author Julie Fogliano. We hope their work inspires more collaborative picture books in the future.

Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home by Lauren Castillo
Knopf | October 18

Caldecott Honor recipient Lauren Castillo published Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us in May 2020—little more than two years ago, and yet it feels like centuries have passed since then. Castillo completed our Meet the Author questionnaire in February of that year. “What message would you like to send to young readers?” we asked her. “Be brave,” she wrote, with no way of knowing how much bravery we were all about to need. In Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home, Castillo returns at long last to the woodsy world of Hedgehog and her friends for more stories of adventure and friendship, and we can’t wait to join her there.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Orchard | October 18

Author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen first collaborated in 2012. The result of that collaboration, Extra Yarn, won a Caldecott Honor. They’ve since created five more picture books together, including Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, which won another Caldecott Honor, and the Shapes trilogy (Triangle, Square and Circle), all featuring Barnett’s dry wit and Klassen’s deceptively simple art. The duo will enter ambitious new territory this fall as they launch a planned series of reenvisioned fairy tales, beginning with the Norwegian story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  

The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao
Graphix | November 1

In 2021, Christina Soontornvat joined an exclusive club, becoming one of only a few authors to receive Newbery recognition for two different books in the same year. What’s more, Soontornvat’s two Newbery Honors were for two very different books, a fantasy novel (A Wish in the Dark) and a work of narrative nonfiction (All Thirteen). But Soontornvat has always had range, publishing fiction and nonfiction picture books and a chapter book series in addition to her middle grade titles. With The Tryout, Soontornvat takes on two more new categories in one book: graphic novels and memoir. Accompanied by illustrations from webcomic artist Joanna Cacao, Soontornvat tells a story drawn from her own middle school experiences that fans of Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will enjoy.

Discover all our most anticipated books of fall 2022.

Forget homework and after-school activities. Instead, make time to enjoy these upcoming children’s books.

Anna Hibiscus

Atinuke (Too Small Tola, Catch That Chicken!), the acclaimed Nigerian-born author of Anna Hibiscus, is an accomplished traditional oral storyteller. In this illustrated chapter book, it’s easy to see why: Using straightforward yet elegant prose, she creates a sweetly moving and eminently memorable young protagonist.

Anna is a bright, active girl who lives with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and parents in a sprawling compound in a big, bustling city in Nigeria. The compound is a wondrous place with unusual architecture, lush gardens, fragrant mango trees and goats and chickens. There is always someone to play with, talk to or even—when the cheerful noise and spirited bickering of such a busy home becomes overwhelming—hide from for a little while. 

Each of Anna Hibiscus’ four self-contained chapters begin the same way: “Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. In a country called Nigeria.” This refrain highlights Anna’s pride in her identity and her homeland. In Atinuke’s quartet of tales, readers are drawn into Anna’s “amazing” world, where they join her on a trip to the beach, meet her supercool auntie who lives across the Atlantic Ocean and learn what it’s like to sell oranges on the street. Anna is smart and engaged in her family’s life, and each story showcases different ways to express love and understand new perspectives. 

Although Lauren Tobia’s illustrations are done in pen and ink with a gray wash, the people and events she depicts always have a feeling of cheerful vibrancy. Mischievous children tumble across the pages, and framed snapshots (complete with little pieces of scrapbook tape) capture scenes of Mother’s life growing up in Canada, where she met and married Father as he visited one summer.

Whether they share Atinuke’s stories aloud with a grown-up or pore over them quietly by themselves, emerging readers will find much to enjoy and discover as Anna and her family impart wisdom and wit, blend the contemporary with the traditional and revel in having fun together.

The Puffin Keeper

Sometimes we’re lucky to have a special person enter our lives and become an emotional touchstone, a beacon of light during dark times. In The Puffin Keeper , lighthouse keeper and artist Benjamin Postlethwaite becomes such a figure for young Allen Williams.

At first, it’s because Ben rescues 5-year-old Allen, his recently widowed mother and 28 other passengers from a shipwreck near Ben’s lighthouse on the Scilly Isles, then gives Allen a painting to keep. Later, it’s because memories of Ben’s heroism and kindness resonate through Allen’s life, especially when the boy longs to escape his difficult circumstances. At his strict grandfather’s house, Allen lives in terror of being rapped on the hands with his cruel governess’ ruler, and at boarding school, he is forced to run cross-country as punishment for repeated attempts to run away. 

Allen discovers that he loves running and, inspired by Ben’s painting, also develops his own artistic talents. He even paints the envelope of a letter he sends to Ben, but Ben doesn’t reply. Finally, teenage Allen decides to make a “journey of exploration” to the lighthouse. He reunites with Ben, who never forgot him, and the arrival of an injured puffin at the lighthouse augurs new beginnings for humans and birds alike. When Allen must eventually make a far more perilous journey, thoughts of Ben and the puffin help him once more. 

The Puffin Keeper is an emotional tale of people and creatures who forge joyful bonds, endure storms and carry on. As Michael Morpurgo’s  affecting story makes clear, Allen is a touchstone for Ben as well, in a sweet reminder that we may affect others more than we ever realize. 

The emotional impact and classical feel of illustrator Benji Davies’ artwork are just right for this book. Many illustrations’ sepia tones hint at days gone by, while roiling seas rise up in ominous hues of gray and blue. Davies’ depictions of human characters are nicely expressive, and the puffins are both accurate and adorable. 

Morpurgo is no stranger to crafting appealing and meaningful tales. The award-winning British author has written more than 100 children’s books, with War Horse being perhaps the best known among them. In an afterword, Morpurgo reveals a personal connection to the real-life figure who served as inspiration for the character of Allen, a historical tidbit that sheds warm light on an already luminous story.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. These lovely books for emerging readers explore how our families enrich and bring joy to our lives.
Interview by

Matthew Cordell is best known for his Caldecott Medal-winning Wolf in the Snow, a book that contains almost no words. His new book, Cornbread & Poppy, contains a lot of words—80 pages of them, in fact! It’s Cordell’s first foray into early readers, those books nestled snugly between picture books and chapter books and designed for children who are just beginning to read independently.

Featuring oodles of Cordell’s signature sketchlike illustrations, Cornbread & Poppy is an endearing tale of two mice who embark on an expedition up Holler Mountain in search of enough food to see them through the winter.

Why did you want to create an early reader?

I love the picture book format for its challenge and need to distill and consolidate lots of thoughts and ideas into a short amount of text and space. But I’ve often wondered what it would be like to open things up and put more words on the page for readers to chew on. Not quite ready to jump into a full-length novel, I thought an early reader would give me a chance to play with a longer text and still hold on to lots of illustrations.

What are some early readers you admire, and what did you want to accomplish in your own?

There’s quite a range of offerings, past and present, in early readers! I wanted to write a longer text, broken up into chapters. I really wanted the character development, world building and rich plot that one can create with a fuller text.

‘After years and years of keeping only essential words and working with the picture book mindset of ‘showing not telling,’ it was liberating to just write and write and write.’

Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad is the gold standard for its charm, humor and exquisite, pitch-perfect writing. In terms of contemporaries, I love Cece Bell’s Rabbit and Robot books for all of the same reasons.

What were the pleasures and challenges of telling and illustrating a story in more than 32 pages?

After years and years of keeping only essential words and working with the picture book mindset of “showing not telling,” it was liberating to just write and write and write and not worry too much about how much pruning would need to be done in the end.

But it was challenging too, not to go in and start slicing and dicing. I’m so used to working that way that I had to remind myself that I wanted to keep the storytelling language nice and beefy for those new little reading eyes that would be reading it.

Early readers are designed for children who are still gaining literary fluency. How conscious of these developmental needs were you as you wrote the text, and how did you balance them with the creative demands of the story?

I’m a dad of two kids who are on either side of the world of early readers. My daughter is 13 and devours books, but it wasn’t all that long ago that she was just learning to read. My son, who’s 8, is just now picking up early readers. So, having seen it firsthand, I was very conscious of wanting to not write over the heads of these littlest readers. I did, however, want to make the book a little challenging. Something longer and a little complicated, so that they might take a little more time with it—maybe even not finish it in one sitting.

“Going on adventures in life is a great way to find new things to write about and draw.”

How did Cornbread’s and Poppy’s names come to you?

They are such great names! I can say that with actual modesty, because I didn’t come up with them. My cleverer-than-me wife, author Julie Halpern, gifted me these character names one day, and I used them as a springboard for everything that followed. To me, Cornbread and Poppy conjured a world of fun and adventure with animals in a rural setting. And Poppy is a great name, but Cornbread . . . I was in love with that character name from the get-go!

Were Cornbread and Poppy always mice?

More or less, yes, they were always mice. In the very beginning, before I even had any stories, I jotted down a list of animal possibilities. Those notes are forever lost, but I remember thinking, maybe pigs or dogs could work. But my very first sketch was of these two mice, and I looked no further!

Cornbread and Poppy sketch © Matthew Cordell

What was their character development like? Did you land on their personalities right away or did they evolve as you wrote?

I think it was a gradual development, overall. I knew I wanted one to be uptight and the other to be a free spirit, but it wasn’t until I started writing more from that basic premise that I felt like each personality should have positives and negatives. When you put the two characters together, they fill each other out nicely. One’s positive traits fill in for the other’s flaws and vice versa. They don’t always see eye to eye, but they really like each other, they’re willing to listen and learn from each other, and in the end, they make a great team.

What’s your favorite illustration in the book? Do you have a favorite line?

My favorite spread is where Cornbread and Poppy first encounter an owl on Holler Mountain. It’s their worst fear to be descended upon by a mouse-eating owl, and when they find themselves under the giant shadow of a flying owl, the look on their gaping faces is horrific and priceless. There’s lots of drama in that picture, and I just like how it looks.

Illustration from Cornbread & Poppy © 2022 Matthew Cordell. Reproduced by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

My favorite line (or lines) in the book are probably the very first two. “It was winter. The first snowflake had fallen.” Very simple idea, but I love the idea and visual of the first single snowflake falling signifying the beginning of winter itself.

The book’s dedication hints that you may be more of a Cornbread than a Poppy. What Cornbread-ish qualities are handy for a writer and illustrator to have?

Cornbread is very on top of things and has things planned out perfectly. He’s ready for anything! This mindset would be very helpful to someone writing or illustrating a book. Or to any person doing any job, really. Be prepared! I should follow my own advice.

Are there Poppy-ish qualities that are also helpful for a creative person?

Poppy loves to try new things, explore and seek thrills. Going on adventures in life is a great way to find new things to write about and draw. We’re never too old to learn and experience new things. As long as we keep looking, we’ll always have something to be inspired by and something new to create.

Read our starred review of ‘Cornbread & Poppy.’

In his first early reader, Matthew Cordell offers a mouse’s tale that’s perfect for the youngest of readers.
Review by

Author and illustrator Matthew Cordell has earned critical acclaim for his picture books, even winning the Caldecott Medal in 2017 for Wolf in the Snow. In Cornbread & Poppy, Cordell ventures into a new form: the early reader.

In three short chapters, the book introduces two sweet friends, a pair of anthropomorphized mice with very different personalities. Cornbread is a planner. When we meet him, he is stocking his pantry with food he has foraged. It’s almost winter, and Cornbread knows it’s important to be prepared. Cornbread’s best friend, Poppy, is “not one to worry.” She has spent her time having adventures, and when she shows up at Cornbread’s house to invite him to join her on a foraging expedition, Cornbread tells her it’s too late and there won’t be any food left for her.

Although they ask all around town, no one has any spare food for Poppy. In desperation, Poppy tells Cornbread that she thinks there may be food on Holler Mountain. The mice shiver, because “no one goes up Holler Mountain!” There’s even a legend about someone named Ms. Ruthie, who once dared to try—but never returned. When Poppy decides Holler Mountain is the only way for her, Cornbread commits to the journey, like any best friend would do. What they find when they reach the summit is a satisfying surprise.

Read our Q&A with Matthew Cordell.

Cornbread and Poppy are endearing characters, poised to join the ranks of other memorable early reader sets of best friends old and new, including James Marshall’s George and Martha, Laurel Snyder’s Charlie and Mouse, and Sergio Ruzzier’s Fox and Chick. Cornbread and Poppy are broadly but carefully delineated, and their personalities drive the story at a brisk pace.

In a palette of cool, wintry colors juxtaposed against pops of warm pink, Cordell brings a lively community to the page, including Old Larry, “the town grump” whose doormat reads “NOPE”; the mysterious Ms. Ruthie; and a vegetarian owl they meet on their journey. The characters are rife with narrative possibilities for future books that promise more humor and heart (and, we hope, Old Larry’s grumpy backstory).

Nestling snugly between picture books and chapter books, early readers are designed for children who are just beginning to read independently. Cornbread & Poppy will leave those readers hungry for more.

Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s first early reader, the tale of two mice who embark on an expedition up Holler Mountain, will leave young readers hungry for more.

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