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.
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.