Evergreen by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel & Friends, February 2023) features a highly loveable but timid and scared squirrel sent on a journey to take Granny Oak an acorn full of soup. With this “Little Red Riding Hood”-esque story and Matthew Cordell’s striking ink and watercolor illustrations, Evergreen becomes a truly delightful story to read as well as peruse to enjoy the variety of emotions Cordell so excellently captured on the creatures’ faces.
Buckthorn Forest is a dangerous place, but Evergreen’s mother doesn’t give her a choice: she must take Granny Oak the soup to help her recover from the flu. Thus Evergreen tentatively steps outside. Although there are times she still thinks “I . . . can’t do it!”, Evergreen feels obligated to find a way. But many of her decisions are because of her kind heart. Her empathy for the other creatures is what helps Evergreen overcome some of her fears as she helps them. She actually starts to enjoy the adventure and even say “I . . . can do that.”
I’ve already gushed about the illustrations a little bit, but these stand out just as much (maybe even more!) than the moving, funny, and encouraging story. Every image is full of emotion and/or action.
First, the emotions. The eyes show the feelings. I am not an artist but I can tell it must be difficult to so accurately convey an emotion via eyes and mouth, especially on a squirrel, rabbit, or bird! This is a book about overcoming fear, as I mentioned, so these emotions play a key part of the story. It could possibly have fallen flat without the emotions captured in the illustrations.
Looking at the postures and the faces of each of the little creatures adds to the humorous substory (that of everyone wanting to steal the acorn of soup). Evergreen has to keep it close to make sure those who have such eager faces won’t try to take it from her.
Also compellingly, the perspective and the posture of the creatures in the illustrations nicely capture the action. For example, as Evergreen and her new bunny friend Briar are fleeing the hawk, the face-on perspective, with all three creatures staring at the reader and the two small animals leaping toward the edge of the page, makes the creatures seem to actually be moving toward the reader, out of the book. Dare I say all the images have some sort of emphasis on action?
Some of the pages have images set apart within a twig frame, which show some part of the animals in action: an outstretched arm, an open mouth, a strained face, ears pulled back. In other places, the illustrations are free of a frame, giving a freeing feeling to the scene and thus emphasizing the unlimited action happening there.
There are so many adventures. There is also a fun twist at the end. (I don’t dare tell because it is so fantastic.) And, as Evergreen returns home, there is an emphasis on how she says “Yes!” Her mother doesn’t seem surprised, but the reader can see the difference in Evergreen as she re-enters her kitchen. Evergreen has overcome a lot of her fear. Maybe now she’s ready to face a thunderstorm!
Five stars, up to the sky! I predict this will win the Caldecott Medal in three weeks. (I’ll come update yes or no after that date.)