What: Youth Lit Fest

Presenters: Caldecott Medal winner Matthew Cordell, Newbery Honor winner Jason Reynolds (via Skype), Katherine Roy, Dan Gemeinhart, Fonda Lee, Catherine Alene, Amber Keyser and Jaime Wong.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Summit High School, 2855 NW Clearwater Drive, Bend

Cost: Free, registration required

Contact: deschuteslibrary.org/ylf or 541-617-7099

Matthew Cordell reached a pinnacle of the children’s literature world in January 2018 when he won the American Library Association’s Randolph Caldecott Medal for his book, “Wolf in the Snow.” By then, Cordell had been a successful children’s book author and illustrator for 14 years. But children’s picture books weren’t where he originally envisioned using his artistic talents.

Cordell will discuss “Wolf in the Snow,” his artistic process and what it was like to win the Caldecott Medal during the Youth Lit Fest Saturday in Bend. He is one of seven acclaimed authors of children’s and teen literature, plus a children’s publishing industry insider, who will take part in the Deschutes Public Library event.

In the early 2000s, Cordell was a hipster in his mid-20s, living in Chicago, working as a graphic designer and creating zines (independently produced and printed mini-magazines) in his free time. When his wife, Julie Halpern — also an artist and a librarian — suggested they use their combined talents to write a children’s book, Cordell was hesitant at first.

“I hadn’t looked at a children’s book in years — since I was a kid — so I wasn’t sure it would be cool,” Cordell said. “Julie started bringing me home some of the newer children’s books and I was really impressed by what I was seeing.”

Cordell realized he’d been harboring a common type of snobbery toward children’s books, presuming they were the corny or lesson-laden tomes he recalled from his own childhood. He also assumed it would be relatively easy to write a children’s book and get it published.

“I thought, ‘How much artistic integrity can come from that?’” Cordell said. “But then I discovered it’s incredibly difficult to limit yourself and say something important with a small amount of words and present it poetically or humorously or whatever the case may be. It’s also hard to say something new. There are so many cliches and so many things that have already been done. It’s a struggle to say something fresh and still be sellable or profitable.”

After being rejected by 19 publishers, that first book, “Toby and the Snowflakes,” was published in 2004. Cordell has gone on to write and illustrate seven more books and illustrate 33 books for other writers, earning numerous accolades and awards for his work.

Most of Cordell’s original illustrations are created as pen and ink drawings that are then colored with watercolors. He has also created some of his art digitally and in pencil. He usually tries to develop a story as the framework for his books before he attempts to draw anything. “Wolf in the Snow,” however, evolved from a drawing Cordell created that didn’t initially have an accompanying tale. Something in that picture spoke to him, and he felt it needed a story. He spent around a year experimenting with a narrative and reworking the structure until he completed the book.

“Wolf in the Snow” is a nearly wordless picture book about a human girl and a wolf pup caught in a blizzard. The girl saves the wolf pup and then the pup and its grateful pack save the girl.

“It actually started out as traditionally written text,” Cordell said. “But because of the story — these two characters being isolated in nature — there wouldn’t be any dialogue between them. With the pictures I could show the expressions of the animals and the people and eventually it just made more sense to take out the text altogether.”

Cordell had never tried to create a wordless picture book before and knew he was taking a risk that might not be well received. But with this story, he felt removing the words and having the reader sit with and interpret his images created more intense, dramatic moments.

The impact of “Wolf in the Snow” on its young readers, but also on adult readers, reviewers and the Caldecott judges, highlights another challenging aspect of children’s literature that Cordell feels is underappreciated.

“The main audience is children, but there’s a whole other side to this audience we’re speaking to as well,” Cordell said. “The adults who have to buy the books and read them to the children — the parents, educators and librarians — these people have to be impressed too. Otherwise they’re not going to want to read this book once, much less two or three times to children. You have to satisfy an adult mindset as well as the youngest mindset. People don’t really think about that.”

Cordell’s latest book, “Hope,” was released in February. He is currently working on his first nonfiction project: a picture book biography called “Hello Neighbor!” about the beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers. It is due to be released in August 2020.

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