Picture book of the day: IDEA! check out Matthew Cordell’s rollicking King Alice


King Alice, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, published by Feiwel and Friends, ISBN: 978-1250047496, ARC reviewed, to be released: September 25, 2018.

There’s a detail I love in Matthew Cordell’s absolutely hilarious King Alice, about an exhausted father trying to keep up with his imaginative, rambunctious, and demanding (but lovable) daughter on what appears to be the umpteenth snow day in a row. Whenever the titular character thinks of something new to do she doesn’t say “Oh, I have an idea,” she yells “Idea!” and then proceeds to reveal the new plan. This may seem strangely specific to praise, but hey in comedy, timing is everything. And in picture book comedy, the way the writer words things matters. The succinct way Alice says “Idea!’ says everything about her character: she’s confident, blunt, and you better go along with her IDEA. But most of all: it’s funny…every time she says it.

King Alice sweeps the reader through an aforementioned snow day from early dawn to a much needed bedtime, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. The royal Alice orders her most put upon subject (her pop) about while mom and baby sibling watch with amusement (love how the pet cat reacts to the various interactions). Cordell gets a lot of comic mileage with the characters’ body language, especially the father’s. Anyone who has spent a long amount of time with a particularly energetic kid will relate. And kids will laugh because, well, it’s fun to watch grownups in silly situations designed by kids. After King Alice proposes two IDEAS that didn’t exactly work out in the father’s eyes (making super-sparkly strawberry muffins, and making dad super-duper pretty again), Alice decides to write a book. And it turns out hilarious, with Cordell drawing in Alice’s manic child-like style, with crayons even.

Cordell received the 2018 Caldecott Award for the modern picture book classic Wolf in the Snow. And apart from having snow play a major role in the plot, King Alice could not be more different in terms of tone. Yes, Cordell fills the pages with his trademark expressive pen and ink, watercolor (and from the author’s note “whatever colored pencils and markers Matthew Cordell could find from his kids’ stash of art supplies”) illustrations. And yes, ultimately it’s a story about the warmth of family. Yet Wolf has a rather melancholy tone, and is effectively mostly wordless.

Despite a moment late in the story during which Alice reflects about going too far with one of her antics and then making things right again, Alice focuses on delivering laughs. Cordell’s use of language delights as much as his drawings. Just check out Alice’s apology to her pop after he finally snaps and sends her to Time Out: “I’m so, so, so, so, so sorry I bonked you with my unicorn, Daddy. You are funny and nice and you draw good and smell good and are neat and nice and will you still play with me now, Daddy?” I love everything about this sentence: the 5 “so”s, 2 “nice”s, the compliments, and then the plea to play once again.

Cordell is quite simply one of the funniest illustrators working today. You can see his playful sense of humor in the books he has illustrated for other authors. Books like Peter Hermann’s If the S in the Moose Comes Loose, Audrey Vernick’s Bob, Not Bob, and in many of his other solo efforts (Trouble Gum, hello! hello!), among others (he’s thankfully prolific). With King Alice he deftly combines word and image for maximum comical effect.

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