Hello! Hello! by Matthew Cordell

I LOVE the work of illustrator and author Matthew Cordell and I think I've reviewed almost everything he's done here. And, while I think I love all his books equally, like I love my three children equally, I think his new book, hello! hello!, just might be his best yet. Although this brilliant, beautiful book doesn't come out until October 23 of this year, it received a rave review from multiple award winning picture book author and illustrator David Small in the New York Times Book Reivew last weekend, so I am jumping the gun, too. But really, what do I have to say that David Small didn't? Seriously, just read his review. However, if you are too lazy to click through or have some issue with the New York Times, I will do my best to tell you why you need to own this book. First and foremost, not only is hello! hello! a reminder to our kids, more importantly, it is a reminder to US, the adults, the parents, the caregivers. A reminder that we NEED, a reminder we especially need in the nondigital, non-electronic, format of the picture book.

I love a picture book where the story starts before the title page, and hello! hello! does just that. In the prologue, we see a little girl working her way through a series of devices, from a handheld gaming device to a laptop to a cell phone to a flat screen television. For one reason or another, each one fails to hold her attention. (That still happens, right? I know it does because I watch my eight year old make his way through the various devices in our house on a Saturday, eventually heading off to play Legos or something outside.) After the title page, we watch the little redhead make her way through the house, greeting her mother, father and brother Bob, getting only a halfhearted "hello" in return (if at all, as Bob has headphones on) as everyone else is plugged into their devices. "Sigh." is her response. However, a slightly opened door and a gust of wind blows in a colorful leaf that catches her attention. She follows the call of the leaves and, at this point, the text that looks like what you see in a digital readout shifts to a flowing, hand lettered font that is and organic and cheerful. At this moment, the world begins to say "hello" to the little girl. In fact, the world says, "Hello Lydia." I think it is so interesting, significant and meaningful that, while in her own home where everyone is plugged into electronic worlds, she is nameless. Revealing her name once she is in nature is the kind of subtle storytelling that is the mark of a true master of the craft.

 Lydia explores her world and, happily, we find that her imagination has not been dimmed by the uses of gadgets (thank you, Mr Cordell, for cutting us parents a little break here.) Cordell's illustrations of these pages are GLORIOUS (see tiny image below...) but short lived. Lydia's phone rings. Her frantic parents have discovered her missing and are calling her home.

 I love how David Small characterizes this passage in the book and I am going to quote him mightily here: 

Across an empty page she runs home, back to the gray interior, where Mom and Dad — torn away from their machines — greet her with an irritated “hello?” in computerized font. Enthusiastically she greets them back in hand-drawn “Hello’s!” while, at the same time, and in handy fashion, she trades each of them a thing she has found outside — a leaf, a flower, a ladybug — for the machines to which they have been glued.

The final spread has the whole family outdoors, holding hands. A tree sheds its bright fall leaves. A breeze blows the leaves toward the humans in a beckoning fashion. The parents are still looking a little conformist-robotic and slightly reluctant to break away from their virtual reality, but the two children - barefoot - are delightedly wiggling their bare toes in the dirt.

Children's books that begin their lives with the intent to convey an important message generally fall flat and fail to capture anyone's fancy. This one succeeds because it has appealing characters in situations that intrigue us. While the message was perhaps the main reason for baking, it comes along not as the cake itself, but as the icing.

I could not have said it better. And, in one final quote, I must share with you what this award winning picture book illustrator said of his fellow illustrator. Small writes that Cordell's "art is gloriously old-style, hand-drawn in ink with a bamboo pen. The color is applied with old-fashioned watercolor (harder to learn than Photoshop!) while the type is quite obviously computer made, in that rigid fractured font you see on digital clocks everywhere. The contrast of hand-drawn and machine-issued is cleverly sustained through the first half of the book, where the little girl lives in a dull, indoor world." And, almost finally, as with many of Cordell's books, remove the dust jacket for an extra treat!

In fact, Cordell has a fascinating blog post about how he came to hand letter this book, his inspirations and his sources. Cordell also shares the moment that led him to write this book in the post Hello! Hello! Origins. Which brings me back to what I said at the start of this review: hello! hello! is a reminder to us parents and kids - not a reprimand. The picture Cordell shares on his blog of his then-two-year-old daughter playing with a laptop she spilled coffee on, with Dad in the background on another laptop, is his honest admission that he needs this reminder as much as any of us do. His story about how his daughter delivered this reminder (and the idea for the book) is really worth reading!

And finally, does this actually defeat the message of the book? Maybe, but here goes anyway....

Source : Review Copy

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