This home-and-back-again adventure tale belongs to Evergreen, a wide-eyed squirrel who lives deep in Buckthorn Forest. Evergreen has a long list of fears, including but not limited to germs, loud noises, heights, swimming and thunderstorms. When her mother asks her to travel through the forest to take soup to Granny Oak, Evergreen responds, “I can’t do it!” But her mother insists (”I know you are afraid, but I believe you can do it”), so Evergreen puts on her shawl and heads out.
In an era of picture books that often contain sparse text, Evergreen stands out for its lengthy, detailed prose. Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell treats readers to an epic tale in six enumerated parts, filled with lively dialogue and hand-lettered onomatopoeia. “SKREEEE-EEE!” and “GRRROOOAAARRR!” go the forest creatures who frighten Evergreen on her journey. In one remarkably spine-tingling moment, a red-tailed hawk named Ember swoops down toward Evergreen, picks her up “with razor-sharp talons” and soars into the sky. Cordell offers a dramatic, close-up view of the scene as Evergreen and another animal run toward the reader, the hawk just behind them, its majestic wings exceeding the edges of the spread.
Fortunately, Ember just needs Evergreen’s help to remove some painful thorns after an unlucky encounter with a bramble. “I . . . can do it,” Evergreen whispers, a self-directed pep talk that becomes her refrain throughout the story. With each creature she meets, Evergreen faces one of her fears with courage (and deep breaths and trembling hands), and she prevails every time—even when she meets “the Bear,” whose identity is a gratifying surprise.
Cordell’s world building is immensely satisfying, and Evergreen is packed with entertaining textual and visual details. Evergreen delivers Mama’s “magic soup” in an empty acorn with a screw-on cap; her tattered shawl is red like another well-known woodland food delivery courier; and earth tone borders that look like tree branches frame many vignettes. Cordell drops a number of hints to a sequel, including a delightful map beneath the dust jacket and another delivery request from Evergreen’s mother toward the story’s conclusion. Readers would be so lucky.