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2018 Caldecott Winner: Wolf in the Snow

Wolf in the SnowWolf in the Snow

Written and Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends

ISBN 978-1-250-07636-6

Grades preK-3


Book Review

Get ready to challenge all of your assumptions about stories of girls in red-hooded jackets and wolves. Counter to traditional fairy tales that caution (and condition) us to be fearful of wolves, Wolf in the Snow tells a nearly wordless story of unexpected tenderness, compassion, and trust between a girl and a wolf pup both lost in a snowstorm. On the first page, readers peer in through a window into a comforting family scene of a mother and father sipping from warm mugs while their daughter plays with the family dog; thus, setting the stage for a story at its heart about connection and belonging. The girl leaves the comfort and safety of her home and heads to school across a wilderness landscape as snow starts to fall. In a two-page spread that uses binocular perspective, we see the girl alone on one page and a pack of wolves on the other setting up parallel stories between the girl and the wolf pup. As the girl leaves school at the end of the day, the snowstorm begins to build and we witness the pup struggling to keep up with the pack. With his characteristic pen and ink drawings and watercolor paintings, Matthew Cordell incorporates a variety of dynamic illustration techniques including double-page spreads, binocular perspective, and paneled illustrations. If there was ever a picture book that begged to be hugged by the last page, this is it. Whenever you and your students need reminders of goodness in the world, pick up and enjoy A Wolf in the Snow. Your faith in the world is sure to be restored.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades preK-3

Telling and Retelling the Story. Wordless (and nearly wordless) picture books are ripe with opportunities for storytelling. Enjoy the many ways of telling and retelling Wolf in the Snow by inviting your students to participate in the storytelling process. You may want to have students each take a page to share what they see happening using words like first, next, then, after that, and finally. Students may enjoy using choral reading for the animal sounds that appear on some of the pages and which offer opportunities to become the characters. You may find that your students want to act out the story by playing the roles of the girl, her family, or the wolves. Think about simple props and costumes like a red hooded jacket to make those role-playing opportunities come to life. Using their bodies, students can think about how to portray the characters’ struggles and compassion for one another. They can even imagine what the characters are thinking and feeling along the way. You may also want to incorporate new technologies into the storytelling process to capture your students’ voices by using apps like VoiceMemo, Shadow Puppet, or Show Me, which offer audio, and in some cases, visual possibilities.

Predictions and Surprises. While reading Wolf in the Snow, pause periodically to ask students what they think might happen next and to note the ways in which Matthew Cordell sets us up to be surprised as readers. Encourage students to say more about their predictions by explaining why they have the ideas they do. Wordless picture books support all students to see themselves as readers and to engage in the thinking strategies that apply to both words and pictures. Support students to build on this experience with predictions and surprises and apply it to their own independent reading of illustrations.

Wordless Picture Book Text Sets. There are many masterful wordless picture books that vary in the level of text complexity they offer. Look for a range of wordless picture books to include in your classroom library to support students to use expressive language and a storytelling voice to describe what they see across pages. Use Lost. Found by Marsha Diane Arnold (also illustrated by Matthew Cordell) in a duet model to compare and contrast the characters, the plot, and the emotions evoked by the illustrations. Gather other wordless picture books especially those that tell stories of friendship and trust such as The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, Red Sled by Lita Judge, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, and Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. With upper elementary school students, support students to build more nuanced inferences about what is happening and why using wordless books like The Red Book by Barbara Lehman, Mirror by Jeannie Baker, Journey by Aaron Becker, Flotsam by David Weisner, and Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole.

Fairytale Connections. Use Wolf in the Snow to extend a fairy tale unit and to model how writers today are using familiar stories like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs as inspiration for new stories. In what ways does Wolf in the Snow draw from characters we know from familiar tales? How does Matthew Cordell challenge our beliefs about these characters? How is Matthew Cordell’s use of fairy tale characters different from fractured fairy tales like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Scieszka or retellings like Little Red Writing by Joan Holub? Have students engage in further comparisons of fairy tale retellings by using Anthony Browne’s Me and You and Into the Forest. List fairy tale characters as a class and support students to write/illustrate stories that are inspired by Matthew Cordell’s use of fairy tale characters to tell a new, more compassionate, and more surprising story. 

Bookmaking. Wolf in the Snow offers a mentor text for students to create their own books using a variety of illustration techniques. Peek under the book jacket and see an illustrated family album of sorts for the girls’ family on the front cover and the wolf pack on the back cover. The book jacket unfolds to reveal the turning point of the story where the girl finds the wolf pup in the snow and the wolf mother howls into the storm. Like the covers and book jacket, each page is worthy of close investigation and offers possible techniques for students to illustrate their own stories of family and friendship. Students may want to draw from Cordell’s examples to illustrate stories they have already written, or your students may want to take inspiration from the story itself to write their own versions of stories about humans and animals rescuing one another.

Snowstorm Stories. The world of children’s literature has a plethora of stories about snowstorms including Blizzard by John Rocco, Snow by Uri Shulevitz, Snow by Cynthia Rylant, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Outside by Diedre Gill, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, and Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart. Encourage students to share their own stories of snowstorms if it applies. For students that have not had the experience of being in a snowstorm before, share videos to support student connections.

Multimedia Extension. After reading Wolf in the Snow, extend student learning by viewing clips from documentaries of wolves in the wilderness such as the BBC documentary Wolf Pack. Before viewing have students share what they already know (or think they know) about wolves. After viewing the documentary clips, have students share whether their ideas about wolves have changed. Support students to generate questions they have about wolves and investigate possibilities as a class for where you can find out answers (see Further Investigations below for suggested national park sites).

Growing Independence. It may surprise some young readers that the girl walks to school and returns back home on her own across a rural landscape. For other students, this may serve as a mirror for their own journeys to and from school. In either case, the girl’s independence can be seen as a site of celebration. While she experiences physical hardship in her journey, she also experiences exceptional moments of compassion. Support students to discuss what they think about her independence and the trust her family has in her to walk to and from school. Do they think her family will continue to have her walk on her own across the wilderness? What are the ways that your students are striving to grow in their independence? Do they feel as though their independence is supported and acknowledged? In what ways are they supported and/or limited to make their own decisions about what they think their bodies can do on the playground, at home, and at school? You may want to use this book as a springboard for students to write persuasive letters to their families or to the school about how they want to be supported to grow in their independence to become more resourceful and resilient individuals.

Critical Literacy

Conservation Research. Matthew Cordell thanks the Yellowstone Wolf Project in his acknowledgements of Wolf in the Snow. Research with your class the Yellowstone Wolf Project and how you can help challenge assumptions people have about wolves and other wildlife. Learn about wolf facts and the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Add to your research by using Jean Craighead George’s The Wolves are Back and Dorothy Hinshaw Patent’s When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone. Then, use shared or interactive writing to compose questions as a class about wolves and threats to the wolf population. Send your questions to the National Park Service and ask them to reply so that you can find out answers to your questions.

Further Investigations

Online Resources

Matthew Cordell’s Site

National Parks Conversation Association: What’s In a Howl?

National Parks Service Yellowstone Wolf Project

Publishers Weekly Q&A with Matthew Cordell

Snow Falling Video

Wolf in the Snow Book Trailer

BBC Documentary Wolf Pack


Written and/or Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

 Arnold, M.D. (2015). Lost. Found. Roaring Book Press.

Cordell, M. (2015). Wish. New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion.

Cordell, M. (2017). Dream (Wish). New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion.

Dotlich, R.K. (2016). The knowing book. Boyds Mills Press.

Levine, G.C. (2012). Forgive me, I meant to do it. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Other Related Books

Baker, J. (2010). Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Becker, A. (2013). Journey. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Briggs, R. (1978). The snowman. New York, NY: Random House Books for Young Readers.

Browne, A. (2004). Into the forest. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Browne, A. (2010). Me and you. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Cole, H. (2012). Unspoken: A story from the underground railroad. New York, NY: Scholastic.

George, J.C. (2008). The wolves are back. New York, NY: Dutton Books for Young Readers.

Gill, D. (2014). Outside. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Idle, M. (2013). Flora and the flamingo. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Judge, L. (2011). The red sled. New York, NY: Antheneum Books for Young Readers.

Keats, E.J. (1962). The snowy day. New York, NY: Viking Books.

Lehman, B. (2004). The red book. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Martin, J. B. (2009). Snowflake Bentley. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Messner, K. (2014). Over and under the snow. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Patent, D. H. (2008). When the wolves returned: Restoring nature’s balance in Yellowstone. London, UK: Walker Children’s.

Pinkney, J. (2009). The lion and the mouse. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Rocco, J. (2011). Blizzard. New York, NY: Disney Hyperion.

Rathmann, P. (1996). Good night, gorilla. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam Son’s Books for Young Readers.

Rylant, C. Snow. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Schulevitz, U. (1998). Snow. New York, NY: Square Fish.

Scieszka, J. (1996). The true story of the three little pigs. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Stewart, M. (2009). Under the snow. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.

Weisner, D. (2006). Flotsam. Boston, MA: Clarion Books.



Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.