Book Cover Premiere: The Only Fish in the Sea

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Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell join us today for the cover reveal of their brand new picture book, The Only Fish in the Sea! Watch the video below, then keep reading to learn more about the inspiration behind the story.

We loved meeting Sadie in SPECIAL DELIVERY! Can you tell us a little bit about what we’ll see in THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA?

Philip: A lot will be familiar to fans of Special Delivery. Sadie is back along with her pal, Sherman. Sherman is the previously unnamed character that opens Special Delivery by hollering, “Hey Sadie!” He’s got a name now and a much more integral role. The monkey bandits are back as well, also in a bigger role. We’re continuing the world we began with Special Delivery but upping the stakes all around. The Only Fish in the Sea is a mission of relentless kindness, similar to Special Delivery, but it is also a rescue mission. Poor Ellsworth, a defenseless goldfish, has been tossed into the ocean by the uncaring Little Amy Scott on the occasion of her birthday. Cue Sadie and Sherman (and a boat full of monkeys) to the rescue.

How did you make the illustrations in this story and what was your favorite thing to draw in THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA?

Matthew: My formula is and remains to be pretty simple. I draw everything with old school pen and ink on watercolor paper and then go back and paint the colors in with watercolor. The difference here is that I’ve started using a cold press paper (a paper with a rougher surface) whereas before I’d pretty much exclusively used a hot press paper (a paper with a relatively smooth surface). After years of it not occurring to me, I’ve finally realized that a rougher paper is going to yield a rougher and more irregular line. Which has always been my jam. So I’m on the cold press train here on out! (for now, at least) My favorite things to draw were the monkey bandits. They had a bit of a cameo in Special Delivery, but they’re much more heavily featured in Fish. I love drawing a troupe of seemingly unraveled and unraveling characters doing all kinds of weird things in the sidelines. I get to play with a whole backstory of visuals that don’t appear at all in the manuscript.


Here is the case cover Matthew Cordell drew for The Only Fish in the Sea.
(click to enlarge)

What’s a page from the book and/or an excerpt from the story you’re really excited for readers to see?

Matthew: I can’t wait for folks to see the sequence of spreads where Sadie, Sherman, and the monkey bandits go out to sea. I mean, all $%&* breaks loose before it all falls back in place again. Heck… maybe this was my favorite thing to draw!

Philip: I’m with Matt on this one. The boat sequence is one of my favorite scenes in any of my books. Part of what I love is the total disconnect between the text and the images. If you were to read only the text you’d think that Sadie and Sherman were having a nice, polite tea party. If I remember correctly I think Matt was scratching his head a little when I first sent him the story a couple years back. I had to write him back and let him know that this section of boring text was actually the part where he gets to go crazy.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

Philip: Several pages and spreads from this book were designed by Matt to mimic famous paintings. This was done without my prior knowledge. I laughed so hard when I saw one page in particular. The scene is an homage to a painting that almost everyone who’s ever taken a college art history class is familiar with, The Oath of the Horatii. I really hate that painting. I mean, REALLY hate. So it’s pretty great that we get to spoof it in a book that has, in my opinion, the complete and utter opposite vibe of everything ever painted by Jacques-Louis David.

Matthew: I wonder… Can anyone at All The Wonders correctly identify the famous painting that inspired our cover image? (hint: I had to reverse the direction the boat is going for the sake of L to R action in picture book making.)

Thanks for sharing THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA with all of us!

The Only Fish in the Sea will be on sale from Roaring Brook Press beginning August 15, 2017.

Philip C. Stead is the author of the Caldecott medal winning, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by his wife, Erin E. Stead. Philip and Erin live and work in Northern Michigan. Visit him online at

Matthew Cordell has illustrated many books for children including the popular Justin Case series by Rachel Vail, Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold, and First Grade dropout by Audrey Vernick. He is the author and illustrator of Trouble Gum, Another Brother, and Hello! Hello!, a New York Times Notable picture book, and, most recently, Wish. Matthew lives outside of Chicago with his wife, author Julie Halpern, and their two children. Visit him online at

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