Kidlit County

WHAT IF…

Today is a special day. I got to illustrate this book, and now it is in the world.

While I turn the pages of What If…, I remember making macaroni portraits in preschool. I remember decorating cookies for Christmas with my Mom. I remember sneaking out my paint set when I wasn’t supposed to and spilling paint on the carpet. The paint and easel were taken away from me for a while, but I was just as happy using my crayons instead. I remember eating French onion soup and drawing on placemats at my favorite restaurant with my Mema, with markers that she had just bought for me. And I remember other times, when I didn’t have those markers, I would just make mountains out of creamer cups, and portraits out of spaghetti and meatballs. I remember being lonely, and playing make believe. If I didn’t have friends to play with, I would line up my stuffed animals and perform for them. I sang all of their favorites. I would build pillow forts and Lego castles for us to live and dream in. We would run wild through the backyard, through bushes and trees, to another world where whatever we thought of was possible.

I remember creating my whole life, from childhood to adulthood. I’m so grateful to be able to create, and to encourage others to create. There were times in my life that I felt like my art was all I had. If life was too scary, I could create a beautiful world to escape into. If I felt silenced, I could cry out through my drawings. If I felt lost, I could paint something to give me hope. I have always felt the need to make something.

I also remember making friendships. Real ones. The kind that last a lifetime, no matter the time or distance apart. I remember making friends with Julia in college. We would take turns pointing at the sky or at our lunch and challenging each other to list what colors the other would use to paint it. When we weren’t making art side by side, we were talking about it. If we weren’t talking about art, we were dancing. This book is dedicated to her, and to my friend, Sarah Jane. She and I were studio mates for many years. We were each other’s support when our art or our lives fell apart. She has always been there to pick up my pencil when I threw it on the floor. When I was full of doubt, she gave me hugs, handed me that pencil, and led me back to my desk to say “yes, you can.” Julia and Sarah Jane have very different artistic styles than me, but we speak a common language. They understand the necessity to create.

And I remember making friends with someone through laughter and song, someone who would become one of the most important friends of my life, Samantha Berger. Today, I want to thank her for sharing this story with all of us, and for giving me this beautiful journey to run mad with in my studio. Her words and my pictures have come together to make this book, our song of resilience and creation, one of my most favorite things that I have ever created.

I’m still relatively new at making books, but so far, it’s been my experience that you don’t really realize or understand the depth of what you’re making until you’ve finished making it. Some say our book is about art. It is. But it’s about much more than that. Some say it’s about survival. It is. But it’s about much more than that too. It’s about being you. It’s about putting yourself into the world, even when it seems like the world doesn’t want you. When something precious is taken from you, which unfortunately is inevitable in this life, you are forced to ask yourself, “who am I now?” I find great comfort in Samantha’s words:

“If I had nothing, but still had my mind,
There’d always be stories to seek and to find.”

We all want and need our lives to mean something. Meanwhile, this world wants and needs you to put something good into it. What can you create to make it better? It doesn’t have to be art or words. Solutions come in many forms. It can be a program or a formula. It can be a building or a cake. It can be a cure, or a blanket, or a community. It can be a thought. It can be a kindness.

What If… you made something that changed the world for the better?
What If… everyone did?

Keep dreaming.
Keep making.

Love,
Mike

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For more information, resources, and to order, please visit my site

For further reading about the making of What If…, check out our blog tour:

WHAT IF…We Told You the Story Behind the Story?

WHAT IF…Mike Curato Used Mixed Media to Make a Book?

WHAT IF…We Used Our Creativity to Overcome Obstacles?

WHAT IF…Two Best Friends Made a Book Together?

WHAT IF…We Revealed our New Book Trailer?

 

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Kidlit County

What If…We Had a Blog Tour? (and a Real Life Tour)

We’re just days away from the release of What If…!

Samantha Berger and I are so excited for this book to finally be out in the world on April 10th. While it’s par for the course for authors and illustrators to promote their work, we also genuinely have a lot that we want to share about our experience making this book! We want to share some stories about the story. The ups! The downs! The all arounds! Join us this week as we make daily appearances on some of the best kidlit blogs out there. You will even have a chance to win a free copy of What If…

3/26 Nerdy Book Club: WHAT IF…We Told You the Story Behind the Story?

3/27 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast: WHAT IF…Mike Curato Used Mixed Media to Make a Book?

3/28 Pragmatic Mom: WHAT IF…We Used Our Creativity to Overcome Obstacles?

3/29 Kidlit Frenzy: WHAT IF…Two Best Friends Made a Book Together?

3/30 Watch Connect Read: WHAT IF…We Revealed our New Book Trailer?

We are also happy to share that we’re hitting the road to read with you in person! Here’s a list of public events where Samantha and I will be reading, creating, and signing. We hope you’ll join us!

For more information, reviews, and to order your copy, visit my site!

 

 

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Kidlit County

What If…We Went on a Tour?!

My new book, WHAT IF…, comes out this spring, and I have the privilege of going on tour with its author, the amazing, the brilliant, the fabulous Samantha Berger! We hope that you can make it to one of our public events! Visit my events page for more information. Also, stay tuned for more news about our blog tour and book giveaways!!!

What If…is a story about how the power of creativity and self expression can triumph over any obstacle, written and illustrated by two real life best friends. Available April 3rd from Little, Brown. Read more about the book, check out sample illustrations, and preorder your copy today!

 

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Kidlit County, Uncategorized

Stories of Old

Last weekend, while I was home visiting my family, I unearthed a gold mine in my old closet: folders full of my illustrated stories from elementary school!!! Genres covered: comics, ghost stories, who done its, royal intrigue, historical fiction, myths, and modern retellings of classic fairy tales. I also found some brilliant reporting covering plays and computer room news, as well as editorial illustrations, for the school paper.

I thought these were lost forever. It is a great joy that they have been found. Here is a selection I’d like to share with you.

“Will Somebody Play with Me?” This is a comic about a naive fox who goes looking for a friend to play with, only to fall in with a conniving snake. He’s rescued by my good friend, Ricky Raccoon, who you may know from What’s Your Favorite Color!

“Sarah’s Fight” Princess Sarah’s insane murderous uncle won’t kill the King and take over the kingdom on her watch! But, at what cost!?!?!?

“Riches and Royalty” Did you know that, in England, the aristocracy can literally be at war with each other? I forgot, until I read this! Twist: The American reporter who goes to cover the story discovers that she’s the long lost Princess of Lacen! Wherever that is!

“Columbus and the Stowaway” A charming story starring everyone’s favorite benevolent instigator of mass genocide, Columbus, and the pick pocket who would save his life and become his adopted son (and somehow, later on, an English lord).

“Rumplestiltskin: The Real Story” Inspired by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith’s The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, Rumplestiltskin is an innocent good Samaritan who comes to the aide of an ungrateful girl destined to become Queen. Spoiler alert: he ends up in space.

“Bat Woman” I tried my hand at rewriting a DC classic, and I gotta say, I nailed it. As in, Lee press-on nailed it. Favorite line: “THAT SHOULD TEACH YOU NEVER MAKE FUN OF A GIRL, ESPECIALLY ONE THAT’S A CRIMEFIGHTER!”

“Who Did It?” I used to watch a lot of “Murder, She Wrote,” which bears out in this murder mystery featuring my 6th grade classmates. The detectives don’t really do so much sleuthing as just knowing all the right people who tip them off.

“The Halloween Haunt House” in which a group of friends go into that spooky looking house on the block on Halloween, and an essay on the distinction between good and bad ghosts. “Before you go to bed tonight, think of all the ghosts watching you!” Umm, no thanks!!!

An essay about “My Room” and the cycle of life. Bonus points to my English teacher for the educational side note.

“Why the Moon Shines at Night” This is actually quite touching. It’s a myth about an ugly boy that everyone hates. When they try to kill him, Artemis takes pity on him, makes a stairway to the heavens, and lights the moon to guide him to safety.

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Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Little Elliot, Fall Friends

Every Autumn, my family would make a pilgrimage to Wilcklow Orchards in New Paltz, NY. We’d spend the day hiking through rows of apple trees, sampling the different varieties (for quality control, of course), and procuring enough apples to ensure that my mother could bake enough pies to see us through to the new year. It’s no surprise to me (and probably not to my loyal readers) that apple pie is one of the heroes of my new book, Little Elliot, Fall Friends.

Fall Friends, the fourth book in the Little Elliot series, came out the same day as All the Way to Havana, but I wanted to wait to talk about it so that I had proper time to reflect on each book. In All the Way to Havana, we go on a trip from the countryside to the city, while in Fall Friends, we journey from the city to the countryside. Elliot and Mouse travel to the country for a reprieve from urban life, where they experience all the delights of the fall season. During a spirited game of hide-and-seek, Elliot is suddenly lost. The day is saved due to a combined effort by Mouse’s savvy, the kindness of strangers, Elliot’s instincts, and a piping hot apple pie in a window.

Until very recently, I lived in large cities for my entire adult life. Like Elliot, my days were filled with weaving through the busy sidewalks trying not to get stepped on in the pursuit of finding that perfect cupcake. But some days, the city can be a bit much. No matter where we live, it’s good to get out of our bubble, and every city dweller will find themselves in need of fresh air and quiet (though some of us prefer a private beach resort over a bumpy country road, but still!). Sometimes, we are able to travel to a place that’s so different that it can overwhelm us in unexpected ways. While it can be exhilarating going to a completely different place, it can also be scary. You leave your familiar world behind, and you’re left vulnerable. In a way, you lose yourself. But through this act of casting off your identity and being immersed in another world, you can find a whole new part of yourself that you never knew existed.

In these divisive times, it’s important to remember that there are many places and people outside of where you’re from. There’s a growing rift between city and country in America, and I am hoping to reach out to our friendly country neighbors via my polka-dotted urban ambassador. Both places have much to offer, and there exists great potential for many friendships if people are willing to be vulnerable, experience different communities, and meet different people. 

And when you’re lost, remember to always follow your nose…

Behold! The power of pie!

Please visit my website to order your copy of Little Elliot, Fall Friends, read reviews, download the activity sheet, and more! Join me at Books of Wonder in NYC on Sunday, October 1, from 1-3PM for the book release party, or check out my events page to see where I’ll be presenting next. 

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Illustration Station, Kidlit County

Art Notes: All the Way to Havana

I hand-lettered the title and added texture to the wall.

Hello dear readers. A few weeks ago, I posted about the release  of All the Way to Havana, written by Margarita Enlge. While I was waxing poetic about my experience researching the book, I neglected to talk about how I actually illustrated it. So, I’d like to clarify the process with this brief bonus post.

For my Little Elliot books, I work in pencil on paper and color digitally. It’s a tightly rendered style that showcases a nostalgic (if not a bit “polished”) Old New York. While this style works well for these books, I felt that the same treatment would not translate well to All the Way to Havana without a few adjustments.

drawing for the Malecón spread

Usually, I work to size. That means that the drawing I make is the same size as it is printed in the book. For Havana, I chose to work really large. A double page spread from this book measures about 36” wide on average. This allowed for more looseness in my pencil stroke and allowed me to capture more movement in the drawings. These drawings rely on a thick pencil stroke, so instead of using my usual fine pointed 2B graphite mechanical pencil, I mostly used a 4B ebony pencil (and sometimes switched to the finer point for some details).

detail of wall, sidewalk, and pavement textures

distressed wood and rust can be found on any street corner

Though it is unfortunate that Cuba suffers economically, which prevents everyday maintenance and development, the result is a rich patina that has formed over Cuba’s surfaces: worn wood, chipped paint, rusted metal, gravel and soil. There’s a zen beauty to it all. I felt it was imperative to represent these textures in the illustrations. However, I wanted to keep my line somewhat loose while keeping the textures tight. So, I decided to use textures from the photographs I took in Cuba, and overlay them onto my drawings in Photoshop. 

 

detail of The Gran Teatro de La Habana

Another choice I made, to push the mixed media style even further, was to introduce different art media in addition to the photographs. All the vegetation throughout the book is painted in acrylic. Dirt is photographic and/or paint mixed with pumice. Water is painted in watercolor. The book, like one of Cuba’s antique cars, is an amalgamation of different parts.

a watercolor sea, a pup & pumice, and a painted palm

photographic textures enhance the walls and roads

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