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Pride 2020: Mike Curato on Being Openly Gay in the Kidlit Community

Curato_authorpic_June2020This article originally appeared in SCBWI‘s July Insight.

Hi. I’m Mike Curato. I was asked to share what it’s like being an openly gay/queer children’s book author/illustrator. Here are a few snapshots:

My first book is coming out! It is called Little Elliot, Big City! I have to write a bio for the jacket flap. Do I say that I am married to a man? How would it affect sales? I decide not to mention it. But an Easter egg on one of the pages reveals his name.

I see Tomie dePaola speak for the first time at an SCBWI conference. He is sassing the whole audience in his floral silk scarf. That’s the man who wrote Oliver Button is a Sissy. He wrote it for a boy like me. I feel safe. Later we are introduced, and Tomie reads my F&G. He has kind words of encouragement. I see his long career spread across the smile on his face, and it gives me hope.

I am on my first book tour. I am at a Catholic elementary school. It’s very familiar to me. Same uniforms, same linoleum, same portrait of the Sacred Heart. Are the teachers the same as well? Should I be careful about what I share about who I am? Do I sound too gay right now?

I am still on my first book tour. I am in middle America, bound for a very small town that rallied hard to get me to visit. Do they know who I am? The woman who was supposed to pick me up has hurt her back. Her husband picks me up instead. It’s mostly a quiet ride as I see fewer buildings and wider stretches of fields. I am very nervous. Then he mentions his daughter…and her wife. And I can breathe again. I receive the warmest welcome of the whole tour. A librarian thanks me for coming to their “fly over state.” She gives me a knowing look and says that there are a lot of good people there who are happy to have me.

I read Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, & Peter Sieruta. I get to the chapter about gay authors, illustrators, and editors. I am blown away. These were names I learned as a child. If only I knew who they were as well. What could have been different for me? I want to do that for my readers. I want them to know who I am.

I illustrate Worm Loves Worm, an inclusive book about love and marriage by JJ Austrian. I dedicate the book to my husband, and he is mentioned on the flap this time. Upon its release, it is immediately embraced by many. I also receive my first (poorly written) hate mail, and the book is lambasted on an ultra-right wing website. WLW receives numerous honors and mentions. It is a frequently read title at Drag Queen Story Hour at libraries across the country, while some libraries ban it.

I am on a book tour for a new Little Elliot book. I am just south of the Mason-Dixon line. I am asked not to mention Worm Loves Worm in the presentation. This says “we want you here, but not all of you.” This says “we think there’s something wrong with you.” This says danger. My publicist says I don’t have to do the event, but I go because there’s an auditorium full of kids waiting for me. I stand in front of them smiling and reading and hiding my shaking hands. I look into the bleachers and look for that kid. The one like me. The one who needs to see me. The one who needs to feel safe. I wish I felt safe.

I am reading WLW to a public school classroom. I explain that I am married to a man. A child shouts out “EWW! That’s GROSS!” I want to snap at him, but I take a breath and say, “It is not gross, it is just different.” He is not having it. Who taught him that? I know it wasn’t the educator who invited me. Was it his parents? Was it his church? Was it this entire society? “Just different,” I repeat, forcing a smile.

I am in the backseat of a town car on tour. The male driver makes small talk. I try to avoid personal questions. I dread the inevitable: Are you married? You have kids? Why not? What does your wife do? What’s her name? You watch the game last night? I try to reassure myself that nothing bad is going to happen if I am honest. But I lie anyway, a few octaves lower than my usual register. I check Google maps every few minutes to see how far we are from the hotel. This happens during some car rides to/from the airport on every tour. Sometimes I’m honest. I endeavor to be completely honest from now on.

I am at a book reading. A queer family approaches with a few copies of my books to be signed. We are happy to see each other. They are just as nice as the straight couple and their kids who were before them. But we’re all smiling a little extra over something we don’t even need to say out loud. This also happens on most tours.

I have an idea for a graphic novel. It’s based on my experiences as a closeted teen. I write it. My agent and editor love it. I get a contract. I illustrate it. It is simultaneously the easiest and hardest thing I have ever made. I also finish it during one of the hardest times in my life. That is to say that I am no longer with a husband to mention on the jacket flap. It comes out in September and it is called Flamer.

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available September 1, 2020

I spent years making this book, and all those years I have also been mentally preparing for its reception. I know it will be polarizing. I know it will be controversial. I know it will be banned. I know it will make my experience with Worm Loves Worm seem like (wedding) cake. But I say “bring it.” Because I wrote this book for the people who need to read it. Because what I’ve shared with you in this tiny article just scratches the surface of my existence. Because queer people are dying of a pandemic.

This world tells us everyday that we’re not supposed to be here. Sometimes we are erased by others. Sometimes we are erased by ourselves. How do we vaccinate against hate and self-hatred? How do we protect queer children from the lies they are told? How do we protect them from their own hand? One thought is for them to see themselves in an honest light in people, in stories, in realities that reveal the truth of their value.

I’m Mike Curato. I am gay and queer. I am proud. And scared. But not too scared to tell the truth. I make honest books for children. All children. And I won’t give that up for anything.

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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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Uncategorized

A Toast to FAMILY!

I’ve been blessed with a very big family, and now I get to share it with the world. Today is the release of Little Elliot, Big Family, the second book in my Little Elliot series with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (Macmillan).

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What is family? Sometimes it’s the people you’re born to, and sometimes it’s the people you choose to be with. Throughout my life, I’ve been reminded that family takes on many forms. I think it’s a beautiful word, and the more flexibility I allow in its definition, the more love fills my life.

I am very lucky to have a mom and a dad, a sister and a brother. We lived just outside New York City in the house that my Mom was raised in. While my Mom is an only child, my Dad has 7 siblings and nearly 30 nieces and nephews. However, almost all of my Dad’s family lives on the other side of the world! When my Grandma passed away, Continue reading

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Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood, Uncategorized

Little Elliot, Big Window, Take THREE!

Little Elliot has moved back into his cushy window at Books of Wonder! His first stay was last year for the launch of Little Elliot, Big City, and then again for Christmas. Now, he’s back, and he brought a few friends, or I should say, his BIG FAMILY! Come celebrate the release of Little Elliot, Big Family with me this Sunday, October 4, at 18 W 18th St, between 5th and 6th Avenues, from 3-5 PM! There will be a book reading, presentation about how I work, drawing demo, and of course CUPCAKES, along with some cheesy treats! Meanwhile, I thought I’d share the “making of” our Mouse party…

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I am very blessed to have a big family of crafty folks here in NYC. In this pic you can see Katrina, Les, Sigal, Emilie, Isabel, and Dan making mice out of socks and pipe cleaners, while Ruth is patiently trimming mounted print outs of mouse portraits from the book’s endpapers.

I got the idea for these mice from Continue reading

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Uncategorized

Announcing the Little Elliot Blog Tour!

Happy Friendship Day! 

Even though every day is friendship day for Elliot, it’s good to have a special day to tell your friends how much you like them. My new friend Terry Shay invited me to make a Celebridot on his awesome blog, so here’s what I made in honor of Friendship Day!

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Meanwhile, Elliot and I have been lucky enough to make a bunch of new friends who are super excited about Little Elliot, Big City. Some of them happen to be some pretty awesome bloggers who are each going to have a special Elliot post the week of the book release, August 26th! Not only will you learn some cool stuff about Elliot’s journey to your bookshelf, you might even win a free give-away! Be sure to check out the blogs on the dates below to find out how you can get a free copy of Little Elliot, Big City, a limited edition tote bag, and stickers! I’ll also be announcing my official Little Elliot Book Tour soon, so stay tuned!

Little Elliot Giveaway

LITTLE ELLIOT BLOG TOUR

Tuesday, August 26           Librarian in Cute Shoes | @utalaniz

Wednesday, August 27     Teach Mentor Texts | @mentortexts

Thursday, August 28         Read. Write. Reflect. | @katsok

Friday, August 29               Kit Lit Frenzy | @alybee930

Saturday, August 30          Daddy Mojo | @daddymojo

Sunday, August 31             The Trifecta:

Sharp Reads | @colbysharp

Watch. Connect. Read. | @mrschureads

Nerdy Book Club | @nerdybookclub

Monday, September 1      Miss Print | @miss_print

Also, be sure to tune into the Let’s Get Busy podcast on August 26th for a full hour-long interview!!

Check out www.LittleElliotBigCity.com to see where you can preorder your copy of Little Elliot, Big City, available August 26th!

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Little Elliot's Neighborhood, Uncategorized

The Countdown!!!

We are now just a MONTH away from Little Elliot, Big City’s release, and it is consuming my every waking moment. “August 26, 2014” has been flashing in my head like a Las Vegas casino sign for months. This is just a brief little post to air out some of the excitement that has been percolating. It has been 2 YEARS since I signed with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and over a year since I finished the artwork for Big City. I’ve had moments where it has felt like the book will never actually be published, that it will always be in this limbo of being done but unseen. And now, finally, the big day is just weeks away. In an effort to keep my sanity, I have started a countdown via social media to get me through each slow-as-molasses day. Every image features a little sneak peek of art from the book! Here is today’s:

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Man, I could really use that red velvet cupcake about now too. The good news is that there will be cupcakes at both of my release parties! Come celebrate with me on August 28th at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, or on September 5th at Books of Wonder in New York City!

Also, if you’re not following me on social media yet, please like my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter so that you can countdown with me! I will be doing a blog tour in August that you won’t want to miss, and that will be a great way to keep up!

Most importantly, check out www.LittleElliotBigCity.com for info on how to pre-order the book.

29 DAYS!!!!

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