Tiny is having a party, but Bina Bear is nowhere to be found. Is that Bina hiding under a lampshade? It looks like Bina… but it must be a lamp. Is that Bina beneath the fruit bowl? It could be… but it’s probably just a table. Searching for Bina, Tiny realizes something is wrong—and sets out to make it right. I hope you like my new silly and sweet picture book about friendship, understanding, and embracing loved ones just as they are.
Preorder today from your favorite independent bookstore, or wherever books are sold!
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?
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:
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…
Today, an exhibit opens at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, featuring work from the upcoming book What’s Your Favorite Color?, by Eric Carle and Friends (I’m one of the friends!). You’ll be able to see the original drawings for my piece in the book, as well work by Lauren Castillo, Bryan Collier, Etienne Delessert, Anna Dewdney, Rafael López, William Low, Marc Martin, Jill McElmurry, Yuyi Moralies, Frann Preseton-Gannon, Uri Shulevitz, Philip. C. Stead, and Melissa Sweet. What a lineup, right!?
You can join us there on Sunday, May 7th from 1 to 4PM, for a book release celebration! I’ll be there, along with Etienne Delessert and William Low. We’ll each be doing a little presentation, and there will be activities for little friends, as well as a performance by the Amherst Regional High School Dance Theatre Ensemble.
What’s Your Favorite Color?comes out on May 2nd and the exhibit is up through August 27th. All royalties from this book will be donated to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
I’m on tour this week promoting my new book, Little Elliot, Big Fun. I love school visits. I love seeing kids’ pictures of Elliot lining school hallways. I love the excitement the students have about this little character that means so much to me. I enjoy meeting educators around the world who are passionate about books and about inspiring their students. It’s a very special feeling to be so welcomed by complete strangers wherever I go.
This morning, however, I did not feel welcome. I arrived at a school where the principal’s main concern was that I not talk about one of my books. They were referring to Worm Loves Worm, written by the talented JJ Austrian, and published by Balzer + Bray.
Worm Loves Worm is a book about inclusion. Worm and worm want to be married, but all of their friends have some input about what a real wedding (and a real married couple) should be like. They try to go about things the traditional way, but in the end, they have to do things a little differently, because what really matters is that worm loves worm.
The book is obviously about same-sex marriage. Though I am one of the people who made this book, I can safely say without arrogance that this is an important book. It’s important for children of same-sex couples to see their family represented in books. It is equally important for children who are not in such a family (especially for children that have zero exposure to LGBT people) to be able to see people (albeit in worm form) who are different from their family.
How come? Why should it matter that these kids learn about a family that they don’t interact with? If someone doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage, why should they be forced to read this? Why should an educator or parent Continue reading →
Little Elliot and I are hitting the road next week for the Little Elliot, BIG FUN Tour! I’ll be traveling in September and November, mostly doing school visits, but here are some public events that all* are welcome to attend!
*The Reading Bug event is for librarians and educators only.
I’ve never been a thrill seeker, at least when it comes to amusement parks. While I’ve slightly expanded my joyride repertoire, I still prefer my feet on the ground, and an ice cream cone in my hand.
“Keep that ground where I can see it!”
One time, when I was very little (…ok, I was 14), a group of friends convinceddragged me onto a ride at an amusement park. It was a big platform that was connected to a giant sun by a very long arm, which would rotate around the sun to a height of (by my estimation) ten thousand feet. Apparently, my face looked something like a mood ring before I fainted on my friend, woke up, and nearly threw up Exorcist style. But my buddy Jim squeezed me tight with one arm and cupped his other hand over my mouth and screamed bloody murder until the technician stopped the ride early. I almost died. I mean, I thought I was going to. But I didn’t. My friend was there for me, and after we got off the devil’s slingshot, we had a really good time.
In Little Elliot, BIG FUN, Elliot and his friend Mouse go to Coney Island to see the sights and ride the rides. Mouse wants to go on the wet rides, the dizzy rides, and the fast rides! Poor Elliot is not up to it. Even when he tries to take it easy, the chaos of Coney Island sends Elliot on a pandemonious misadventure and Mouse on a wild goose chase.
Life presents us with many rides. Some are more inviting than others. Sometimes we have to get on rides that we don’t want to get on. While it’s great to have friends around to have fun, it’s these scary times when we really need friends close by. In this book, Little Elliot and Mouse continue to show us what friendship is all about, but this time they also show us great courage. Elliot musters the courage to face his fears, while Mouse has the courage and patience to be there for him.
Like Elliot, I have been afraid of lots of rides, both at the park and in my life. I’ve been very blessed to have many friends who double as heroes. I hope that I have been able to return the favor from time to time. It’s important to know that you’re not riding this roller coaster alone. We need to be good friends and hold each other’s hands…and maybe also a vomit bag.
Why Coney Island?
Luna Park at night c.1937
While I was doing research for Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family, I looked at many photos and films ofNew York City during late 1930s and early 1940s. Eventually, I stumbled upon Ken Burn’s documentary, Coney Island. After watching it, I knew exactly where Little Elliot and Mouse should go next. The old film clips are totally mesmerizing. Nothing quite says “summer in New York City” like Coney Island. I love living vicariously through Elliot, who gets to see an enchanting world that is lost to us.
Coney Island was once a skyline of towers, turrets, and minarets. At its brightest, it was the product of visionaries that transported its visitors to a world of dreams and possibilities. It was, in its way, a wonder of the world that showcased the very heights of humanity’s imagination and innovation. At its darkest moments, Coney Island was scandalous, financially ruinous, and even morally reprehensible. It’s eventual downfall reminded us that joy is fleeting. Little Elliot, Big Fun walks the tightrope of hope and fear, and Coney Island is the perfect backdrop.
So much research!
It was a lot of FUN making this book, and also a lot of WORK! I did more research for this book than Big City and Big Family combined! What made it extra challenging is that not much of the Coney Island of that time still exists. The boardwalk was plagued by fires, while other parts of it were demolished by a certain opportunistic developer. In the early 20th century, Coney Island consisted of three large amusement parks: Luna Park, Steeplechase, and Dreamland, plus many small independent rides and stands. Most of what you see in BIG FUN is based on Luna and Steeplechase, while Dreamland burned down in 1911 (a real shame because it was truly enchanting and I would have loved to have drawn it in the book). It was challenging deciphering blurry vintage black and white photographs, and then trying to envision what a scene might look like from a different perspective.
Some iconic rides still stand, like the Parachute Jump (which is just decorative now), the Cyclone, and of course the Wonder Wheel, which is at the very height and heart of our story.
I went to Coney Island several times to take photos and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the boardwalk.
Dan and Katrina on the pier with the modern day boardwalk behind them.
Ruth wolfs down a “Coney Island Red Hot”
Katrina and I ride the Wonder Wheel!
Aside from the documentary I mentioned earlier, I also watched many films featuring Coney Island, including Speedy, The Devil and Miss Jones, Enemies: A Love Story, and for some added levity, The Warriors.
photo by Morris Engle, 1938
I looked at many photographs, and my favorites were by Morris Engle, which I certainly reference in some illustrations in the book.
I’ve hidden away a few surprises in the book as a thank you to some of my friends who have been there for me when I’ve been afraid.This Berger’s Burgers billboard is in honor of my friend and queen of wordplay, Samantha Berger, who I am making a book with soon!
Don’t miss the double gatefold towards the end of the book! On the right side page, you’ll notice an elephant standing amongst the buildings. Well, that is also a building! In fact, it is the Elephantine Colossus, which was at one point or another a hotel, concert hall, and amusement bazaar. It stood on Surf Avenue from 1885 to 1896, when it burned down in one of Coney Island’s many fires. Though technically it wouldn’t have been around for Elliot to see in the late 1930s, I couldn’t resist paying tribute to our lost pachyderm palace.
Last month, in honor of Pride month, and in memory of the victims of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I teamed up with Balzer + Bray to donate 20 copies of Worm Loves Wormto schools around the country. I am happy to announce the winners of the giveaway! Each winner has agreed to donate the book to a local school to help create a community of acceptance and understanding. We’ll be sending books and lots of love to…
Erin McKenna Nowak
Denise M Cassano
Wednesday night, I flew into New York to meet with several literary agents that have been interested in representing me. I’ll get to the exciting news of my decision in a minute, so keep your shirt on.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, I surprised my parents, who were completely unaware of my trip. My sister picked up my brother and I, and (by the grace of God) brought us home to Nanuet. As she sped through Midtown, gleefully squeaking “weeee!”, I dug my claws into the door handle and reflected on my life’s highlights. I have experienced cab rides in New York, Rome, and Manila, and all pale in comparison to our get away ala Bourne Identity. Anyway, I love my sister, even though she’s given me a new-found appreciation for NJ Transit (*I am not from New Jersey. Nanuet is in New York towards the end of the NJ Transit line, thank you very much).
typical Curato Clan scene
We successfully shocked our Dad at home cooking crab legs in his pajama pants, as he is prone to do. Of course, of all the nights I drop in unannounced, our Mom was at a mandatory work meeting. So, the three of us went for pizza, and then surprised her upon exiting her meeting. It’s kinda funny watching my Mom shriek like that, although I do worry about giving her a heart attack. We went home and spent a few hours laughing about…something. My mother and sister have an infectious laugh. Once they get hooked on something, they can’t stop, and then everyone around them can’t stop because they keep going, getting redder and louder and teary until they’re gasping for air. Finally, my sister brought me back to my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side. Thankfully, there were fewer cars with the potential to hit on the way back…
Kyle is unfazed by Mom's hysteria
I also got to see an all-star cast of friends on my trip, including Sarah Jane, who I recently blogged about. Several even managed to take me out to dinner and dancing Friday night, which is a rarity for me these days. I still got the moves…although I was feeling a little…not-in-my-twenties. Also, I can no longer drink like I’m in my twenties, so I left a little “early” at 2AM to pack, shower, and get some sleep before my flight.
OK! Onto the big news!
I met with four agents. They are all smart, passionate individuals who are devoted to some of the best talent in publishing. I did my homework before the trip and talked to children’s book artists/writers that each represent. They all had wonderful things to say. This was a bit disappointing, as I was hoping that at least one or two of them would be evil goons, and therefore make it an easy decision to cross them off the list. But no, they all proved to be lovely. One took me to lunch. One even lent me an umbrella for a day, which really came in handy.
However, I have to say that one just felt right in my gut, and as much as I would love to work with them all, I have decided to sign with Brenda Bowen of Sanford J Greenburger Associates. Brenda has over 30 years in the children’s book industry as an editor, a publisher, a writer and an agent. I am honored that she (and the other agents) see my potential, and I can’t wait to get started!
My new little friend. I think I will call her Wispy
It is very late, and Adobe Illustrator is taking its own sleepy time saving my files, so I’ll write a quick catch up during each save.
When it rains, it pours, they say. I have been feeling quite drenched lately. Believe me, I’m not complaining. I am excited about every project I am working on right now, and feel very blessed to have all the work. However, I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed.
As you may have read in previous posts, I have had sudden attention from several publishers and literary agents. It’s a bit of a fairy tale scenario for me. I’ve decided to fly to New York on Wednesday to meet with all of the agents that have shown interest in working with me. Each one is reputable, each one has their strengths, triumphs, and impressive list of artists and authors. I’ve talked to artists that each represent, and they all have wonderful things to say. I think it will just have to come down to an in-person meeting and seeing who feels like the most natural fit. What a decision! I will be sure to fill you in when I’ve made my choice.
There is much more going on behind the scenes. I have freelance gigs with Microsoft, Amazon, and Discovery Bay Games that are keeping me quite busy.
However, a friend and I are also starting a business. More to come on the specifics very soon, but I just want to say that this has been a labor of love for the past nine months, and we are just about to birth our project in a few weeks! Along with the analogy come the labor pains. There have been many late nights and tough lessons learned. We’re so close now, and I can’t wait to see it out in the world. Even now, as I restart Illustrator after an enormous file has crashed for the tenth bajillionth time, I feel the excitement of starting something my friend and I can call our own. I can’t wait to share it with you all!
Hope I can keep all these balls in the air. Here’s to circus acts.