Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot!

Well, whether you like it or not, it’s Christmas time. Some of us love Christmas! And that’s great! But for others, Christmas can be difficult. Maybe you had a hard year, and it’s challenging to get into the spirit of things. Maybe you lost a loved one or can’t be with the ones you love. Maybe you don’t celebrate this holiday, and you are so tired of hearing about it every waking moment of the day. In any event, I feel you, and so does Little Elliot. He just wasn’t into it this year either.

Our holiday schedules are often packed with Christmas plays and movies, sitting on Santa’s lap, tree lighting ceremonies, sledding and playing in the snow (if you live somewhere like that), ice skating, eating a ton of baked goods while drinking hot cocoa, shopping, shopping, shopping, and more shopping. THIS IS WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO BECAUSE IT’S CHRISTMAS…right? All that can be fun, but the joy we garner from these things is fleeting. We can still walk away feeling like we’re missing something important.

Now, I know there have been ten thousand books instructing us about “the true meaning of Christmas,” and I suppose this book could be lumped in with them, but let’s set Christmas aside for a second. I think many of us are looking for real meaning in our lives the whole year round. And sometimes, we just don’t know what it all means. We make lots of decisions based on what we hope will make us happy. In America, often those decisions are material based. Again, I know I haven’t come to some sensationally unique perspective when I say that life is about the connections we make. We are all out there looking for each other, searching for love, friendship, camaraderie, mentorship, family. And when we go through the motions of what we’re “supposed to do” and don’t find what we’re looking for, it can leave us feeling disconnected. And during the holidays, the stakes seem even higher because it’s “supposed” to be a time of great joy.

But though this world can be big and disappointing and scary, there are real miracles happening everyday. People do find each other despite their tough situations. I wrote this book because life has shown the cynic in me that despite all the loss we can experience, there’s so much healing that a kind gesture can accomplish. Sometimes the thing that we are missing is a person we don’t even know. They’re a stranger who lives far away in a different world, a different life, than your own. And somehow the universe conspires to unite you through one chance moment, and it could spark a whole new reality.

In this book, Little Elliot experiences his own little miracle (which just happens to be on Christmas). Somehow, he finds the person he needs, who also needs him. And who do we thank for that? Santa? Their individual determination not to give up hope? The wind? I don’t know, but I’m so grateful when it all works out.

OK, I’ll stop with all the mush! I know everyone loves a good Easter egg (no matter the holiday), so here are a few you’ll find in Merry Christmas, Little Elliot:

In this little crowd, you’ll find my nephew, nieces, and puppy!

Yes, that is Macy’s in the background. I’m not trying to promote them per se, but they are pretty iconic when it comes to Christmas in New York. Also, it’s just an awesome doorway. What can I say, I wanted to draw the cool lamps.

“Who is Freya?” Freya is my adorable niece, so she gets things named after her. The same train is featured on the opening spread in the toy filled window (if you squint you can see her name).

Also, what is perhaps my favorite part of the book is hidden! Take a peek under the dust jacket for a little surprise. It will add a little more meaning to the story as well.

Macmillan made a limited run of these sweet Little Elliot Christmas ornaments which they distributed to select indie bookstores nationwide for them to give away free with purchase of Merry Christmas, Little Elliot (while supplies last). Check with your indie to see if they have any left!

If you would like a signed copy of Merry Christmas, Little Elliot (or how about the whole series!), you can place an order with the Eric Carle Museum Shop. I will stop by to personalize and sign them, and the Carle will happily ship to (almost) anywhere in the world! Conveniently, they’re having their Holiday Sale today, 11/23 through Sunday 11/25 (use coupon code HOLIDAY to get 15% off or 30% off for members). I will also be at Books of Wonder in NYC on December 1st at 1PM, if you would like your books signed in person.

And one more thing: Macmillan is having a Merry Christmas, Little Elliot sweepstakes from from 11/19-12/10. Enter here to win your very own Little Elliot collection!

That’s all for now, friends. No matter what you do or don’t celebrate, I hope that you’re enjoying life’s small miracles today and every day.

xo Mike

Click here to read reviews for Merry Christmas, Little Elliot!

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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 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

Worm Loves Worm PRIDE Giveaway

Usually, when I think of Pride month, I think of celebration and acceptance. But this year, I think about loss. In the wake of the Orlando massacre, I feel emotionally exhausted. I also feel a need to do something.

I am a member of the LGBTQA community and the children’s book community. Since there aren’t too many of us who belong to both, I thought this might be an area where I can help bring about change. That was the reason why I illustrated J.J. Austrian’s beautiful book, Worm Loves Worm.

Worm cover 2

It is so important that children see lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally characters in books. My wish for them is to live in a world of acceptance where people are trying to understand and appreciate each other’s differences. Our visibility is crucial. LGBTQ people need to be seen as real three-dimensional human beings. The inability for some to see us as human beings with real hearts and minds makes it easier for them to fear and hate us. We can help our kids be good friends and allies. We can help “different” kids love themselves. Books like this one for the youngest readers are a great way to start.

In honor of Pride month, and in memory of the victims of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I’m donating 20 copies of Worm Loves Worm to schools around the country, courtesy of Balzer + Bray. Enter to win a copy for your school! Just tweet this this post on Twitter and include the hashtag #wormloveswormpride. On June 30th, we’ll select 20 random schools and mail you a copy!

Happy Pride month everyone!

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Some resources:

Worm Loves Worm also appeared on this awesome list that the Advocate published: 21 LGBT Picture Books Every Kid Should Read. Another great resource for middle grade and young adult queer titles is Lee Wind’s blog, I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell do I Read?

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Illustration Station

How to Kill Your Babies

I’ve got bad news for you. The beautiful baby that you gave birth to, loved, and nurtured, has grown into a monster. It must be stopped, and only YOU can stop it. I am of course speaking about the picture book that you’re working on, specifically the beautiful chrome car bumper you just drew, or the building facade that took you 5 hours to ink, or the cherry blossom tree that you spent 2 days painting (how can you mess up a tree, right?). Well, you’ve been missing the big picture. Literally. Take a nice step back and look at your entire composition. You see it now, don’t you? That bumper is actually not supposed to be shaped that way. The turret that you painstakingly drew each shingle on is out of perspective! And that cherry blossom tree is somehow crooked (but it’s a TREE!). I can see you mouthing that involuntary expletive. Go ahead, let it out, because this is going to suck. You are going to have to kill your baby.

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Geez man, let it GO!

I know what you’re thinking, “SCREW YOU, MAN! This is the best bumper I’ve ever drawn!” I hear you, because I just drew the best bumper I’ve ever drawn, and it was not shaped the way it is in real life (let’s blame the tricky chrome reflections in my reference!). But guess what? That crazed automobile collector who is going to buy my book because they know every minute detail about ’54 Chevys IS going to see that the bumper is inaccurate, and she WILL email me to complain about it (and maybe even give it a menacing review). AND, that’s on ME. If I’m making a book about cars, and I blatantly disregard the details that are going to make car enthusiasts swoon, then I’m not doing my job, and I’ve lost my credibility.

the bumper in question

the bumper in question–I also forgot the keyhole!!!

It’s not just about being technically accurate. You could be working in a completely abstract style that excuses you from lots of formal “art rules.” The fact remains: if there is something in your composition that is calling too much attention to itself in a way that has nothing to do with the plot, you’ve just pulled your reader out of the story! This is the LAST thing you want to happen. No bumper is that precious.

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This can be applied to writing, illustrating, and all other creative endeavors.

Don’t cry yet. Do the job first, mourn later. It will be easier for both of you this way. You’ll erase the best bumper you’ve ever drawn, but you’ll save the rest of the drawing you’ve made. Plus, you just proved you can draw an amazing bumper, so why can’t you draw it again? Your drawing is going to be stronger because of this.

Whnicetryo knew erasers could look so threatening? Pick it up. Erase the bumper. Draw a better one.

Here’s a gentle reminder, friends: It’s probably not THE best drawing or painting EVER made in the HISTORY of Art, right? If you put it next to the Mona Lisa, would she turn to look at it and be all, “OH, DAYUMN!” I didn’t think so.

Take heart. Your baby will return, maybe not specifically as a car bumper, but as a really amazing overall piece that you can be proud of!

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Kidlit County

Worm Loves Worm

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the book release of Worm Loves Worm! To read a full synopsis and starred reviews, visit this page.

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I had the great honor of illustrating this important story written by debut author, J.J. Austrian. This was much more than just another project for me. It came at a poignant time in my life, and in our nation’s history.

We are all a little different. This has been a fact that I’ve been reminded of daily. For most of my life, I doubted that I could ever be married. This wasn’t because I thought that I was incapable of finding true love; it was because the law would have prevented me from Continue reading

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Illustration Station, Kidlit County

Processed Magic: the Vague Art of Picture-Book Making

processMy friends and family must wonder what I do all day. Sometimes I worry that they’re sick and tired of my only update being “I’m working on the book. The deadline is end of April.” I’m sure some of them have mental images of me waking up in the morning to a big yawn, hopping into my bunny slippers, eating a muffin (aka breakfast cupcake), brushing my teeth, then sitting at my drafting table and whistling while I work all the live long day. How cute! I wish my life could be like this. I know that I am blessed to have a career doing what I love and working from home, but I wouldn’t say it’s been that easy. Continue reading

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