It’s already November! Can you believe it? This year has flown by and many of us are already at the end of Fall or, like in Alaska, at the start of winter. What better time to talk about Fall activities we really enjoy (like Pumpkin Spice everything these days) and have an interview about my favorite Fall book this year: “Little Elliot, Fall Friends”?
If you haven’t had a chance to meet Mike Curato yet, let me introduce you! I met Mike in September at Highlights and what a fun time was had by all! Lord have mercy, how we laughed. Mike is funny and his books are downright endearing. He is both an author and an illustrator and each one of his books brings something different to cherish, even the books Mike is only helping to illustrate for other authors like his most recent project with Margarita Engle “All the Way to Havana.” You can learn more about him at his website.
But let’s take a moment to talk about Little Elliot, that lovable polka-dotted little elephant. Little Elliot won my heart from the very first book I met him in: “Little Elliot, Big City.” I cried at “Little Elliot, Big Family” reading it while alone and missing my family at Christmas the year it came out. I marveled at the historical accuracy of “Little Elliot, Big Fun” which takes place on Coney Island. And when I heard the story of how Little Elliot came to be, I nearly cried at that too. Little Elliot gives me all the feels. You can’t help but want to hug him. So I’m delighted to get to talk about the fourth book in the series.
“Little Elliot, Fall Friends” is full of landscape scenes that make the illustrator in me salivate. They are stunning! This is the quintessential book about Fall (there’s apples and orchards and countryside), and yet it contains a few surprises that left me sighing with joy. For instance, there is a moment of nothing but quiet and stillness that is organic to the story but could have killed the momentum (as a pause in the middle of any story might do), yet it doesn’t. It makes you sit and soak in the nature in the picture with the characters and enjoy it (ever so briefly) before moving on. That is astonishing! But I’m rambling. Let’s talk with Mike.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? When did you start drawing?
Mike: I have been drawing since I can remember. It’s always been my favorite thing. I’ve always considered myself an artist, even as a little kid. I dropped out of my peewee basketball league to go to private art classes, and I continued training all the way through college. I studied Illustration at Syracuse University. Afterward, I eventually got a graphic design internship, and that’s the industry that I earned my bread and butter in during the ten years it took me to finally break into publishing.
Me: You have 6 picture books out now. What draws you to writing and illustrating picture books?
Mike: I love how accessible picture books are. They are meant to be understood by people of all ages and varying degrees of literacy. They compress huge ideas and emotions in just a few pages. And of course, there’s that magical thing that I can’t name. There’s something about this medium that brings me a profound joy. Maybe it’s because it takes me back to when I was happiest as a child. It was just me and a pencil and paper and whatever I wanted to create.
Me: I was surprised and delighted to find out that there was going to be a fourth Little Elliot book. The art work is GORGEOUS! I understand there’s even going to be a fifth book. Can you give us a hint about the next one? What’s it about?
Mike: Well, I am wrapping up number five right now. I don’t have an official title for you, but I can tell you that there’s hot cocoa, a lot of snow, and Elliot gets hit in the head with a ballet slipper.
Me: I have several favorite things in “Little Elliot, Fall Friends” (favorite spread [that scene at dusk in the cornfield!], favorite line, etc.). What is your favorite scene or part of this book?
Mike: Oh, that’s a hard one. I don’t know if I can choose a favorite, but one I’ll point out is this page of Elliot and Mouse in an apple orchard. I took reference for lots of elements in the book from an apple orchard that I grew up going to every fall.
Me: I love that you use reference photos (me too!). I think it only adds to the authenticity of the visuals. What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?
Mike: Well, one thing that certainly surprised me was that while I was working on this book, a story about needing a break from the city and traveling to the country, I ended up moving from bustling Brooklyn to bucolic Western Massachusetts! Life imitates art, I guess. Also, I can’t believe I drew so much corn.
Me: LOL! Life imitates art, even with corn. Any advice for other aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Mike: Hmmm, what haven’t you heard before? Make things that make you smile.
Me: Yes. Like Little Elliot. I should’ve seen that advice coming. =) Alright, here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask: why does Mouse have a chip in his ear? Do you know the story behind it? Will that be revealed in a future book?
Mike: Ha! I love this question. I don’t know if there will be a Mouse origin story, but basically, I wanted Mouse to have some distinguishing feature. And it was a good thing I did that in Big City, because when I went to make Big Family, and all of its hundreds of mice, that little chip was invaluable in telling Mouse apart from the rest of the family.
Ha! Brilliant character design then. That’s awesome.
Dear readers, if you want to know more about this book, you can read some of Mike’s own thoughts about the story at his blog.
You can also listen to his podcast with Matthew Winner at All the Wonders.
And don’t forget to track down a copy of the book to admire both the writing and the art work in this one. Little Elliot has come a long way and I hope he will continue on his journey in many more books to come! <3