Simply 7 with Mike Ciccotello–“Beach Toys vs. School Supplies”

I’ve known Mike Ciccotello online for a few years now and have been rooting for him long before he got an agent and his first book deal.  I love seeing my friends succeed and today I finally get to have him on my blog.

_CiccotelloMike Ciccotello is the author-illustrator of the picture book TWINS and BEACH TOYS VS. SCHOOL SUPPLIES (both from FSG/Macmillan). He is also the illustrator of Bridget Heos’s TREEMENDOUS and her forthcoming picture-book series SCIENCE BUDDIES (all from Crown/Penguin Random House), as well as CHEESE AND QUACKERS, an early graphic chapter-book series written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (forthcoming from Aladdin/S&S). Mike is an active member of SCBWI and CBIG.  You can learn more about him at his website.

_CoverBeachToys-vs-SchoolSupplies-CoverBEACH TOYS VS. SCHOOL SUPPLIES is Mike’s second author-illustrator picture book.  This is a fun story of friend vs. foe from a unique kid friendly angle.  Who (or what) will reign supreme?  Summer and the beach toys?  Or fall and the school supplies?  Isn’t that the question every kiddo asks?  And here, it comes to head when the two groups meet at the beach and decide to have a contest to determine the winner once and for all.  What kind of contest?  A sand castle building contest.  You might think you know who the winner will be, but this story actually has a few surprises in store.  It’s a fresh spin on back to school, there’s lot of pun-tastic humor (that I adored!), and great illustrations that bring the book to life.  This would be great for a beginning-of-the-school-year classroom read, as well as for those beach lovers.

Welcome Mike!

Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting? How did you get to where you are now as an author-illustrator?

Mike: It’s been a long journey, and of course, it’s still going. There’s always something new to learn and someone new to teach you. My love of drawing started in kindergarten and has only grown since then. I continued with art throughout high school and college, always gravitating to art for kids through comics and murals. Eventually, at the age of 40, I discovered SCBWI and wound up creating picture books. Illustration seemed to be a clear path, but I never thought writing would be an option. I’ve spent many years playing with concepts but didn’t have the confidence to develop them into complete stories. But, over the years, I learned that practice would help me gain a bit of confidence… confidence that many drafts will be awful, and that’s all part of the process.

Me: Can you talk a little bit about your process? How did you create the illustrations for this book? Do you use traditional media, or do you create digitally? Or do you use parts of both?

Mike: In the beginning, it’s a bit of a dance between analog and digital. First, I work in sketchpads and my iPad Pro to discover the characters and develop thumbnails. For example, I bought some school supplies and beach toys for this book, set them up on a table, and observed them. Then, I imagined their personalities and turned them into characters. Once I found the characters, I started developing scenes of the story. Finally, when I felt like I had a direction, I stuck to using Procreate on my iPad Pro.

Me: I love your endpapers! The front set has the school supplies on one side and the school supplies on the other side of the gutter. Then the back set has them playing together. GENIUS! It just adds to the fun concept you’ve got going on here. Where on earth did you get the idea for this story?

01-Shovel-In-SandboxMike: Thanks a bunch! I’m happy you dig them. They were a lot of fun to create. 

I found the idea for the story in my boys’ sandbox, just lying there. 

I was working on a back-to-school promotional illustration and had a tough time coming up with an idea. Then, while playing with my boys in their sandbox, I noticed a shovel staring at me. There was something to that shovel, even though it had nothing to do with school. So, I sketched and played with the idea until I came up with a cast of characters that were practically begging for a story. 


Me: I love all of the puns and clever asides you’ve included in the text of this story. Were those always there from the first draft? How many revisions did it take to get those polished to perfection?

05-Sketch-Beach-Toys-vs-School-SuppliesMike: It started with a rough idea for the story. Then, as the book evolved, I dug in and added more puns. After that, we went through the story inch by inch, revising as we edited. We were cutting and pasting words into the story all the way up until the second round of proofs. It was such a fun process, and I enjoyed every part of it. Puns rule!

Me: Ha! Rule!  I see what you did there. Which was harder for this story: writing or drawing?

Mike: Hmm… I think it might be a little from column A and a little from column B. There were aspects from both sides that were challenging. I’m learning there is no secret equation when making a book. For me, the process is a bit different each time.

Me: What is one of your favorite illustrations or moments from the book?

Mike: My favorite spread is when all the characters are staring each other down on the beach. The whole story came from this illustration. The final version looks different from the original promotional piece, but the tension is still there.  


*Spoiler Alert* 

And my favorite moment is when the Beach Toys convince Shovel to help the School Supplies. He says, “but the only way we have a chance is if we all work together.” It’s a nice moment in the book, and I love to see the children’s faces when I read it aloud.

Me: Any advice for new picture book authors and/or illustrators?

Mike: Keep going. Every stage has its challenges, but it’s all worth it. 

That is great advice and something we all need to hear.  Thanks for stopping by my blog Mike.

Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, I cannot recommend it enough.  If you are a fan of puns, this book is for you.  This story is full of lines that had me laughing continuously.  If you are a fan of the beach, this book is also for you.  I swear I could feel the sand between my toes while looking at the illustrations.  And if you are in “back to school” mode (like I am), then this book is also for you.  This story has a little bit of something for just about everyone.  It’s funny, fresh, and fantastically entertaining.

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