Thursday, August 28, 2014

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

I was super excited when I was asked to be part of the Little Elliot, Big City tour. I fell in love with this little elephant when I read the book. Elliot reminds me of so many kids I have taught - overwhelmed and, at times, unnoticed in this crazy, busy world. I'm grateful for the chance to interview the author, Mike Curato, and share just a bit of the love I have for this wonderful new character. 

Me: Mike, thanks so much for visiting my blog today. Little Elliot, Big City is essentially the perfect book to me. I talk a lot about how I want my students to form a community, be kind to each other, and look out for their fellow classmate. I see so much of that in your book. I cannot wait to share it with my fifth graders at the start of this school year.

To start right from the beginning, I love the dedication of your book, “To anyone who feels unnoticed.” Of course, this can be true for adults, but this can be especially true for our youngest students. Do you mind telling us what inspired you to write about Little Elliot?

Mike: The original story was actually much different from the one being published. It was cute, but wasn’t quite right. Someone told me that what they loved best about the story is the contrast of how little Elliot is in the big city (and that’s where the title comes from). That comment sparked a memory of Little Mike in the Big Deli. I was very young, and much shorter than the tall counter, and the man taking orders could not see me. People cut in front of me, probably assuming I was there with a grown up. I stood there timidly until someone asked if I was in line, and then I finally got to place my order. Once that came back to me, everything started to fall into place.

I love that Elliot is an elephant with blue and pink spots, one would think he would be noticed walking down the city streets. What made you choose an elephant as your main character?

I didn’t actually choose an elephant for the story, I chose the story for my elephant. I’ve been drawing Elliot for a decade. Over the years, his world evolved through the art I created. I didn’t start working on the story until two and a half years ago.

One point I want to share with my students is the friendship between Little Elliot and Mouse. Little Elliot is bigger and, of course, able to help Mouse. But Mouse helps Little Elliot get the cupcake he so longed for. Was there any friendship stories that inspired this duo?

Though there wasn’t a specific instance that inspired me, I can say that I have some amazing friends who have lifted me up to that proverbial pizza slice in the trash, and I hope that I am able to reciprocate that in little ways, like Mouse was able to.

My students often read interviews on this blog with authors and illustrators, what advice would you give them on being a writer and/or artist?

Well, all of this came about because I made something for myself. Drawing Elliot is what made me happy. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, I was just trying to make something I loved. I saw one of my favorite designers, Jessica Hische, speak at a conference once. She said two of my favorite quotes, which are “Learn what you need to learn to make what you want to make” and “Make things you wish existed.” I don’t think I can say it any better. A few other tips: read as much as you can (including books that you wouldn’t normally read), pay close attention to details (use all of your senses to get to know a place or person).

My students also use a writing notebook in fifth grade. This is a space just for them – to record ideas or sketches each day. Do you have a notebook? If so, can you share with them what type of work goes inside it?

I keep a sketchbook/notebook. To someone else, it might seem a bit incoherent; there are lots of little doodles and quick, short lines of text. I use my sketchbook as a way to quickly jot down ideas, like creative post-it notes. It’s funny how I will totally forget about something, but seeing a little doodle in my book will bring back the entire idea!

And, last question and the one my students always want to see me ask, can you share what your writing space looks like?  

Of course! I have a whole room in my apartment for working…
I chose an apartment with a lot of light. it helps me work better.

I like hanging other people’s art on my walls who inspire me. They include some of my friends, and popular artists. The cat on the wall is a painting I made when I was four years old.

I keep all of my picture books in my studio for quick reference. Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck, I read some of my favorite stories to get inspired. You can also see the flat files where I store all of my drawings.

Thanks so much, Mike, for giving us your time and sharing your work space with us! 

Little Elliot Blog Tour Schedule
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                  Sharp Reads | @colbysharp 
                                               Watch. Connect. Read. | @mrschureads
                                                Nerdy Book Club | @nerdybookclub
Monday, September 1             Miss Print | @miss_print

Check out Mike's website HERE and the site for the series HERE.

Finally, the publisher is begin kind enough to sponsor a giveaway for this tour. Comment below and I will randomly select one person to win a copy of Little Elliot, some stickers, and a tote bag that you can only get from this blog tour. I have one already and it rocks! I'm so excited for you guys to meet Elliot, I know you will love him just as much as I do. 

Pssst.... If you love MerryMakers plush dolls like I do, rumor has it that a Little Elliot will be appearing this spring.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Schu!

Today is a day I’ve had marked on my calendar for some time. August 28th is not only the release date for Brown Girl Dreaming, but it is also John Schumacher’s birthday. I’ve known John for many years, although we only first met in person in 2011. John is easily one of the kindest guys I know. I have absolutely no doubt if I were to call him up and tell him I had an emergency, he would help in any way he could. My students from the past few years know Mr. Schu too. He always reaches out for a Skype visit and helps our classes to connect.

When thinking about how I could possibly celebrate this day, it was suggested that giving away books would be the perfect idea. I have no idea how many books John has given away over the years. He surely has handed out more copies of The One and Only Ivan than anyone in existence. So what should I giveaway? I debated – I could give away a copy of Ivan. Or maybe Flora & Ulysses would be a better choice. Then again, it is the release date for Brown Girl Dreaming. Instead, I went with two books I recently purchased from John’s favorite bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop. I am honored to give them away in the name of Mr. Schu. If you’d like one, please let me know which you would prefer in the comments. I will pick one person for each book randomly by the end of the day on Friday and will mail it to you.

I encourage you all to celebrate Mr. Schu today. Take a photo of yourself reading in a random spot. Talk up a book to a friend. Wear a sticker celebrating books on your shirt. I plan on telling my class about this fabulous friend I have, Mr. Schu, and being grateful that he is in my life.   

If you tweet about John today, please use the hashtag #mrschubday. Thanks! 

Which book would you like in honor of Mr. Schu? 

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