Title: Little Elliot, Big City
Author: Mike Curato
Illustrator: Mike Curato
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Genre/Format: Fiction/Picture Book
GoodReads Summary: Amid the hustle and bustle of the big city, the big crowds and bigger buildings, Little Elliot leads a quiet life. In spite of the challenges he faces, Elliot finds many wonderful things to enjoy—like cupcakes! And when his problems seem insurmountable, Elliot discovers something even sweeter—a friend.
What I Think: It's hard not to love a sweet little elephant with polka-dots, especially when he loves cupcakes. Right? I love imagining an elephant feeling small on the streets of New York...let alone in his apartment. Despite challenges that Elliot faces, he also recognizes great things in his life. This sentiment is such a great message for kids. Life isn't perfect. Some things make life hard and some things make life amazing. Friends make the hard things more tolerable and the amazing things even better.
After reading Mike's guest post about the research he did for the book, it made me really think about how much research goes into a fiction book. Just because his characters are fiction, he still spent a lot of time getting the setting right. It seems like his initial Google Image search led to more research, different resources, places to visit. This is such a great example of passion driven research that should be shared with students. I wish more teachers would ignite students' passion for research by showing them what true passion driven research looks like in real life and encouraging them to learn more about what seems exciting to them.
I would venture to say that anyone can draw a building and anyone can draw a car but being true to the time period and making sure to get subtle details right shows an attention to the essence of the book. What a wonderful message to share the care that goes into bringing a book to life. As a mentor text, I believe reading Mike's guest post would be a nice way to start a discussion about what research and/or resources students might do or access in preparation for or as they write. This would be great to share with students who have trouble getting started with their writing. Maybe building their background knowledge and immersing themselves into reading about their topic, setting, time period would help them feel more confident in their writing.
Read Together: Grades K - 2
Read Alone: Grades K - 3
Read With: The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman, The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat, Love Monster by Rachel Bright, Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown, The Lion and The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Snatch of Text:
"Little Elliot loved living in a big city,
but sometimes it was hard being so
small in such a huge place."Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when having a friend with you helped you to believe in yourself.
Topics Covered: Friendship, Courage, Adversity, Determination
I *heart* It:
Little Elliot, Big City Blog Tour
Little Elliot, Big City Blog Tour
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A warm welcome to Mike Curato, author and illustrator of Little Elliot, Big City, who shares insight into the research he did for Little Elliot, Big City!
In my new book, Little Elliot, Big City, a small polka-dotted elephant navigates a bustling New York City set in the late 1930s/early 1940s. I chose this period because I love the aesthetic of the day, and because I have a nostalgia for a time before cell phones and apps and internet. There’s a romance around the idea that people wrote each other hand-written letters and had milk delivered to their home.
In order to create an accurate depiction of the period, thorough research was essential, especially since I was not alive back then to witness everything first hand. There were many questions to answer. What did New York City look like then? What would Elliot’s apartment likely contain? What kind of refrigerator would he store his treats in? Throughout the book, I try to tuck in some visual clues to take us back in time.
I used several different resources in my research. Google Images was my first stop. There are some obvious limitations to this. Sometimes one isn’t even sure what keywords to search for. Other times, there just isn’t anything available specific to the period. There are some websites that specialize in history and ephemera that I used as well. One of my favorite sites is Forgotten New York, which specializes in cataloguing different areas and aspects of New York that are gone or are quickly changing, as well as sharing a bit of history. The New York Public Library also boasts a huge digital collection of photographs from various time periods throughout the city’s lifetime.
Though the internet can seem endless, sometimes you just can’t find what you’re looking for. That’s usually when I move on to books. I made a trip to the New York City Library, which naturally houses many books about New York. For the second book, Little Elliot, Big Family, I actually spent several hours in there just trying to find out what the fence along the water’s edge of Battery Park used to look like.
Even then, more in depth research is needed. I took another trip to the MTA Museum and Archives, where I was able to photograph older models of subway cars in person. In the archives, I was able to search through tons of vintage photographs that showed how each subway stop used to look. There were also photo essays that offered a glimpse into the time period. It was by far my favorite research moment!
One limitation of working from someone else’s photographs is that sometimes it’s not taken at the precise angle or perspective that I need for my composition. So, I also trekked all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, taking reference of various buildings and street details.
Once I have all of my reference gathered, I can start working on the finished drawings. Sometimes, when a spread is particularly complex, I’ll create a mockup of my references, almost like a patchwork quilt, to help me map out the piece. Here’s an example of before and after:
All of that combined to help me create Elliot’s world! Though the story has themes about friendship and perspective, the moral behind my research is: always do your homework!
Thank you for sharing this part of your process, Mike!