Our guest: Mike Curato is a Brooklyn-based artist, and the creator of the popular and award-winning Little Elliot series; the second book of which, Little Elliot, Big Family, was released in October by MacMillan.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I remember my Mom reading me the Little Red Caboose and Hiram’s Red Shirt. These were my favorites. Here I am reading to my parakeet, Polly.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Aside from my own Little Elliot, I’d say I identify most with Peter Rabbit. My unbridled love of eating has gotten me into a few jams. Luckily, I haven’t had any farmers chasing after me with a rake, but I have ruined several articles of clothing while chowing down.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Playing favorites is hard. I don’t think you could say to me “choose one for the rest of your life” because I would cry as if you snatched away my pacifier. In this very moment, the author who springs to mind is Kate DiCamillo, because her words leap off of the page, right through my skin, into my heart, and land deep, deep, down in my soul.
An illustrator who has had a profound influence on me is Arnold Lobel. The playful and delicate drawings of Frog and Toad strike a particular chord that makes me misty.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Ooo! I love kinderlit parties! I’ve thrown a few that involved way more than five guests, so I’ll list some folks who I do not know personally and would really love to be friends with: Shaun Tan, Marla Frazee, Renata Liwska, Ian Falconer, and Tomie dePaola, left (he can bring the pasta).
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I think good children’s literature has relatable characters. You can have beautiful prose, a well laid out plot, and lovely illustrations, but if the reader can’t connect with the character, you’ve lost your audience.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Tenderness. (Editor – See right, from Little Elliot, Big Family.)
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
I think I’d like to be Winnie the Pooh. I’d be so cute that, even when I make dimwitted mistakes, people would just chuckle and say “silly old bear!” Currently, when I make dumb mistakes, people just glare. Plus, I’d have a little pig friend!
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Add more dessert!
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Eat your vegetables! (It really helps when you eat so much dessert.)
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Everything starts with doodles, even my writing. I draw, then I write about it, then draw, then write, and on and on. My illustrations are all pencil on paper, which I scan and color in Photoshop. You can read about my technique in more technical detail HERE.