Meet the Illustrator: Mike Curato

by the Brightly Editors

Mike Curato’s inspired illustrations in books such as the Little Elliot series, Worm Loves Worm, and All the Way to Havana have earned him critical acclaim, several awards, and the hearts of readers (and fans of polka-dotted elephants) everywhere. Now art-loving kids and parents can explore the pages of What If…, a new picture book written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Curato. A story about a young girl determined to create art with whatever materials are available to her, What If… is a beautiful tribute to the power of imagination. In our Meet the Illustrator chat, Curato shares sketches for his upcoming graphic novel, creates a fun self-portrait, and recommends a picture book that completely blew him away.

What first made you excited about art? 

It’s hard to say. I’ve always been excited about art. As far back as I can remember, drawing was my first priority. I was obsessed with my picture books and would pore over them. When I was very little, I always had a coloring book on hand, or I was drawing on a placemat at a restaurant. I loved animation and would practice drawing Disney characters constantly. While most boys went to basketball and little league practice, I was in private art classes. It’s always been at the forefront of who I am.


What’s your favorite thing to draw at the moment? 

These days, I’m drawing a lot of fire for my upcoming graphic novel, Flamer. I love the abstract forms of a flickering flame. I’m still in production, but here’s a sketch…


Which illustration from your latest book did you especially enjoy creating?

That’s a tough one! What If… was a joy to work on because every spread brought with it a new way to approach the art. I think one of the most satisfying spreads was this one with a leaf dragon and sugar cube igloo. It was a lot of work, and I was a little uncertain about how it would turn out when I began. But, after scanning a hundred leaves and having my sugar cube igloo implode, it all came together.


Which characters from your books would you like to spend time with?

I want to spend time with all of them! I want to make crafts with the girl from What If…, I want to eat cupcakes with Little Elliot and Mouse, I want to go on a car trip with the family from All the Way to Havana, and I want to wiggle out a dance with the creatures from Worm Loves Worm.


Can you draw us a self-portrait?Curato_self-portrait

What illustrated book have you read recently and been wowed by? 

Just last night I read Town Boy by Lat for the first time. A friend recommended it to me, and I was blown away by Lat’s unique style and endearing autobiography.

Why do you think art is important for kids? What can grown-ups do to encourage kids to engage with art? 

Art is especially important for kids because it is a readily available form of self-expression during a time in their lives when they are still developing other skills, like reading, writing, and speaking. It’s one of the first ways that we’re able to fully articulate emotions that we don’t have words for. It’s a shame that as they get older, many people cast off art-making because they feel it’s too childish or not good enough.

What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?

I was selecting paint colors for my living room when I stumbled upon “Mole’s Breath.” It wasn’t the right color for us, but what a fantastic name!!!

Mike Curato is the author and illustrator of the beloved polka-dotted elephant, Little Elliot, who appears in his books Little Elliot, Big CityLittle Elliot, Big FamilyLittle Elliot, Big Fun; and Little Elliot, Fall Friends. He is also the illustrator of Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian and All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle. Mike lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and he invites you to visit him online at” target=”_blank”>.