An Elephant and a Mouse Walk into a Bakery…
Little Elliot Big City – Mike Curato, Henry Holt and Company, 2014
Little Elliot Big Family – Mike Curato, Henry Holt and Company, 2015
Little Elliot Big Fun – Mike Curato, Henry Holt and Company, 2016
Little Elliot Fall Friends – Mike Curato, Henry Holt and Company, 2017
Mike Curato is a relatively new but rising star author and illustrator and Little Elliot is a sweet and vulnerable elephant of small stature who successfully negotiates many difficulties with the help of his friend, Mouse. They live in a time and place unnamed in the books, but which is clearly 1940s New York City and environs. Elliot, white with pastel colored polka dots, is acutely conscious of being different. He also suffers anxiety over a number of problems, such as not being able to reach the counter in his favorite Italian-American Speranza bakery, or confronting the terrors of a big amusement park (Coney Island). The books are saved from being formulaic or saccharine through Curato’s understated text and his brilliantly executed pictures, which manage to evoke both a specific and nostalgic era and the timeless universe of young children. While Elliot follows in the grand tradition of de Brunhoff’s anthropomorphized Babar, he is a younger and more innocent character in a less complex universe.
The cover of the first book introduces Elliot standing in front of a row of urban apartment buildings with the Chrysler Building in the background. The letters “Big City” are the size of tall buildings and they are dotted with windows like the structures behind them. We enter Elliot’s world to learn how difficult it is for him to huddle on a crowded train track, hail a cab, or reach the ice cream in his freezer. He seems to live a lonely but independent life in his pre-war apartment, until he meets an even smaller but perhaps more resourceful Mouse, who is fishing for half-eaten pizza in a Central Park garbage can. Elliot helps him; this is the beginning of beautiful friendship.
By the second book, Elliot and Mouse apparently live together, but Mouse needs to visit his extended family and Elliot is temporarily devastated.