Sometimes we need to explore and discover (or rediscover) the true spirit of Christmas. This is the commemoration of the birth of a child who became a man asking us, again and again, to love one another. It is about giving with no thought of receiving.
One children's literature character who continually shines as a beacon of friendship is Little Elliot. In each of their stories, Little Elliot, Big City, Little Elliot, Big Family, Little Elliot, Big Fun and Little Elliot, Fall Friends, this white elephant with blue and pink polka-dots and his friend, Mouse, with one notched ear, spread goodwill consistently. Merry Christmas, Little Elliot (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by Mike Curato is about a search for a seasonal feeling. Sometimes it's already within us but it takes the winds of fate to set it free.
Little Elliot was not excited
"Let's go see Santa," said Mouse.
As they waited in line to see the jolly old elf, Elliot knew what he wanted. When he asked Santa about receiving the Christmas spirit, Santa replied it was not his to give. Elliot needed to find it himself.
He and Mouse decided to look for it. It was not at a classic Christmas ballet presentation, at the city center showcasing an enormous decorated tree, or at the park's sledding hill. When the duo stopped for a hot chocolate break, Elliot told Mouse he could not find the Christmas spirit.
Suddenly a gust of wind delivered a bright red envelope right into Elliot's face. It was addressed to Santa at the North Pole. When Elliot and Mouse arrived back at the department store it was closed and St. Nick was gone. This was indeed a dilemma.
After deciding to read the letter, Elliot wondered how he could help make this request a reality. In a few moments he had a plan. He and Mouse took a trip driving hours at night. At their destination a greeting of great joy announced their presence. A gift is given and received.
When Mike Curato begins with our pachyderm pal having a problem, we are ready to read and listen. We, like Elliot's friend Mouse, want to help. Through a concise, deliberate combination of narrative and conversations the story unfolds with marvelous pacing and pleasing surprises. Here is a passage.
"How do I find the
Christmas spirit?" asked Elliot.
"I don't know," said Mouse, "but I will help you look!"
It is said not to judge a book by its cover but looking at this opened dust jacket is going to send everyone's holiday spirit into high gear. There is much to love about the merriment seen on the face of Elliot. Look at Mouse riding in his Santa's hat! The sack full of Christmas goodies on the back of the sled and the small ribboned wreath on the front add to the overall happiness. The bright red canvas with the elegant green ribbon script and child-like writing is pure perfection.
On the spine Christmas lights bookend the title text. To the left, on the back, Little Elliot and Mouse are calling out a greeting as Elliot holds the letter. The characters and text are varnished. The book case is also red with darker outlines to distinguish the portions of an envelope. On the front is the return address of the sender which is a delightful play on words. On the back we can see it's addressed to Santa. The stamp is a one cent stamp in green featuring a historic United States figure.
Mike Curato uses his opening and closing endpapers to wordlessly begin and conclude the story. On the former a girl bundled in winter clothing is carrying the red envelope in one hand and opening the rural mailbox in her right hand. With a page turn on the verso and title pages a single image shows a gust of wind carrying the letter away. It swirls through white title text on darkened blue and purple sky among snowflakes. Standing by the mailbox the child has her hands outstretched in probable dismay.
Through a series of utterly charming double-page and full page, with and without borders, illustrations, rendered with pencil on paper and digital color in Adobe Photoshop, Mike Curato lifts and enhances his text. Many of the pictures are wordless but as with all beautifully created images, they speak volumes. In all the scenes Mike's use of light and shadow is wonderful!
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Elliot and Mouse are leaving the city (New York City of a bygone era). They are riding in a large yellow car. Elliot is leaning out the rear window having donned the Santa cap borrowed from the Macy's snowman. He is grinning with glee. Mouse is carefully peering out the front window, hanging on to the edge. His tail and ears are perked up. Behind the car and through the car windows lighted windows in buildings and Christmas lights shine. It's as if Elliot and Mouse are going to drive right into our space; they are that close to us.
It simply wouldn't be a complete collection of Christmas titles without a copy of Merry Christmas, Little Elliot written and illustrated by Mike Curato. Exquisite care has been taken with the entire creation of every portion of this book. It's guaranteed you will smile and sigh when you view the closing endpapers. I highly recommend this title. Giving is the spirit of Christmas which lasts forever.
To learn more about Mike Curato and his other work, please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog. On his website he has a link to activities for this title. On his blog he talks about the making of this book and the Easter eggs hidden in his illustrations. At Mike's website and the publisher's website you can view interior images. Little Elliot has a website dedicated to all things Little Elliot. Mike Curato has an account on Twitter and Instagram.