Written and Illustrated by Mike Curato
Henry Holt and Company, 2015
Little Elliot woke up to a bright winter day.
The plot in a nutshell: A lonely elephant finds a family.
Best friends Elliot and Mouse live together in an apartment in the big city. Mouse is excited to go to his family reunion and see his many, many relatives again. He counts them all out for Elliot (there are at least 200), but adds that it’s tough to keep track of them all. Once Mouse is gone, their place feels empty. Elliot goes for a walk, but everywhere he goes, he sees families interacting. He goes to a movie and when he sees an elephant family, it makes him miss Mouse. When he leaves the theater, snow has fallen and he hears Mouse calling him. Mouse invites him to his reunion and his family happily welcomes Elliot to the party. At the end of the night, Mouse counts his family members again and adds one more for Elliot.
I was such a fan of Little Elliot, Big City and I was overjoyed to see that author/illustrator Mike Curato had published a follow-up. Happily, I can tell you that this one is just as sweet and wonderful as the first. I imagine it would be very easy for a story like this to fall over the line into being overly saccharine, but that never happens here. As Elliot ponders his lack of a family and sees families all around him, he remains plucky and contemplative without getting mired in his loneliness. And when he and Mouse are reunited and he learns that Mouse missed him, too, it’s a lovely validation of their friendship.
In the artwork, done in pencil with digital color, Mr. Curato shows lots of different kinds of families. There is a lot of diversity in the New York neighborhoods of this story, which appears to be taking place sometime in the early to mid-20th century. Seeing lots of different types of families paves the way for the book’s message that friends can be family just as surely as blood relatives. Elliot’s joy at being included in this massive family is delightful to see and clearly points to the importance of knowing you’re loved and that you belong. A third book about these characters is coming out this week.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are lots of different ways to be a family and all the best ones center around love.