Perfect for Valentines of All Ages: “Worm Loves Worm”

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Hey you. Yes, YOU. The sorry so-and-so who’s forgotten it’s Valentine’s Day and is now scrambling to find a last-minute present for your boo.

Why don’t you skip the tacky bodega carnations and dusty CVS chocolates this year, and go with a gift that really means something? Why don’t you head on down to your neighborhood bookshop and pick up a copy of Worm Loves Worm?

This book, written by J.J. Austrian, and illustrated by this guy, is a thoughtful, poignant, adorable celebration of love in all its wormy splendor. Its simple, cheery illustrations and sweet, inclusive message have won the book heaps of praise, including a spot on The Advocate’s “21 LGBT Picture Books Every Kid Should Read” list, and today’s great write-up in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

J. J. Austrian and Mike ­Curato’s “Worm Loves Worm” … brilliantly explores the idea of love between two beings, regardless of gender (or species) and despite societal pressures.

Curato’s spare but sure silhouetted images and Austrian’s straightforward text are a perfect match to deliver the simple story of two characters who just want to declare their love and commit to each other.

And of course, the story of Worm holds tremendous personal significance for Mike and me, which my hubby explains with touching eloquence in his own writing about its release:

Throughout our lifetimes, each of us will be criticized for something that we cannot change (in other words: for being yourself). During those times, it’s paramount to remember what is most important in your life. For me, love is what is most important. Some people see the love that I have for Dan as being “different.” I beg to differ. In Worm Loves Worm, no matter the opinions and criticisms of others, Worm and Worm hold fast to what is most important to them: each other.

Sure, a few angry wormophobes have been upset by this book. For them, its depiction of G-rated affection between sexless garden-dwellers, and the image of spritely cartoon insects throwing their friends a party, crosses a line. (The objections usually go something like: “I have no problem with the wormos personally, blah blah blah. I’m just worried that the wormos are trying to EAT MY BABIES.”)

But if Worm comes with any “agenda,” it’s nothing more sinister than the wish to offer a positive lesson in open-mindedness, acceptance, and love.

Though marketed as a children’s book, Worm Loves Worm is a story about eschewing rigid categorization. So, whether it’s for a dear little one, or a grownup sweetheart, this book’s heart-tugging, family-friendly message makes it the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for loves of all ages.

Now get out there and grab your Valentine a copy before this holiday is over!

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Little Elliot, Big New York Times Review

This Sunday, a glowing review of Little Elliot, Big City will appear in a little publication called THE NEW YORK TIMES! Here’s a snippet:

“The author-illustrator Mike Curato, making his picture book debut, beautifully renders the images in rich earth tones that are soft and smooth, calling to mind ‘The Sweetest Fig,’ by Chris Van Allsburg … “

So yeah, that was Mike being compared to one of his idols in the Sunday Times book reviewYou know, NBD. Be sure to read the rest here.

Seriously, though, what an honor for Mike. I know I keep saying it, but I am SO DAMN PROUD of him!

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“We’ve all been there.”

Update: We just found out that Little Elliot also made Amazon’s list of the 20 best children’s books of 2014! So much excitement here!

Who Has Two Thumbs and His Own “Little Elliot” Tote Bag?

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This guy.

Apparently, the Little Elliot tote bag, a promotional giveaway at this year’s Book Expo America, was a huge hit. From Publishers Weekly’s “ShelfTalker” blog (emphasis mine):

“Savvy booksellers paced themselves on the number of galleys they took. Mostly there was talk about how to get a particular tote bag. I missed my chance, but for some reason many people asked me about it, as if I had a magical power to make them appear at the Macmillan booth. So cute, but alas there seemed to be a limited number that were given out Thursday and then gone. This was actually a really smart move on the publisher’s part. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted this bag. And it just gets you ready for the book, which is equally good.”

I guess being married to Mr. Little Elliot himself has its perks.

You can read the whole BEA wrap-up here, and Mike’s own take on his first BEA experience here.

“Little Elliot, Big City” Book Trailer

As I may have mentioned before, my hubby Mike is a very-soon-to-be-published author and illustrator of children’s picture books. Nearly two years in the making, the first installment of his Little Elliot series is set for release on August 26th. It’s all very exciting, and the buzz is already building as Mike begins this summer’s ramp-up to the big release. Here’s a little sneak-peek at his debut title, Little Elliot Big City, via this beautifully done book trailer from Mike’s publisher. It’s amazing. And so is Mike.

 

Somebody’s Getting Married!

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July 2012 (photo by Julia Cocuzza)

Yup, it’s official. Mike and I are engaged! Let me tell you how it all went down.

It began one Sunday afternoon a couple weeks after Mike and I started dating. We were just beginning to introduce each other to our respective friends, and that day, a good friend of mine would be meeting Mike for the first time. Somewhere between brunch and a trip to the mall (I know. Super gay.), Mike stepped away for a moment, and I eagerly seized the opportunity to gather my friend’s first impression:

Me: “Well? What do you think?”

Friend: “I love him, Dan! He is SO great!”

Me: “I know, right? I’m going to marry him.”

It was one of those moments where as soon as you hear yourself saying the words, you realize you actually mean them. It’s sort of startling, but in a completely wonderful way. I suddenly realized this was the first time I had ever felt that way about someone, let alone had the conviction to say so out loud. Mike and I barely knew each other, but that’s exactly how I felt. And honestly, I never stood a chance. I was no match for Mike’s instant, irresistible charms, and he basically had me at the first “let’s get dessert.” By now it was obvious to anyone who knew me that I was smitten like never before.

Four years, eight months, and several days later, I worked this little story into the speech I delivered while proposing to Mike. (And yes, it was I who did the proposing, to answer the most-asked question of our engagement thus far.) After all this time, my early-on sentiment was about to become reality. Sure, there was never much doubt that we would eventually get there, but we’d never been in a huge rush toward the altar, either. We didn’t mind just taking our time. And anyway, before we could do anything, this had to happen first.

But finally, after months of anticipation, it was time.

Last Friday night, under the pretense of treating him to a quiet post-birthday dinner, I slyly lured Mike to one of our neighborhood’s finer dining establishments. I made my way to the restaurant a little before Mike (slipping out early for a sudden “work emergency”), and arranged to have flowers and champagne waiting at the table for his arrival. But with everything in place, I was still stressing about when I was supposed to pop the question. (Over the first drink? Over the main course?? Over dessert??? Mmmm … dessert.)

Mike seemed perfectly at ease during our usual pre-dinner chitchat, but I was nervous, sweaty, and conspicuously fidgety. I couldn’t hold out much longer. Once the server had poured the champagne and taken our dinner orders, I decided it was do-or-die time. With a deep breath, I reached across the table, took Mike by the hand, and delivered those heartfelt words about my feelings for him.

Then I asked Mike if he would marry me. He said he’d have to think on it. (J/K, friends! He totally said yes!)

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I put a ring on it.
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And so did he.

(Mike’s ring from the Dina Martina Gift-Parade collection, and mine from the decidedly better-tasting Top Pot collection.)

The bubbly-fueled aftermath of this moment is a bit blurry. There were some teary, choked-up exchanges of sweet, lovey-dovey nonsense, followed by a dizzying discussion of all the potential details of our wedding, followed by a flurry of ecstatic phone calls to family and friends that basically consumed the rest of our night. One thing I do remember is that Mike called his folks right there at the dinner table, and while they were overjoyed by the news, they expressed very little surprise. (Turns out someone had privately spoken with them beforehand in order to obtain their blessing. Sounds like a classy guy to me.)

The next day, as our news began to spread, the elated congratulatory calls kept pouring in, and some friends even showed up with vital engagement provisions:

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Yup. That’s a giant, green beer mug.
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They’re a wacky bunch, our friends.

And I must say, all the wonderful, enthusiastic responses from our dear friends and loved ones have been nothing short of overwhelming. We couldn’t be happier or more excited about our plans, and we’ve never felt so loved.

Now all we have to do is plan the damn thing. (No sweat there, right? RIGHT?) We’ll be figuring out the exact where and when very soon, but we’re planning on a Seattle wedding sometime this summer (shooting for June 15th – already our anniversary!). It’s gonna be a hectic few months. But hey, at least we know some great wedding-stationary folks!

And if the Muppets can pull it off, so can we:

(Yes, my inclusion of this clip should seen an endorsement of frog/pig marriage. Love is love, people!)

Mike’s Big Book Deal

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Greetings, Danned visitors! I realize some of you may already know about this, but I just had to take a little blog-space to share some incredibly exciting news (and to shamelessly brag on my amazing and soon-to-be-famous boyfriend).

Earlier this week, Mike, who has long aspired to be an author-illustrator of children’s books, announced to the world that he’s landed his very first book deal! After considering several generous offers, he’s agreed to a three-book hitch with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. (Apparently, a three-book deal is quite the coup for a first-time author). Here’s the official press release as it appeared in Publishers Weekly:

Laura Godwin at Henry Holt has bought world English rights to three picture books by debut author-artist Mike Curato, featuring his character Elly the Polka-Dotted Elephant; the books are scheduled to come out annually beginning in fall 2014. Curato, a graphic designer living in Seattle, won the Portfolio Award at the SCBWI winter conference earlier this year. Brenda Bowen of Greenburger Associates brokered the deal, which Godwin won at auction.

Yep, that was in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. You know. No big.

Needless to say, Mike is elated beyond words. I believe “in a surreal trance” best describes his state of mind over the past few days. This is basically the realization of his lifelong dream, so yeah, he’s in a pretty good mood. I know I’m far from alone when I say I could not be more thrilled for him, and I am SO EFFING PROUD OF HIM.

This is a journey Mike’s been on since long before we knew each other, of course, stretching all the way back to wee Mikey’s first pre-school art classes. Indeed, his dream of becoming a great illustrator was one of the very first things I learned about him. Not long after we met, I noticed that every bookstore visit with Mike included a lengthy browse in the children’s section. He told me of his then-stalled efforts to break into the business, showing me the sidelined mock-up he’d pitched to at least one major publisher. And with a look at his exceptional work, it was quickly apparent to me that Mike is a serious, out-of-my-league talent who is destined for great things.

Since then it’s been quite a ride for Mike professionally. In the four years we’ve been together, he’s gone from freelancing as a graphic designer, to heading up the design team of a Seattle tech company, then back to freelancing, to anxiously pouring his heart into the launch of his own specialty wedding-invite business. But amidst the all-around craziness of life, Mike still made time here and there to perfect his art, and to kindle his simmering aspirations.

Late last year, after illustrating an author-friend’s self-published debut title, Mike put together a successful and spirit-boosting exhibition of his recent work, enthusiastically (and appropriately) hosted by Cupcake Royale in Seattle. The show featured a series of charming new portraits of one of his best-loved characters, Elly the Polka-Dotted Elephant. Naturally, the pairing of delectable sweets and enchanting images like this one proved irresistible to local admirers. Seattle was in love.

Things really began to take off for Mike when he attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) winter conference in New York earlier this year. On little more than a long-shot whim, he entered the conference’s Portfolio Award competition, and was, to his own amazement, awarded first place. His win was immediately followed by an overwhelming barrage of solicitations from agents, editors, publishers, and other folks in the biz eager to snap up this emerging talent and his adorable little elephant. In an exhilarating instant, Mike had been discovered, and was tagged as a rising star in children’s literature. It was now simply matter of choosing the right agent, and locking down the best book deal.

Mike has since teamed up with the fabulous Brenda Bowen, who, in their short time together, has become his tireless advocate, deftly brokering the extraordinary book deal we’re now celebrating.

At this point I would say, “and the rest is history,” if only that remotely resembled the truth. But the reality is that most of the story here has yet to be written. A lot of craziness is about to come Mike’s way (believe me, I’ve seen some of the book-deal deets, and this publisher has big plans for little Elly), but truly wonderful things lie ahead for him as well. This is just the beginning of an exciting new journey for Mike, and I feel privileged just to be along for the ride.

So congratulations to you, my love Mike! I can’t wait to see you achieve your dreams, to share in your upcoming adventures, and to watch the world fall in love with Elly!

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Reflecting on My First Year with Mike

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Early days

It was a year ago today, in the very early hours of a Sunday morning, that Mike and I were introduced (by my ex-boyfriend, no less) on the dance floor of the Seattle nightclub The Cuff. We didn’t leave each other’s sight until the following evening, and it took us only a couple short weeks of dinners, desserts, walks, talks, movies, art shows, and a Broadway musical, to realize we were in love, and just how lucky we were to have found each other.

Today, as Mike and I celebrate our first year together, I want to take a moment to reflect on the 365 days that have passed. Like any year, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs, with some close-to-home personal events, and others happening on the world stage. The difference for us is that we’ve shared these moments together, being there in both sadness, and in celebration.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been both promoted and laid off, moving rapidly from a largely commission-based sales position, to an ostensibly secure corporate writing job, to unemployment and fretful pondering of my “next move.” But through all of this, Mike has been by my side with love and support, his presence always reassuring. On the brighter side, after being laid off himself last year, Mike has found secure, full-time employment with a fast-growing local company after a year of off-and-on work as a freelance graphic designer.

Meanwhile, I have discovered the wondrous joys of blogging, and become the voracious reader I’ve always wanted to be, while Mike has found a new passion, volunteering as a summer camp counselor for LGBT youth, allies, and their children.

Together, Mike and I witnessed the momentous election of our first African American president, while also enduring the fallout of an economic crisis that ultimately cost me my new job. We protested angrily after the passage of California’s Proposition 8, but also celebrated and found hope in that five states have legalized same-sex marriage since we met (particularly significant, as Mike and I consider the future of our own relationship).

Mike and I hit it off with each other’s social circles in no time, both quickly coming to love the other’s friends as friends of our own. It’s rare to find people as warm, kind, and fun to be around as Mike’s best friend Jill, to name just one. And I know Mike shared my sadness when my dear friend Karl moved 1,000 miles away this spring, and that he will cry again with me when my best friend Meg moves to Winnipeg next month.

I was lucky enough to spend Christmas with Mike’s lovely family in New York, who instantly made me feel welcome and comfortable in their home. Mike has met about half of my family – no small feat, considering its size – and I’m pretty sure my sister Maura wants to adopt him. And since Mike and I met, I have welcomed three new nieces and nephews into my family, while Mike discovered that he has a long-lost half-sister (and baby niece) in The Philippines.

This spring, Mike also mourned the loss of his grandfather, whom he met only a few years ago. But Mike knows how truly fortunate and blessed he was to have finally known this man who lived his entire life on the other side of the world. And I know it’s times like this that we’re especially lucky to have each other.

During this time, the biggest personal decision made by both Mike and me was the decision to move in together. It was only about 5 ½ months into our relationship, and some may have questioned the wisdom of moving in with each other so soon. Nevertheless, it felt like the right thing to do, and neither of us had any serious doubts about our decision. We were set up in our cozy new place just in time to host a small gathering of close friends for Thanksgiving dinner. And every day that has since passed has only served to reinforce the wisdom of our decision to live together.

Mike is not my first “real” boyfriend, nor is he the first one I’ve ever lived with. But our first year together has been happier, smoother, more secure, more fun, and more fulfilling than anything I’ve experienced in past relationships. Mike is the first and only person I’ve ever imagined a future with while pondering lifelong plans, and I know he feels the same. We both look forward to a life of many years together with big and exciting plans, both immediate (traveling to South Africa this year) and farther off (marriage, a house, dogs, possibly kids, the works).

What I have with Mike is something I’ve always fantasized about, and frankly, always expected to find (call it “destiny” if you like). Even so, I still feel like the luckiest guy in the world when I wake up and see him next to me, figuratively pinching myself, and only regretting that we didn’t meet sooner.

What else can I say? I love Mike to pieces.