Little Elliot, Big City

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Little Elliot, Big City Book Poster Image
Isolated elephant finds pal in sweet tale with dazzling art.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will get a feeling for what big cities used to look like. 


Positive Messages

Working together is better than working alone. Having a friend makes you feel better. When you encounter challenges, it's good to persevere. You can feel better by taking pleasure in small things. It's OK to be different. Little Elliot, Big City touches on various emotional issues, including being different, being persistent, and making friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Little Elliot is aware that he sometimes feels small and powerless. He tries to meet the small, daily challenges that confront him and takes pleasure in small things. He persists in the face of obstacles. When he sees someone in need, he helps. He has a goal and tries to accomplish it. The mouse is friendly, kind, and helpful.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Elliot, Big City is dedicated to "anyone who feels unnoticed," and it's hard not to notice and root for Elliot, a doughy little elephant spotted charmingly with pastel polka dots. He lives in an unnamed "big city," easily recognizable as New York (Flatiron Building, subway scene) circa 1940. The striking art in author-illustrator Mike Curato's debut is darker and moodier than in most picture books, underscoring Elliot's feeling that "sometimes it was hard being so small in such a huge place," and the text is spare enough for little listeners. Though Elliot initially fails in his quest to buy a cupcake -- he's too short to be seen over the counter -- he meets a mouse who's even littler, and they find they work better as a team. Friend found! Cupcake accomplished! Which makes Elliot feel "like the tallest elephant in the world!" This is the first Elliot book in a planned series.

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What's the story?

Elliot's a little elephant in a big city who sometimes feels that it's "hard being so small in such a huge place." He lives in a period New York City that has a noir, Depression-era feel, with gray figures crowding onto a subway or trudging grimly off to work. Sweet polka-dotted Elliot stands in stark contrast and is pictured gamely meeting his daily challenges. When he spies an enticing window display in a bakery, he tries to buy a cupcake, but he's so little that he can't be seen over the counter. On his way home, feeling sad, he meets a little mouse -- "someone even littler than himself" -- and helps the mouse reach a slice of pizza. The next day, the mouse accompanies Elliot to the bakery, climbing atop Elliot so the two can be seen. Elliot gets his cupcake -- and friendship, of course!

Is it any good?

The art in LITTLE ELLIOT, BIG CITY is particularly striking. Author-illustrator Mike Curato takes us back to a 1940s New York City and lovingly renders the period detail: The cars have running boards, the refrigerators are boxy, and a sign advertises pie for 10¢, as if Elliot has stepped back in time and into an Edward Hopper painting.

Elliot's a charming young elephant spotted with pastel pink and baby blue polka dots, and he has an endearing vulnerability that young readers will relate to. Though he's "different in many ways" and finds it "hard being so small in such a huge place," he cheerfully perseveres and enjoys "the little things ... small treasures ... and most of all, cupcakes!" The message of friendship is gently handled. And who can resist a book in which the endpapers display rows of cupcakes with swirly icing?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how it feels to be little in a big world. Do you ever feel unnoticed or too little to do what you want to do?

  • How is Elliot different from elephants in other stories? What's different about how he looks and where he lives? 

  • How can friends help each other? Can you think of ways that two are better than one?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and animal stories

Themes & Topics

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