Children's Book Author Offers A Peek Into The Creative Process Award-winning Writer/illustrator Emily Arnold Mccully Believes Good Stories Should Teach Universal Truths, Not Escapism.

Posted: November 15, 1995

MEDIA — Creating a children's picture book is a little like casting a feature movie, according to author and illustrator Emily Arnold McCully.

The author and illustrator must put together an interesting drama that draws the reader into what otherwise is simply a flat page, she said. The secret is to create a visual world the reader enters just by looking at a single page.

"Children know stories long before they can read. . . . Story is central to life," said McCully, who won a 1993 Caldecott Medal for her book Mirette on a High Wire.

"Good stories can give children their bearings. These stories give children a grasp of what has happened to someone else and how another person feels."

She shared her views on children's literature and her own experiences as an author/illustrator with about 60 librarians and educators Thursday at the Delaware County Library System's sixth annual author luncheon in Media.

McCully, now 56, said she began sketching at age 3.

Even then, she said, her drawings were story illustrations of events she had heard about on the radio.

As a school-age child, McCully said, she created her own story books, and teachers asked her to draw posters and programs for concerts and plays.

She chose not art, but drama studies at Pembroke College, now part of Brown University.

In 1966, while McCully was working in commercial art, a children's book editor saw her work and asked her to illustrate George Panetta's Sea Beach Express.

McCully received other children's book illustration jobs and also wrote adult fiction, including the novel A Craving, which was a 1982 American Book Award nominee.

In 1985 she began to devote her full attention to children's literature by creating Picnic, the first of five wordless picture books about a family of mice. That book won her a Christopher Award.

Since then she has written and illustrated several books, including Crossing the New Bridge and The Pirate Queen. Her newest title, Mirette and Bellini, is a sequel to the book that won her the Caldecott Medal.

"I've always considered a well-written children's story a great read. 'Books are not for solving problems but rather to expose us to new situations," McCully said.

"Too many novels now offer escape. Too many heroes of boys' books get out of a tight spot not by using their brains, but through physical force."

A firm believer in fairy tales and their ability to teach eternal truths, McCally said she dislikes many modern books that lack morals.

Rose Ann Messersmith, a librarian at the Davidson School on the campus of Elwyn Inc. in Middletown, said she was glad to have a chance to meet the author.

"I really like her picture books," Messersmith said. "I think Mirette is a wonderful book."

Ronnie McCall, librarian at Middletown's Indian Lane Elementary School in the Rose Tree Media School District, shared that sentiment.

"I'm anxious to go back and re-read everyone of her books," McCall said.

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