Emily Arnold McCully

Emily Arnold McCully
Tom Bloom

I was born in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1939, but grew up in Garden City, New York. My father was a writer/producer of network radio shows, and my mother had been an actress and singer. Noticing that I was trying to draw people and objects, my mother once said to me, “Why don’t you practice that and get it right?” She saw a talent to be developed so that I could support myself when I grew up. 

 

As a child, I doodled and sketched and created my own stories, binding them into books. As class artist in school, I designed posters, backdrops, and programs for concerts and plays. I often visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and sketched people sitting on benches in Union Square. The city fueled my ambitions for an active life in the arts, theater, and publishing. 

 

I attended Pembroke College (now part of Brown University), majoring in art history and acting in plays. I also collaborated on an award-winning musical. For years, people stood around me as I drew, marveling that I could reproduce someone or something. If art was a performance, I wanted to try out other roles. 

 

After graduation, I worked as a mat cutter in an advertising agency and earned an M.A. in art history at Columbia University. Realizing I had no future in the advertising agency, I put together a portfolio of drawings and took it around to art directors. Gradually, jobs trickled in, mostly for book covers. Finally, an editor at Harper & Row Junior Books spotted a poster I had done that featured children. I received my first book illustration assignment, which led to another, and so on. 

 

Meanwhile, I wrote fiction and published a short story that was selected for the O. Henry Collection. It was followed by two novels. I was able to try acting again when the chance arose to audition for a friend’s play. It opened in Albany and moved to Off Broadway in New York. It was a wonderful experience, but I knew I had to go back to books. I have now written or illustrated more than two hundred books for children. 

 

My advice for aspiring artists and writers is this: You can’t aim to please other people. Do what matters most to you, then hope readers respond.

 

 

I believe that books, rather than be palliative or merely instructive, should stir the imagination. I share Isaac Bashevis Singer’s belief that children’s books are the last refuge of storytelling.

 

 

Emily Arnold McCully divides her time between New York City and upstate New York. She has won many awards for her children’s books, including the Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High Wire.

 

 

 


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Tom Bloom
Emily Arnold McCully

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Q & A

Where did you grow up?

Galesburg and Long Island

 

What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?

Read widely and always. Reach inside for what is truthful and means the most to you. revise
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books
by the author

Dare the Wind

Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ellen Prentiss’s papa said she was born with saltwater in her veins, so he gave her sailing lessons and taught her how to navigate. As soon as she met a man...


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Book
The Secret Cave

Emily Arnold McCully
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Jacques, Jojo, Simon, and Marcel were looking for buried treasure when they explored a cave in the south of France in 1940. But the treasure inside was not...


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Book
Wonder Horse

Emily Arnold McCully; illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully
Henry Holt and Co.

In the late 1800s, former slave and veterinarian Bill "Doc" Key realized that his new foal, Jim, was no ordinary horse. Believing in the power of kindness and...


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Book
Manjiro

Emily Arnold McCully
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In 1841, Japan had been closed to the outside world for 250 years, and anyone who tried to return to the country after leaving it could be executed. So when...


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Book
The Escape of Oney Judge

Emily Arnold McCully
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

When General George Washington is elected the first President of the United States, his wife chooses young Oney Judge, a house slave who works as a seamstress...


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Book
Marvelous Mattie

Emily Arnold McCully
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

With her sketchbook labeled My Inventions and her father’s toolbox, Mattie could make almost anything – toys, sleds, and a foot warmer. When she was just...


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Book
Squirrel and John Muir

Emily Arnold McCully
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An outstanding book for young naturalists Floy Hutchings, also known as Squirrel, is the daughter of the man who opened the first hotel in the Yosemite...


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