Emily Arnold McCully is an author and illustrator of children’s literature. In addition writing over thirty books, McCully has done the artwork for nearly sixty other authors.
McCully began reading and writing stories at a very young age. As a child, she would sit with a radio on and draw the images that she saw in her head. Her mother was very supportive and urged McCully to work until she got the pictures just right. Her mother would often set aside time for Emily to work alone, imagining and working on her drawings and stories. Alone, Emily would dream up stories of male heroes, fighting evil and saving the world, or growing up into successful men.
McCully obtained an art history degree from Brown University where she was highly active in the theater department as well. McCully often acted in drama and musical productions, and even wrote a prize-winning musical while still an undergraduate. She went on to earn a master’s in art history from Columbia University.
Directly out of school, McCully earned a living by working at an advertising agency, cutting out sample mats by day. After work, she would spend hours prepping portfolios of her work and shopping them to countless art directors and agencies. When she began to show a great interest in book covers and posters, an editor with Harper and Row offered her a contract for book illustrations.
McCully then got the opportunity to work with authors such as Arnold Adoff, Doreen Rappaport, and Beatrice Gormley. She also began writing and illustrating her own stories again. However, unlike the stories of her youth, her stories now starred female protagonists. Emily was once quoted that she felt she needed to write with female leads as atonement for all her stories about boys.
In 1993, she was awarded the Caldecott Medal for her book Mirette on the High Wire, about a girl in turn of the century Paris who helps a high wire walker regain his confidence, and in turn conquers her own fears. Emily says she likes to write books that are not clear-cut lessons, but ideas that make children think about what the moral is.
Emily claims that much of her inspiration for writing stories comes from research of unrelated things, or topics that will start a link in her mind to an idea.
She believes that children's books are the last great harbor of storytelling.