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INTERVIEW: Author Kate McMullan And Illustrator Jim McMullan On Bay Street's "Storytime," The Importance Of Reading To Children, Their Inspirations, And More

Nicole Barylski

Illustrator Jim McMullan and author Kate McMullan. (Courtesy Photos)

East End and New York-based authors will share their children's books with Bay Street audiences during Storytime, an interactive eight-part Saturday morning series. Each week, a different children's book author will entertain little ones with their captivating tales during live Zoom readings, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Storytime will launch with author Kate McMullan and illustrator Jim McMullan, who will be reading Happy Spring, I Stink, and I'm Dirty on Saturday, March 27. Additional guests will include There Is A Rainbow author Theresa Trinder (Saturday, April 3), Finding Brooklyn—And The Next Great Superhero author Dan Sadlowski (Saturday, April 10), Grandpa Across The Ocean author Hyewon Yum (Saturday, April 17), I Am Yoga author Susan Verde (Saturday, April 24), Stay This Way Forever author Linsey Davis (Saturday, May 1), Attack of the Underwear Dragon author Scott Rothman (Saturday, May 8), and Simeon's Gift co-authors Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton (Saturday, May 15).

We spoke with the McMullans about the importance of reading to children, their unique process, and much more.

You're kicking off Story Time, Bay Street's eight-part program of children's book readings. You'll be reading three of your books, Happy Spring, I Stink, and I'm Dirty. Why did you select those three?

KM: I Stink and I'm Dirty are our classic books for kids that are the best known of our collaborations. We've done a lot of books together, but those are the two that are the most popular. So it seemed like those would be books that the readers would like to hear. And also, Jim and I did them together. I think Jim's going to draw some pictures during the event. I'm not sure if kids are going to draw along or not, but they can. And then Happy Spring is a book that I did. I had another illustrator, but it's a brand new book. Since it's spring, it seemed like I should read that book, too.

When did you begin working together?

KM: Noisy Giants came out in 1991. That was our first collaboration. Although I had been begging Jim to illustrate my books for years.

How did you get into writing children's books?

KM: I was a teacher. I taught fourth grade and every lunch, I would read to my kids. I just loved it, it was so much fun. They loved it. I would read through math period. As long as they were attentive, I just kept going. So, I realized that maybe I wasn't such a teacher, maybe I should do something with children's books. I set out to see if I could write a children's book.

Could you speak a little bit about the importance of reading to children?

KM: There's nothing more important than reading to your child. It's just so enjoyable. The great picture books include a lot of things for the parents, as well as the kids. I think picture books are just for all ages, I think it sets them up to understand what stories are. And before they can read the pictures, it gives them so much. They develop a visual literacy, so when they start school, and they start reading, they get what it's about.

Jim, you've created numerous images for magazine stories, books for adults and children, record covers, - and even stamps. Where do you draw inspiration from?

JM: I've always loved to draw. I realized early on that I wasn't very good at sports. But I could find a position or a personality within my group at school by being very good at drawing and to be able to draw comic book characters and all that, but I loved it. It was always an emotional kind of thing with me. Drawing has always been emotional. I first discovered it when I lived with some relatives, when I was seven-years-old. When I first came in from China, I discovered Saturday Evening Post Magazine, and Norman Rockwell, and those really great illustrators from that period. And the work seemed emotional to me, particularly Rockwell's work - that it was dealing with things of the mind and the heart. As I grew older, I wanted perhaps more darkness than Rockwell was willing to give me. But nevertheless, he kind of set me up for the idea that drawing and illustration could be very expressive, that it wasn't just about illustrating words. It was about illustrating words, but also adding an emotional content that sometimes the words didn't have. And I feel in children's books that I'm able to give Kate's words some other kind of resonance. It doesn't change her words, but I hope it enriches words. But, I am inspired by the ability to express parts of myself through art that I can't express any other way.

This may be a hard question, but do you have a favorite work that you've done?

JM: Oh boy. That's hard. Well, as a group of illustrations, the illustrations for my memoir, Leaving China. I think they stand as a group as perhaps the strongest way that I've ever been able to say something in the world, but I have many theater posters that I feel a very strong connection to. Ah, Wilderness!, for instance, and Carousel - those are all images that I think are very much me.

Kate, what about you? Do you have a favorite work?

KM: I Stink. It's just so much fun. It took me a long time to write. But Jim's artwork surprised me so much. And he looked like he was having fun. Were you having fun, Jim?

JM: I was! I look back and I wonder how did I have so much fun?

KM: He decided not to do people, he did this creature. When we collaborate and he shows me sketches that he's done, I often take out a lot of words, because I don't need them anymore. I do a lot of rewriting to make it shorter, because I really am a big believer in picture books are best when they're short.

Kate, you've written more than 100 children's books. What inspires you?

KM: Probably being a teacher and seeing how much my kids really loved it. And then reading to my daughter when she was little. I think she pretended not to be able to read for a while, so I'd keep reading to her. We both enjoyed it.

When you're not writing or illustrating, how do you like to keep busy?

KM: We used to go to the theater and see friends at restaurants. We can't wait for when that's happening again. I like to go out and look at birds, myself. Jim, he's really a good spotter of birds. He's got a quick eye. But he's not as interested as I am in seeing all the birds in the world.

Are you working on any projects at the moment?

KM: We are. Before the election, we were working on a book about democracy and a lot of publishers said, oh, we want to do this, but we can't get it out before the election. It wasn't really that kind of book. But we're back working on that. And I think we're going to revamp it a bit.

Is there anything like to add?

JM: I just feel that Kate and I are so lucky to collaborate in the way that we do, in which we're collaborating from a very early stage of Kate's writing. In other words, it's after she has decided to do a certain kind of book, she shows me early drafts of her texts, of her story. And sometimes I do sketches very early to try to help her kind of think about the character that she's writing about. So, it's very different, because I've had the other experience of where a publisher asks me to illustrate a text that's already set in stone and I do what I have to do. It's nothing like this feeling that even though it's Kate that invents a basic story, I have a feeling that I really get to contribute to how the story ends up. We're very lucky that way, to be able to collaborate from a fairly early stage of these books. I just think it makes a difference.

JM: I'd also just like to add one of the most wonderful times that we had together was going to the Sag Harbor Elementary School morning program way back, it was years ago, maybe ten years ago. It was just wonderful. We enjoyed it so much. There were kids there and parents there. After that, even though we had lived in Sag Harbor for many, many years, we now knew the whole town. Kids would be like, Mom, that's that author. It was really fun. It was really, really sweet. We miss Sag Harbor so much. We're glad to have this connection with Bay Street and Sag Harbor again.

Storytime readings will begin at 10:30 a.m.

For more information, visit www.baystreet.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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