#RisingStarsinKidLit Mary McClellan


To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world.  These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!

Meet Rising Star
Author Mary McClellan

Mary’s alter ego-Kate the bunny-eared pup! Photo Credit © 2020 Mary McClellan

Mary McClellan writes picture books in the company of dogs. With four rescues, there’s always one by her side and usually another under her feet. A wife and dog-ma, she lives in Columbus, Ohio. Mary often finds new story ideas when researching a topic that interests her. She’s had a story and several puzzles published in Highlight’s magazine.

​Mary is currently seeking agent representation.

Meet four of Mary’s favorite writing partners. Woof!
Photo Credit ©2020 Mary McClellan
Welcome, Mary! I’m so excited to host you and get to know more about who you are and your journey into kidlit! 

AD: Let’s start with the speed round:

  • Top three favorite children’s books of all time?​ ​I have to go with the rule of three on this.

 Humorous Picture Books:

  1. Wings: A Tale of Two Chickens – James Marshall ​: Really anything by James Marshall. (I knew the two chickens!) 
  1. The Sniffles for Bear – Bonny Becker/Kady MacDonald Denton: Love the voice and over-the-top drama. I want to visit mouse and bear in bear’s cozy house.
  2. XO, OX: A Love Story – Adam Rex/Scott Campbell: This book cracks me up every time I read it. Love the voice & drama. What a perfect author/illustrator collaboration. Funny letters with hilarious illustrations. Campbell had me with the vain gazelle on her fainting couch. I’ll read this book to anyone who comes within 10 feet of me.

Non-Humorous Picture Books:

  1. The Dot – Peter H. Reynolds: Anything by Peter H. Reynolds
  2. Shelter – Celine Claire/Qin Leng: This is a beautiful book about compassion and generosity. Full of heart. Combined with the illustrations, it’s a treasure. 
  3. Big Wolf, Little Wolf – Nadine Brun-Cosme/Olivier TallecA wonderful story about friendship. You can see Big Wolf’s emotions in the illustrations. A powerful book.

*** I have to add a 4th book***

  1. Wherever You Go – Pat Zietlow Miller/ Eliza Wheeler: Wonderful writing. The illustrations are eye candy.  
  • Coffee, tea (or neither)? Definitely coffee.
  • Where is your safe place? Home. It’s my cocoon.
  • Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs, dogs, dogs! I adore dogs. We adopt senior rescue dogs and help with a rescue organization. I can’t imagine not having at least one dog. (We have four.) I love to meet fellow writers who have dogs.   
  • Early bird or night owl? Former night owl turned early bird.
  • Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…I’ll tell you what’s gotten me where I am today. (1) Perseverance. (2) Studying craft. (3) Writing. (4) Revising. (5) Critiques. (6) Rewriting. (7) Kidlit community sharing and support (8) Friendship and support of fellow writers.  

Sister Beluga makes an appearance 🙂

AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
MM: After years of analyzing and writing about federal regulations and state laws, developing work standards, flowcharts and strategic plans, I discovered another world. One where people meet to discuss the emotions of a porcupine trying to make friends with a cactus. The heavens parted and angels sang. I’d found my peeps. I stumbled into kidlit with my dog. While playing with him one morning, I framed his face with a sheet. Babushka? Hmm. Habit? Yes! I made up a story about Spot going undercover as a nun to solve a mystery at a convent. I had a habit made for him. Inspiration for me and a source of great amusement for the neighbors.  You don’t know what you don’t know, but I knew there was a lot I didn’t know about writing a story. So, my plan of attack was to find a class somewhere. In the process, I discovered SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). And there I learned about the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL). ICL was exactly what I needed, and I can’t praise their program enough. Getting written feedback on assignments and questions was invaluable. I completed their course and then signed up for another one on writing for magazines.  I attended Highlights week-long program at Chautauqua. While there, I had two manuscripts critiqued. One was later accepted and published in Highlights. Not long after that, I went on a puzzle-creating spree and had 4 or 5 puzzles published in Highlights.I love puzzles and have included some in a couple of my stories. A (draft) chapter book I’ve written is based on puzzles. 
AD: I love how spontaneous your kidlit ephinany was. Dogs tend to inspire us in that way so I’m actually not surprised 🙂 Congrats on your success with Highlights as well. I also love that reminder that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This is a good way to gauge growth, too. I think back to when I first dove into kidlit and knew so little, ha! I know sooo much more now. It’s easy to lose sight of how far we’ve some so thanks for the reminder to stop and celebrate our progress. Cheers to growth!  

AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?

MM: I knew I wanted to write something fun. I just didn’t know what that was. There are no “fun jobs” listings for language majors. Writing a book was never on my radar. So, I spent a lot of years, in a lot of jobs, analyzing a lot of things, and writing a lot of reports, work standards, memos, alerts, officewide communications, and on and on and on. Now I’m having fun.   

AD: So glad you’ve found your “fun job” 🙂 I think for many of us, it takes a bit of time to get there!

AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?

MM: The challenge du jour is creating multiple manuscripts worthy of submitting to an agent. I’m reworking manuscripts and visiting story ideas I filed away. One happy surprise was taking one of those ideas and quickly, for me, writing a manuscript now ready to submit. I don’t mean to imply I didn’t go through multiple revisions and critiques. I did. But I was able to work through the problem areas fairly quickly. I’m also making headway on a couple of other manuscripts I’d filed away. The joy of pulling those out again is that the research is done. It’s like finding a gift. I’ve also had enough time away from the stories to see them with fresh eyes. 

​Persevering? My WIPs are like puzzles I want to solve. If I love the character or the story, I’ll figure it out. Eventually. If I discover I’m not in love, I’ll file the story away again. Ideas sometimes come when I’m not thinking about a story. Hope springs eternal. In the meantime, though, I’ll move onto a new idea. The love of language and story keep me keep me trying.

AD: I love when some manuscripts seem to come together more quickly, or just pour out. I always wonder why this is the case when it happens. It doesn’t happen very often for me but when it does, I just let it flow!  

Photo Credit: 2Photo Pots via Unsplash

Photo Credit: 2Photo Pots via Unsplash

AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well.  With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey?

MM: Publication of a story and puzzles in Highlights magazine was a big accomplishment. But I’m also proud of the progress I know I’ve made in creating a story and eliminating unnecessary words.

AD: Yay! Congrats on getting your story and puzzles published in Highlights, Mary! I’ve loved Highlights ever since I was young. We used to have a subscription, and my favorite was the Hidden Pictures Puzzles where you would have to spot what was different between the two images. Oh the memories! So fun!  
Photo Credit: Hannah Grace via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Hannah Grace via Unsplash

AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author? What makes your writing unique to you?

MM: I like to think it’s my voice, my use of language, and my story ideas. 
AD: What inspires your work?

MM: Sometimes reading an interesting fact will inspire me to create a story. Pictures have also pushed my story-creating button. I fractured a couple of fairy tales because I thought I had better endings and messages. And sometimes there’s a message I want to convey so I create a story to present the idea to readers.
​AD: I often get inspired by facts and images as well. There is so much inspiration out there. I think the true challenge is slowing down and paying attention to it all.  
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?

MM: I read, go for walks, sit on my deck with the dogs, and soak in nature. I also keep a notebook and pens by my bed. Lately I’ve been getting ideas around 4 a.m. 

AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author?

MM: Certainly studying craft and exchanging critiques. A big thing I learned, after years of fighting it, was to create dummies. I can’t draw, but I can use stick figures and/or clip art. The important thing is I get something on the paper and then I can see how words can be eliminated. This was a head-smacking moment.

AD: YES! The power in creating dummies! As you said, even if you don’t consider yourself an artist (which don’t get the art teacher started on that, hehe), a dummy can still be wildly beneficial. Among other things, it always helps me trim words and see the page turns more clearly.        

AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?

MM: Keep writing. Keep drawing. Keep studying craft. Keep getting critiques. Repeat, repeat, repeat. We’ll only get better by doing more of what we love. Every so often, look back at something you created years ago. You’ll see how far you’ve come. I’ve found a couple of cringeworthy manuscripts, so I know I’m getting better. ? You are too. Good luck! 

AD: Great advice, Mary! I love looking back at old art and writing. I even have some from grade school and college that give me a good chuckle. Every step forward should be celebrated and with practice comes growth. Good luck to you as well!! 

Mary and her furry writing partners. Photo Credit © 2020 Mary McClellanv

​AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work? MM: I’m on Facebook @Mary McClellan.
​Send me a friend request!

​Thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series, Mary! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Mary and her work.

Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you! 

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