Faith McNulty (1918–2005) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1918, in New York, NY; died April 10, 2005, in Wakefield, RI; Education: Attended Barnard College, 1937–38.
Children's book author. New Yorker magazine, New York, NY, staff writer, 1953–94, author of annual review of year's children's books, 1979–91. Previously employed as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor.
Dutton Animal Book Award, 1966, for The Whooping Crane: The Bird That Defies Extinction; A Book Can Develop Empathy Award, New York State Humane Association/Fund for Animals, 1990, for The Lady and the Spider; D.H.L. from University of Rhode Island and Milwaukee School of Engineering.
The Funny Mixed-up Story, Wonder Books (New York, NY), 1959.
Arty the Smarty, Wonder Books (New York, NY), 1962.
When a Boy Gets up in the Morning, Knopf (New York, NY), 1962.
When a Boy Goes to Bed at Night, Knopf (New York, NY), 1963.
Prairie Dog Summer, Coward (New York, NY), 1972.
Woodchuck, illustrated by Joan Sandin, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.
Whales: Their Life in the Sea, illustrated by John Schoenherr, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
Mouse and Tim, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
The Elephant Who Couldn't Forget, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
Hurricane, illustrated by Gail Owens, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
The Lady and the Spider, illustrated by Bob Marstall, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
Peeping in the Shell: A Whooping Crane Is Hatched, illustrated by Irene Brady, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
With Love from Koko, illustrated by Annie Cannon, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
Orphan: The Story of a Baby Woodchuck, illustrated by Darby Morrell, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.
A Snake in the House, illustrated by Ted Rand, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Dancing with Manatees, illustrated by Lena Shiffman, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Listening to Whales Sing, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
Endangered Animals, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.
When I Lived with Bats, illustrated by Lena Shiffman, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
If Dogs Ruled the World, illustrated by Julie Durrell, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
How Whales Walked into the Sea, illustrated by Ted Rand, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
The Silly Story of a Flea and His Dog, illustrated by Mavis Smith, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Playing with Dolphins, illustrated by Lena Shiffman, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
The Wolves Ate My Homework, illustrated by Richard Courtney, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.
If You Go to the Moon, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Elisabeth Keiffer) Wholly Cats, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1962.
The Whooping Crane: The Bird That Defies Extinction, introduction by Stewart L. Udall, Dutton (New York, NY), 1966.
Must They Die?: The Strange Case of the Prairie Dog and the Black-Footed Ferret, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971.
The Great Whales, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.
The Burning Bed, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1980.
The Wildlife Stories of Faith McNulty, illustrated by Robin Brickman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
Contributor to This Place on Third Avenue: The New York Stories of John McNulty, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2001. Contributor of numerous articles about endangered wildlife to New Yorker magazine.
The Burning Bed was adapted as a television movie by NBC-TV, 1984; The Lady and the Spider was performed on Reading Rainbow, PBS, 1987.
In dozens of books, such as Prairie Dog Summer, How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World, When I Lived with Bats, and the award-winning The Lady and the Spider, Faith McNulty introduced children and adults to a wide variety of animals while also making a strong case for preserving endangered species and conserving nature. As Carol Van Strum maintained in the Washington Post Book World, McNulty's "observations … gently remind us that for all our knowledge, technology and power, we are animals, no more or less worthy in the scheme of life than hawk or mouse. We eat, sleep, reproduce, play, work, love and die subject to the same natural laws that govern all living things, and if our ingenuity has given us dominion over other creatures, it has burdened us also with responsibility for them."
Born in New York City in 1918, McNulty developed an early love of nature, influenced by a mother who helped found a local chapter of the Animal Rescue League. Her grandparents also fostered her love of nature, and she enjoyed her visits to their family farm. Consequently, as she once explained in an essay for Junior Library Guild, "I hated the city and loved the country, where I spent my summers at my grandmother's house…. My playmates were animals."
After briefly attending Barnard College in the late 1930s, McNulty left school to work as a journalist. World War II found her in London, working for the Office of War Information. After the war she married New Yorker writer John McNulty and began working as a journalist. Writing for the New York Daily News and Life magazine, she also began contributing to the New Yorker. A full-time staff writer at that magazine from 1953 until 1994, McNulty contributed to the magazine's "Talk of the Town" column and also wrote an annual review of children's books.
In 1960 McNulty and her husband bought a farm in Rhode Island that they named Bittersweet. There her love of nature resurfaced, and she began writing books for children and adults, most of which feature nature and animals. Her adult works, such as The Whooping Crane: The Bird That Defies Extinction and Must They Die?: The Strange Case of the Prairie Dog and the Black-Footed Ferret, present the history of these animals and provides information with regard to organized efforts to help—and sometimes to hinder—these creatures' survival. This focus on conservation also makes up the majority of McNulty's books for children.
Among McNulty's fictional books is Woodchuck, in which an animal's life cycle is related through McNulty's fictional story about a female woodchuck. She wakes up from hibernation in the spring, then mates, breeds, and returns to her hole in the fall. Beryl Robinson, writing in Horn Book, maintained that in Woodchuck McNulty presents the life of this small creature "with clarity, simplicity, and effectiveness." The wildness of nature and its forces is the focus of Hurricane, another fictional tale. While helping his parents prepare their New England home for an upcoming storm, John is distracted by worries that his tree house may be destroyed. As the day progresses, John notices the many changes occurring, and his parents explain what goes into the formation of a hurricane. In the end, after the fury of the storm has passed, John's tree house, along with everything else, is still intact. "Demonstrating that nature is at once terrible and beautiful, McNulty's scientific explanations are simple and direct," concluded Daniel P. Woolsey in School Library Journal.
In addition to animals, McNulty also often included human characters in her children's books. These people often interact with animals, sometimes caring for wild creatures until they are old enough or well enough to be released back into their natural habitats. Such is the case with Mouse and Tim. Finding a baby deer mouse, which is as small as a bumblebee, Tim takes the creature home to rear until it is old enough to survive on its own. The mouse and Tim take turns narrating the story, discussing such topics as the food being fed to the mouse and their growing friendship. Mouse and Tim is "a beguiling story of a little boy and a wild mouse," observed Virginia Haviland in Horn Book.
The Lady and the Spider and A Snake in the House focus on how the actions of human characters affect the animal creatures around them. In the first book, a woman is unaware of the spider living in her garden until she picks its home—a head of lettuce—one day and brings it inside her house to eat. Discovering the spider, her first reaction is to kill it, but then she notices how perfectly the creature was made and how strong its will to survive is. A Snake in the House addresses questions regarding capturing animals and holding them captive. Having been caught by a young boy, the snake of the title spends a few dangerous days in the boy's house, searching for a way out. Eventually making it outside to freedom, the snake again finds itself at the boy's mercy, but is ultimately allowed to remain free. Karey Wehner, reviewing The Lady and the Spider for School Library Journal, wrote that "the book's message, that all life has value, is powerful, all the more so for being understated." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jenna Roberts similarly observed that in A Snake in the House "the message about enjoying nature without possessing it is worth hearing, and the little snake's trials demonstrate it ably."
Personal experiences with nature are also the subject of Orphan: The Story of a Baby Woodchuck and With Love from Koko. The first is the author's account of a baby woodchuck she found on her driveway one day. Remembering how she nursed animals as a child, McNulty took the woodchuck inside, using her bathroom as a home until the creature is ready to be released back into the wilderness. With Love from Koko introduces basic information about gorillas as it relates the events surrounding McNulty's first visit to this famous animal who learned to communicate with her trainer using hand signals. Orphan "will appeal to any children who have ever rescued, or dreamed of rescuing, a wild animal," wrote Cynthia Zarin in the New Yorker, concluding: "This graceful book, in addition to being a good story, can serve as a practical guide." Ellen Fader, in her School Library Journal review of With Love from Koko, also praised McNulty, pointing out that the author "does an exceptionally fine job of capturing the anticipation, fear, and excitement of her first visit with Koko."
Based on the author's childhood experiences, When I Lived with Bats relates the story of the summer when McNulty and her brother accidentally harmed a bat living in the house their family rented for the summer. In a Horn Book review, Betty Carter characterized the book as a "gentle memoir" that explains the impact of the children's actions in a "non-hysterical" manner. School Library Journal critic Maura Bresnahan remarked that the combination of fact and personal history makes When I Lived with Bats, "a very absorbing book for its young readers."
The world's largest mammals are the subject of several nonfiction titles by McNulty. Whales: Their Life in the Sea is focuses on the evolution of whales, and also describes various whale families, their life cycles, and their physical features. In How Whales Walked into the Sea she focuses more in depth on the evolutionary process that has resulted in the modern whale. From their beginnings as large, land-dwellers living in the time of the dinosaurs, the author follows the creatures' eventual adaptation to ocean life. An Appraisal reviewer observed that Whales is "generally interesting, straightforward, and factual." In reviewing How Whales Walked into the Sea, a Kirkus Reviews critic commended McNulty's "solid science writing" as well as her ability to tackle the complex topic of evolution, while a Publishers Weekly writer lauded her "straightforward prose."
If You Decide to Go to the Moon proved to be McNulty's last book for children. Interestingly, it also marked a change in pace for the nature writer because, instead of Earth's creatures, the book follows a boy on a trip to the uninhabited moon. With what School Library Journal contributor DeAnn Tabuchi described as "lavish" illustrations by Stephen Kellogg, the story finds a boy preparing for a space trip to the moon by thinking about how to pass the time on the long flight to the grey planet, and what it would be like to live without the pull of Earth's gravity. In Horn Book Vicky Smith wrote that "McNulty's text is a lovely union of science and lyricism," while a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the author's "wonderfully engaging" tour guide to the lunar landscape "elegantly fus[es] … the scientific realities and the dreamy wonders of space travel."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Appraisal, winter, 1976, review of Whales: Their Life in the Sea.
Booklist, November 1, 1966, p. 293; December 1, 1980, p. 499; January 1, 1987, p. 710; May 1, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of A Snake in the House, p. 1609; January 1, 1999, Kay Weisman, review of How Whales Walked into the Sea, p. 868; May 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of This Place on Third Avenue: The New York Stories of John McNulty, p. 1657.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1975, p. 151; June, 1978; September, 1983; October, 1986; February, 1994, pp. 194-195.
Five Owls, May-June, 1992, pp. 60-61.
Horn Book, April, 1975, Beryl Robinson, review of Woodchuck, p. 143; June, 1978, Virginia Haviland, review of Mouse and Tim, p. 266; June, 1980; March, 1999, Ellen Fader, review of How Whales Walked into the Sea, p. 226; July, 1999, Betty Carter, review of When I Lived with Bats, p. 485; September-October, 2005, Vicky Smith, review of If You Decide to Go to the Moon, p. 605.
Junior Library Guild, April-September, 1986.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1998, review of How Whales Walked into the Sea, pp. 1800-1801; September 1, 2005, review of If You Decide to Go to the Moon, p. 979.
Library Journal, May 1, 1971, pp. 1623-1624; November 15, 1980, p. 2424; May 1, 2001, Nathan Ward, review of This Place on Third Avenue, p. 106.
New Yorker, December 11, 1971, p. 164; November 23, 1992, Cynthia Zarin, review of Orphan: The Story of a Baby Woodchuck, p. 80.
New York Times Book Review, June 5, 1994, Jenna Roberts, review of A Snake in the House, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, June 27, 1966, p. 97; March 16, 1990, review of With Love from Koko, p. 68; December 6, 1993, review of A Snake in the House, p. 72; January 11, 1999, review of How Whales Walked into the Sea, p. 72.
School Library Journal, March, 1975, p. 88; September, 1975, p. 108; April, 1978, p. 73; September, 1983, Daniel P. Woolsey, review of Hurricane, p. 109; September, 1986, Karey Wehner, review of The Lady and the Spider, p. 124; December, 1986, p. 106; March, 1990, Ellen Fader, review of With Love from Koko, p. 210; February, 1999, Patricia Manning, review of How Whales Walked into the Sea, p. 100; August, 1999, Maura Bresnahan, review of When I Lived with Bats, p. 147; October, 2005, DeAnne Tabuchi, review of If You Decide to Go to the Moon, p. 141.
Washington Post Book World, November 2, 1986, Carol Van Strum, review of The Lady and the Spider.
Horn Book, July-August, 2005, p. 509.
Providence Phoenix Online, http://www.providencphoenix.com/ (April 22, 2005).
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