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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with David McMullin and Review of Free to be Fabulous

David McMullin is currently a full-time traveler and picture book writer.

Author photo of David McMullin

This comes after ten years as an actor, ten years as an educator, and most recently, as a youth specialist with the Henderson (Nevada) Public Libraries. 

Collage of anthologies and magazine covers where David McMullin has poems published.

His poem I Smile With My Eyes is published in Hop To It: Poems to Get You Moving, by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, illustrated by Franzi Paetzod (2020), his poems Hiccups and Soft are published in BABYBUG Magazine and he is included in two editions of the poetry anthology The Best of Today's Little Ditty (alongside such wonderful writers as Jane Yolen). David is an honorable mention winner of the Ann Whitford Paul Award, an Astra International Picture book Competition award winner, and the 2021 Madness Poetry Competition.

His debut picture book, Free to be Fabulous, was released yesterday.


Welcome David, thank you for coming to talk about your debut book!


Thank you for having me here today.


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write and/or illustrate? How long have you been writing and/or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write and/or illustrate ?)


I have been seriously pursuing writing and publishing for about ten years now. Years ago, I was a stage actor on Broadway. After I left New York to pursue work in education, I continued to feel the need to be creative. Coming from an arts field that required story telling skills, writing felt like a natural transition. I enjoy writing humor, quirky situations, odd characters, and I often write in rhyme. The funny thing is that my debut is none of those things. It’s more of an issue/SEL story. Sometimes we have to let the writing guide our direction. Currently, my husband and I are traveling full time. We write about travel and create videos for a YouTube channel.


That sounds like so much fun! I have really enjoyed the pictures you've been posting! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Collage of the book covers of David's favorite children's books.

I was not much of a reader as a child. Learning challenges made it difficult, so I generally avoided it. But I will say that The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl both captured my imagination.


What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Free to be Fabulous?  

Book cover - a young boy enjoying dancing in his room.

I was originally inspired by the concepts of viral videos and internet bullying. Those elements slowly disappeared through the revision process. The story became much more focused using my own personal connection.

Interesting. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Free to be Fabulous?


Six years. Because it wasn’t my usual type of story, I had put it on the back burner for a while. When I had first submitted to my agent, she requested additional stories from me, so I used this one to show some variety. This ended up being one of the first stories we queried to editors.


Weird how it happens that way. What was the toughest aspect of writing Free to be Fabulous? And what was the most fun part of creating this book?


The fun part was creating a huge world with pop stars and talk shows and reporters. The hard part was realizing that all of that had to go. I discovered that an intimate story would be more relatable and effective.

Wonder if some of that creative work contributed a little to Fabulina? When you first saw Robbie Cathro’s illustrations, did anything amaze or surprise you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - on left, a young boy's surrounding and cheering for him. On the right, the friends are dancing with the boy.

Text © David McMullin, 2024. Image © Robbie Cathro, 2024.

Robbie’s retro style was not what I had envisioned for this modern story, but I was so taken by his work that I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with it. I was thrilled when I saw the first sketches, they were everything I could have hoped for. I particularly love the magic and beauty of the final spread, but I’m also so taken by the loving detail that Robbie put into each and every one of Daniel’s fellow students.


I just couldn't show the final spread. You'll have to read the book to see how amazing it is. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written (or are writing) and/or illustrated a manuscript?


Several years ago, I challenged myself to write 52 first drafts in 52 weeks. During the course of that year, I created books while sitting next to Cambodian temples, exploring the canals of Venice, and while pet-sitting ten cats in Mexico. All of those elements went into different books. My travels have informed much of my writing.


Wow, that sounds like an amazing year! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Free to be Fabulous?


I was fortunate that although I was the “artistic” kid in a rural community, I never had anything but support along my journey to figuring out who I was. Not all kids are as fortunate. Keep a watchful eye out for those kids who might be struggling and let them know that they are fabulous!


I hope this helps many artistic kids. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I have an unannounced rhyming board book coming out in 2025.


Enticing. We'll have to keep our eyes open for it. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park (anywhere in the world)? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. © 2019-2024 Global Alliance of National Parks

© 2019-2024 Global Alliance of National Parks

As a nature enthusiast and birder, I am never happier than when exploring a city’s botanical gardens. Singapore, Sydney, and Cape Town all have some of the most beautiful and historic ones I’ve ever visited. My dream park right now is Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. It’s a rugged, and isolated location, which is a welcome contrast in a very crowded world.


It's so funny you chose this park. I just featured it in my last interview, and I'd never known about it before. Thank you, David for sharing about yourself and your debut picture book with us.

For more information about David McMullin, or to contact him:

Review of Free to be Fabulous

This inventive and touching picture book encourages readers to reject external and internal criticism and celebrate the things they love to do, the things that make them fabulous.

Book cover - a young boy enjoying dancing in his room.

Free to be Fabulous

Author: David McMullin

Illustrator: Robbie Cathro

Publisher: Clarion Books

Ages: 4-8



Self-expression, artistic interests, differences, and friendship.


An exuberant and affirming picture book about self-expression, allyship, and celebrating differences.

Daniel is obsessed with his favorite pop star Fabulina and can’t wait to show off his signature shimmy-kick to her biggest hit “Strong, Brave, Free” at the school talent show. After winning the talent show, Daniel feels euphoric. But Daniel soon realizes that not everyone loves his shimmy-kick. The Mean notices with persistent jokes, whispering, and harmful words. Daniel begins to feel small, never wanting to shimmy-kick again. He hides. But with the help of his friends and his fans, Daniel emerges—all eyes on him—dancing in the face of the Mean, in solidarity with his classmates. Strong. Brave. Free.

Opening Lines:

Daniel flipped for everything Fabulina.

In his room, they danced to his biggest hit,


With Fabulina, he could do anything.

What I LOVED about this book:

Following a fun, pink, purple, and gold hued retro illustration of Daniel dancing to swooping music, Robbie Cathro's sudden shift to a purple and blue three panel spread, is eye catching and draws the readers focus to Daniel's artistry and love of dancing. Showing his embodiment of the title of his favorite song - "Strong Brave Free." It is really powerful.

Internal spread - three panels showing a boy dancing and leaping to his favorite music just like his hero pop star..

Text © David McMullin, 2024. Image © Robbie Cathro, 2024.

When his school held a talent show, Daniel signed up to dance. I love the way Robbie Cathro depicted Daniel's classmates and teachers. It almost reminds me of the Jetsons (uh oh, am I dating myself?). And the purple silhouette of Fabulina behind Daniel as he "rehearsed. Designed. And prepared." is so creative.

Internal spread - on the left, the boy debates with himself and finally signs up for the talen show, On the right, he rehearses and designs costumes.

Text © David McMullin, 2024. Image © Robbie Cathro, 2024.

Daniel wins the show. But as he leaves the auditorium, his confidence and pride fall victim to "THE MEAN." Wow. I admire David McMullin and Robbie Cathro's condensing and personification of bullies and negativity into a multi-faced snarling and glaring red cloud with “mean looks. Mean words. Mean jokes. Mean names.” This makes it so much more oppressive and poignant that if they had attributed this to a couple of individuals.

Internal spread - on left, boy leaves auditorium excited by his win. On right, a big red cloud shape of snarling, nasty faces - THE MEAN - surrounds and bullies the boy.

Text © David McMullin, 2024. Image © Robbie Cathro, 2024.

When his teacher finds him cowering under a table, he encourages Daniel to look out the window - where classmates, teachers, and the principal were dancing. Evading THE MEAN, he quietly sneaks outside to a fabulous surprise and another amazing purple and blue spread. In an encouraging tale of overcoming negativity with support of friends and adult allies, David McMullin wraps back to the beginning with Daniel personifying his favorite Fabulina song. It's an empowering book encouraging acceptance of ourselves and others and remaining true to one's self and backing up one's friends.


  • is there an activity or sport that you really enjoy doing? How about something new you've always wanted to try?

  • how can you resist, or help others resist, THE MEAN?

  • pair this with The Invisible Boy by Tracy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton and Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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