As Group Creative Director with an advertising agency, Katie McElligott has always enjoyed bringing ideas to life through words and pictures. Now she is doing that in her new career as an author. McElligott’s debut picture book, Nothing Is Scary With Harry (Cottage Door Press, January 2019), tells a story about a girl, her blankie and the value of comfort. Growing Minds talked with McElligott about her latest endeavor.

Growing Minds: Why write this book?

Katie McElligott: With a super busy career and two young children, I wasn’t actively pursuing the idea of writing books. However after my daughter adopted my childhood blanket (Harry), and carried him around with her everywhere, I was touched. I couldn’t stop thinking about how grateful I was that my parents hadn’t taken away my blanket: not only had it brought me comfort throughout my entire life, but I now had the world’s most unique heirloom to pass on to my daughter. We’re all under so much pressure today, both parents and kids, to do everything perfectly and on schedule, including the giving up of lovies, stuffies, blankies. I wanted people to feel that everything will be okay if they hold onto these things.

GM: Tell us about “comfort.”

KE: As a toddler and young child, Harry went absolutely everywhere with me. As I grew, he made rarer appearances but was that sense of calm, comfort and strength during crucial moments, like scary thunderstorms, sleep away camp, or the death of my grandparents.

In college, I backpacked through
Europe, and Harry was one of the few
items I schlepped around with me in
that pack. When I was 19, I unexpectedly
fell seriously ill, which landed me in the hospital for months. I can’t imagine getting through those terrifying nights, when visiting hours were over, without Harry.

When my daughter was six months old, we were having a hard time transitioning her into her crib and getting her to sleep through the night. One afternoon she took an impromptu nap on my bed, snuggled up to Harry. That evening, I gave her Harry and she immediately slept through the night, in her crib — not waking up once. She nev- er gave him back. I was amazed; not only by what a good night’s sleep can do for a mama, but also by the immediate comfort my blankie was able to give to her. I kept thinking about all the books out there focused on helping kids “give up” or “grow out of” objects such as teddy bears or blankets. I realized nobody was telling kids or parents that it was okay to hold onto important items that helped them feel brave and strong.

GM: Where did Harry get his name?

KM: I’ve been calling him Harold and/or Harry for as long as I can remember. I always assumed it came from the book Harold and the Purple Crayonbecause it was one of my childhood favorites. But just the other day, my dad told me that it had a different origin. When I was a toddler, Harold Washington was running for mayor of Chicago. It was a big, big deal. Throughout the city, billboards, signs and pins on lapels all shouted the same thing: “We want Harold! We want Harold.” So while the city was inspired to elect their first African American mayor, I apparently was inspired to name my blanket.

Interview appeared in Growing Minds| November/December 2018                                      Interviewed by Kerry Singe Photo credit: © Hilda Burke