Legacy Publication's News & Events

March 26, 2009

Mr. Gator is back, and he’s headed for an ocean adventure

By Carolyn Click

Remember that Hungry Mr. Gator who went creeping around a Lowcountry lake looking for lunch?

He’s crafty, he’s cool, and let’s face it, he’s a little sensitive about friendship.

Mr. Gator enjoyed a tasty meal of little fishes in the rhyming book, “Hungry Mr. Gator,” as he observed the creatures who lived with him in a swampy lake. Then he wandered up and over a dam into a salt creek looking for friends in the second book, “Mr. Gator’s Up the Creek.”

Now he’s back, in the last of the trilogy of Mr. Gator books written by Lowcountry author Julie McLaughlin and illustrated by her artist neighbor, Anne Marie McKay — both of whom make frequent visits to Midlands area classrooms.

This time, children can look forward to Mr. Gator packing his bags and going on vacation. His friend, Big Al, has invited him to Bull Island while Al heads to Florida for a gator reunion. “A vacation,” thought Mr. Gator, growing more excited by the minute. “Why, that’s exactly what I need!” But Mr. Gator meets up with an intriguing loggerhead turtle named Lilly and ends up taking a detour to the ocean.

What follows is a series of adventures that showcase the beauty of the South Carolina coast and the flora and fauna that make up the environment.
There’s also a lesson about friendship and lots of what McLaughlin calls “amazing alligator facts.”

“I try to write books that can be read out loud with expression,” said McLaughlin. She was inspired to write her first book after observing an alligator and other animals in her backyard lake in Mount Pleasant. Now retired from teaching, McLaughlin wrote “Hungry Mr. Gator” for her first-and second-grade students, trying to teach them about writing from their experiences. She enlisted McKay to paint evocative watercolor illustrations, knowing she was seeing the same scenes out of her windows in Mount Pleasant.

As McLaughlin and McKay share the funny stories of Mr. Gator with children around South Carolina, McLaughlin also relates the back story of how the books came to be published. That tale includes lessons on perseverance and believing in your dreams. “We had a dream for ‘Hungry Mr. Gator’ to be published as a hardback,” McLaughlin, who appeared at the S.C. Book Festival, said recently. But after a number of rejections, the pair published an initial run of 500 softcover books themselves in 2005. Finally, they got a break with Legacy Publications in Greensboro, N.C. Legacy agreed to publish it, and a year later, brought out the hardcover of “Hungry Mr. Gator,” complete with a new cover by McKay.

The energy they bring to school presentations is contagious, said Forest Lake Elementary school media specialist Elizabeth “Lizzie” Padget. McLaughlin and McKay have come several times to the Richland 2 school as part of book celebrations.

“What is so good is that they play off of each other,” she said. “One talks about how she begins the writing process, how she went from galley copy to the real thing,” while the other relates how the watercolors were created.

They also show a video in which author McLaughlin walks around her community’s lake and comes upon McKay painting. “The kids really love it,” Padget said. “Of course, having met them, the books fly off the shelves.”

Learn about Mr. Gator
Mount Pleasant author Julie McLaughlin and illustrator Ann Marie McKay are frequent visitors to schools throughout the state, including the Midlands. To schedule a presentation on the Mr. Gator trilogy, call (843) 884-5001 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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