Author Daryl McCullough and the Wisdom of Chubby the Bear

Acclaimed children’s author Daryl McCullough returns with his new children’s book Chubby the Bear’s Big Choice.

Profound life lessons can be imparted through the use of a story or parable, a notion that Daryl McCullough is very familiar with. As a public relations professional and author you can correctly assume that conveying dense concepts with profound and succinct methodology is something Daryl excels at. However, the grace and poise in which he delivers these messages is not something you can learn, it’s a gift. As a man who loves creative expression, he first used his talents in the children’s book The Story of Tree and Cloud which shares the story of an ages-old oak tree named Folie who learns to cope with loss and grief by coming to understand the cycle of life and the fact that nothing ever dies, but merely changes shape.

The book went on to inspire not only children but many adults who found comfort in the underlying message of Folie’s tale. Now Daryl is back with his second book Chubby the Bear’s Big Choice which explores the very topical issue of bullying and how words and actions can impact our self-esteem. It also addresses the choice bullied people must consistently make, namely, whether or not to strike back at their tormentors or to take the high road.

Being made fun of because of our weight is something gay bears deal with constantly in a society that routinely rejects bigger bodies, so that alone made us want to bring this beautiful story to your attention. Combine that with the fact thar Daryl is proud, out gay bear himself and it just makes the story all the more richer and resonate that much stronger for members of our community. Check out our conversation with Daryl below.

Author Daryl McCullough

John Hernandez: Hi Daryl, thanks for joining me I absolutely love both Chubby the Bear’s Big Choice and The Story of Tree and Cloud. In Chubby the Bear’s Big Choice, Chubby learns through his friends that his unique abilities make him special and that those are the attributes he should focus on instead of his body size and weight. He then uses those gifts to showcase his strength to his bullies and befriend them instead of seeking revenge against them. This is an amazing piece of wisdom to pass down to children and something I wish I had learned much sooner. My question is, when did you learn this lesson, and how have you applied it in your own life?

Daryl McCullough: First, thank you for recognizing this book and its powerful messages. I’m honored you took the time to be thoughtful about the story.

Interestingly, the “we all have our strengths, dear” was an actual quote from my Grandmother, Nora McCullough, who lived in an apartment connected with our family home. She was a wise, pioneering farm woman who lived through the Great Depression, raising ten children alone after my grandfather died prematurely.

Regarding the life lesson, I was the baby and 5th child of a bright and talented family. Going through school, teachers inevitably compared me to each of my siblings, which was good and bad. I think it helped me pursue various paths in music, theater, sports, and academics, becoming a “jack of all trades and master of none,” which is something I am pretty proud of. For example, my two brothers were all-star baseball, basketball, and football athletes. Consequently, I pursued volleyball, developing a passion and excelling at it.

Volleyball was a kinder, gentler sport for a young, gay boy in Pennsylvania. Alongside my best friends, we created the school’s boys’ volleyball team, which later became a varsity sport and continues to thrive at the school today. I had found my strength and my lane to excel. I would go on to play and coach volleyball throughout my college career, and the sport – as well as the gay volleyball league NAGVA – were central to me coming out and meeting my friends in Los Angeles when I moved here who remain my closest friends.

Illustration by Maryanne Smith

John: The wisdom imparted in this story could have been delivered in various ways. Is there any particular reason it’s told in the way it is as a children’s storybook? Why the use of bears? And any special reason that Chubby likes to swing in the tree?

Daryl: I had previously written an award-winning children’s book called The Story of Tree and Cloud, a fable set in nature about the cycle of life, friendship, death, and grief. The idea for that book was born 40+ years ago when I did a children’s book project for 9th-grade English. I had just lost my cousin to suicide, so I wrote a parable about understanding death, probably as a way to help myself heal. My mom had saved that class assignment for me and left it in my childhood desk drawer for me to find after she lost her long battle with cancer. That gesture moved me so much that I knew I needed to write and publish that story for others in Mother’s honor. Mother’s sister-in-law (Maryanne Smith) helped illustrate the book for me, and it came out beautifully – a tender book that continues to touch people of all ages, not just children.

So, the insight from the first book was that children’s literature, if done differently, could be a tool to reach wider audiences than young children. I mean, who doesn’t love a beautifully illustrated picture book?

The inspiration for a bear on a swing came from one of the first gifts I gave to my now husband, George Griffin. It was our first Christmas, and I gave him this lawn sculpture of a bear on a swing with a raccoon at his feet. It hangs from the branch of a tree in our front yard to this day. Children in the neighborhood and from the elementary school down the street would often stop, push the swing, and even talk with the bear. My home office faces the front yard, and I’d hear these tender discussions. Two young neighborhood children – with the help of their nanny – started leaving the bear letters and drawings; I put out a small toy mailbox, and over time, several dozen more letters appeared for the bear, left by even more children. The bear (me, of course) wrote back to each one in the bear’s voice. That bear on an actual swing was all the spark I needed for my second book.

Now, as a self-described bear in the gay community, it only made sense that it would be somewhat autobiographical. I had always wrestled with my weight and body-image issues and self-acceptance, and the narrative just flowed out of me. It became a story about standing up to bullies, body positivity, and embracing one’s strengths and self-confidence.

Daryl McCullough with the original Chubby the Bear

John: Chubby mentions in the story that he can’t wrap his head around why the other bears are making fun of him because bears are ‘supposed to be fat’. As a gay bear, that really hit home for me. Was the allegorical nature of that statement intentional, and if so, what has your experience with sizeism been in the bear community?

Daryl: The body-positivity and size-inclusivity trends have come along more recently and blessedly. On top of my genuine childhood weight and body traumas, I also remember feeling body weight and body-type exclusivity and shame from parts of the bear community. Many years ago, I had a handsome partner who was a very hairy bear; he embodied the iconic look of the bear and muscle-bear communities, and they embraced him. And yet, because I was bigger, heavier, and not as hairy, I was made to feel less than. It was also probably partly my insecurity, but I have bonded with other heavy-set men who remember a sub-group of bears who considered themselves “muscle bears” and excluded chubby bears and non-hairy heavy men from their community. I even remember my profile for a Big Muscle Bear website was rejected (or simply left unactivated by the site owner).

That type of exclusion is sad and ironic, given that the bear community rose as a group of men who felt unwelcomed – rejected even —  by the mainstream gay community. The gay-male-standard body type that was promoted historically by gay media and the gay community has been trim, fit, and buff. I hope the Bear Community has evolved since those early days.

John: I think it has, but change is slow. There’s still room for improvement for sure. Chubby has some amazingly supportive friends. Do you have your own Roly-Poly and Bucky in your life? Can you share a bit about who they are and how they’ve helped you?

Daryl: Yes, even though my brothers sometimes picked on me, my older sisters, Pam and Deb, were always my champions in childhood and throughout my life. Later, when I came out in my late 20s, my whole family embraced me unconditionally. Today, George and I are blessed to have the loving support of our families in our married life. We do not take that for granted. We are all too keenly aware that too many people coming out do not enjoy that same unconditional love and support.

John: Your aunt, Maryanne Smith, is the illustrator for both your books. How do you two collaborate?

Daryl: My aunt has been a painter and artist all her life and always inspires me. George and I have our home covered in her paintings, and George has multiple tattoos she created and inspired. Maryanne enjoyed a stellar career as a painter and a designer of high-end wallpapers for a leading wallpaper company. As an art director, she leveraged her skills and commercial and marketing instincts to create and curate popular and trending designs. Maryanne’s experience as a successful painter and a businessperson helped her be an excellent collaborator. Her work often inspires new parts of stories, and she is prolific in generating oil paintings that illustrate the text. Most of the book reviews highlight her gorgeous and evocative illustrations.

Daryl’s first book The Story of Tree and Cloud

John: She is indeed very talented. What is next for you? Will there be more books?

Daryl: There are many more stories in me and Maryanne and I have started discussing turning Chubby the Bear into a series of books. We have even begun creative work on Chubby’s next big thing, which I plan to keep under wraps for now. I have also been working with a highly seasoned screenwriting partner on a few filmed entertainment ideas that we’re very excited about. Making a film or television series today is much more complicated than publishing a book, but we’re doing our best to get these ideas into the world.

John: That sounds really exciting! Anything else you’d like to mention?

Daryl: Getting a book launched into the world is not an easy thing, and I am grateful for all the support from the LGBTQ community, including the Bears, Jocks, Otters, Lesbians, Wolves, Silver Foxes, Queers, Chubs, Chasers, etc. Like in the book, we must proudly own our names and remember that words do not define us. We are an incredibly diverse and inclusive community, and I adore that.

My husband, George Griffin (@GeorgeGriff1n), is a social media strategist and a bit of a bear celebrity (Bearlebrity, lol) himself. Having him help me get the word out about my books has been so helpful – I completely love and adore him and all his talents.

We would love for your readers to support this little book. Besides buying a copy of Chubby the Bear, my publisher tells me I need many online reviews left on the websites mentioned above. Also, we are grateful – and not above begging – for anyone who wants to post or share about the book on their social media feeds and walls. Tell your friends that you have bought and love the book. Those word-of-mouth recommendations are the most powerful thing in marketing these days.

Lastly, we love and are thankful for all the fans of Chubby! Stay “up, up in the air,” and always remember that what makes us different is what makes us unique.

John: Beautiful. Thanks Daryl. Can’t wait to see what adventures await Chubby!

Get your copy of Chubby the Bear’s Big Choice at the following locations:

Archway Publishing I Amazon I Barnes & Noble I AbeBooks

And be sure to follow Daryl McCullough on social media:

Instagram I Threads I Twitter

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.