We’re overjoyed to welcome way cool, award-winning author Megan McDonald to The Children’s Book Review today. Much like her most famous character, McDonald has enjoyed a good luck streak of her own with her bestselling Judy Moody and Stink series. Don’t be fooled though, she’s worked hard to become such a talented writer. In her latest in the series, Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm, her lucky penny takes Judy on some unexpected adventures. McDonald is also the author of three Sisters Club stories, Ant and Honey Bee: A Pair of Friends at Halloween, and many other books for children. It’s a special treat to learn more about McDonald’s writing background and inspiration and a few of her favorite books from childhood.
Nicki Richesin: You’ve written over seventy books, beginning with picture books and then historical fiction and even a mystery set in Jamestown. How did you first create the memorable characters of Judy Moody and her pesky little brother Stink? Did you base them on people you’ve known in your own life?
Megan McDonald: I set out to dream up a character with a range of moods both good and bad; that’s how I first created Judy Moody. I’m a moody person myself, so Judy and I are a lot alike—we both love the color purple, have messy hair, and we are fellow collectors of all sorts of stuff from sock monkeys and mood rings to erasers and pressed pennies. She’s also a bossy big sister, and I have four of those!
Stink is the youngest in his family, so I relate closely to his struggles (in his case, being short, and often considered a pest). I love writing the Stink books because he gets his chance to find his voice in an outspoken family.
NR: I read that you grew up with a big chatty family and thus began stuttering when you couldn’t break into the conversation. Your mother gave you a notebook to get your thoughts down on paper. That’s a very empowering gift for a little girl. Did you dream of one day becoming an author then? Have you been surprised by the devoted following the Judy Moody and Stink books series have garnered?
MM: Before I was a writer, I was a reader. I grew up with four older sisters, so I had trouble getting a word in edgewise. That’s when I started to stutter and my mom brought home Harriet the Spy, along with a little spiral notebook where I could write down thoughts that I had trouble expressing.
I’m not sure I understood as a child that one could grow up to be a writer/author, but I did love to write from the time I was in fifth grade. Meeting Katherine Paterson at an early age was transformative for me. She made the idea of being a writer seem real and possible.
Judy Moody and Stink have taken a remarkable path. Kids themselves discovered the books early on and word spread like wildfire. I’m thrilled when any young reader finds connection with a good book; I’m particularly honored when one of my books really speaks to a reader.
NR: Could you please tell our readers about the inspiration behind Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm?
MM: My nieces Jordan and Chloe inspired the idea. We were having breakfast at a diner and they asked if they could have a quarter to play the Prize Claw machine in the lobby. I handed over the quarters but warned them that those machines (where you try to grab a stuffed animal with a metal claw) are impossible to win.
Before I knew it, they had won three times in a row (!) and we took home a purple hippo, a red lion and a yellow giraffe. Instantly, I came up with the idea that Judy Moody could have a run of luck. She could experience her own good luck streak! So I gave her a lucky penny. She starts out on an unstoppable streak of luck, until… the lucky penny falls in the toilet, and her luck changes.
NR: What were your favorite coming-of-age novels when you were growing up?
MM: Little Women, of course. My character, Joey, in the Sisters Club books, is obsessed with Little Women, as I was at her age. Also Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Stuart Little, The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, The Borrowers. Let’s not forget Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. And then there was my Harriet-the-Spy phase.
NR: Many of your readers may not realize that you are a former librarian, just like authors Beverly Cleary and Madeleine L’Engle. I’m told you wrote stories for children in your spare time. What did you learn about children’s literature from working in a library setting?
MM: The most exciting part of being a librarian for me was making a connection between a child and a good book. Finding that one book for an individual child that may make a difference, and create a new reader, possibly a lifelong reader.
NR: Who were your heroes/heroines when you were a kid?
MM: Virginia Dare, Pocahontas, Amelia Earhart, and my teenage sisters.
NR: What’s the best question one of your young readers has posed to you?
MM: Recently I was video chatting with a class of third grade Judy Moody fans in Karachi, Pakistan. They wanted to know: “Are you moody like Judy?” “Can you write a book when you’re in a bad mood?” “Why are you so crazy for animals?” and “Can you make Judy Moody a rock musician?”
NR: Do you have a dream book you’re longing to write?
MM: Yes. It’s been in my imagination for almost 20 years. It’s a bit Liar-and Spy-ish. I have early drafts of the novel from many years ago, but I decided I had to grow as a writer first, to be able to accomplish what I want to do. Lately it’s been on my mind again…
NR: If you could be reincarnated as a literary character, who would it be and why?
MM: The Great Gilly Hopkins. She’s got grit, determination, and a big heart.
NR: You reside in Sebastopol, California- a vibrant community well-known for its free-spirited hippie ideals. How has living in such an environment influenced your writing, if at all?
MM: Sebastopol is a nourishing place to live. There’s so much beauty, it still takes my breath away after 20 years. I feel at home in such a peace-minded, progressive community. I love that it’s a place full of working writers and artists (and great coffee)—creatively inspiring!
Add this book to your collection: Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm
Nicki Richesin is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco. She writes personal essays and pieces on lifestyle, parenting, and pop culture for Sunset, DuJour, Daily Candy, The Huffington Post and 7×7. She is also the author/editor of The May Queen, Because I Love Her, What I Would Tell Her, and Crush. Please visit her online at https://nickirichesin.com/