'Judy Moody' author comes home to film webcasts
Megan McDonald originally thought her Judy Moody series would closely mirror her childhood. The character would be a youngest child, just like her, and experience the same trials and traumas.
But McDonald, who grew up with four older sisters in the North Hills and now lives in California, had a fortuitous change of heart.
“I thought, wait a minute, wouldn't it be more fun to be the bossy older sister for once,” says McDonald, who will film webcasts on May 3 at Cornell Elementary School in Coraopolis, and on May 4 at Northland Public Library in McCandless.
McDonald's books featuring Judy Moody and her younger brother, Stink, are among the most popular in children's literature. Judy is a precocious third-grader interested in history, science and math. Stink is the younger brother who serves as “a pest.” McDonald's portrayals are so real that young readers often ask to meet Judy and Stink.
“That has been amazing to me and it's the highest compliment,” McDonald says. “They think that Judy and Stink are so real and are just like them: they have good moods and bad moods, and ups and downs, and triumphs and heartaches, too.”
McDonald taps into her childhood to flesh out her stories. As her older sisters dominated the household, she wanted to tell stories of her own. But first she was an avid reader, growing up in a house “stuffed with books — the shelves were overflowing,” she says.
Her father especially set a good example. An ironworker who worked on many of the bridges in Pittsburgh, he only had an eighth-grade education but insisted on the importance of reading.
“Education became so important to him for his kids,” McDonald says, “so we just grew up with that. He was such a storyteller, and he'd read a book and have an almost photographic memory and tell us about. He'd tell us so much that when I went to read (a book) I already knew so much about it.”
McDonald's love of reading helped spur a similar appreciation of libraries. When the bookmobile visited her neighborhood, she and her sisters “would leave with armloads of books.” When he had time, her father took the family to the main branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland. At 14, she volunteered at the Northlands Public Library in McCandless, stocking shelves. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Oberlin College, McDonald studied for her master's of library science at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Libraries,” she says, “cemented my love of all things books.”
Libraries also taught McDonald another lesson: how to research a book. Before she starts to write, McDonald can spend months learning about a subject she can apply to a story. In “Solar System Superhero,” she studied the planets for a story about Stink trying to restore Pluto's honor when he learns the planet “flunked out of the Milky Way for being too shrimpy.” Humor is essential when it comes to building a bridge to young readers.
“I'm always aware that I don't want the facts to take over and that there's a lot of opportunity to find humor,” she says. “There's a new Stink book coming out next year, ‘Stink and Hamlet and Cheese.' Stink goes to a Shakespeare class but he's only in the second grade, so it was a real challenge to try to distill Shakespeare down to a second grade level. … I'm using some of Shakespeare's stories and quotes and kids will be learning, but there's also a funny device that carries through the story and adds suspense, humor and the good elements of a story.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.