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Megan McDonald is the author of the critically acclaimed Judy Moody series that has won numerous awards, including Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year and the International Reading Association Children's Choice Award. Pretending to be a pencil sharpener was her first experience as a writer, and she wrote the story for her school newspaper when she was 10. Her newest books are "The Rule of Three" (2009), which is a Sisters Club story about the Acton family's three sisters, and "Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt." McDonald lives in California.

Previous National Book Festival Appearances

The Scoop

From the 2009 National Book Festival

Your newest book – The Rule of Three – is part of the Sisters Club series. Can you tell us about how you got your inspiration for this series? And about this new book in particular?

Many of my readers know that I love to tell stories about growing up with FOUR older sisters. Since Judy Moody’s sibling is a younger brother, I’ve been hoping for a long time to write about a family of sisters—the roller-coaster ups and downs of “best friends” living under the same roof. The Sisters Club books dive into the often hilarious, universal dynamics among sisters. Many can relate, and readers who don’t have a sister themselves are often curious about those relationships.

In the new book, middle sister Stevie tries out for the coveted role in a school play that her older sister Alex desperately wants, as younger sister Joey looks on, getting caught between them. All sorts of trouble ensue, including my favorite scene— a must-read, best-ever hair disaster story. If you grow up with sisters, hair disasters are a big part of your world, and I’ve been dying to tell my sisters’ ironing-the-hair story for years! At last, readers will laugh along with Alex, Stevie and Joey in what’s got to be the all-time, world’s worst Bad Hair Day.

Can you tell us about any new books or series that you will be working on during the coming year?

I’ve just put the finishing touches on the wacky SIXTH adventure in my series about Judy Moody’s little brother, Stink. Currently, I’m working on the third novel that completes the Sisters Club trilogy, called Cloudy With a Chance of Boys.

For all your Judy Moody and Stink fans out there, can you tell us about their latest adventure?

Judy and Stink star together in the full-color Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt. It has pirates aplenty, and an island treasure hunt, and kids can try to solve riddles along with Judy and Stink as they race Tall Boy and Smart Girl to win pirate gold!

Do you have a website where young people can learn more about your work?

Sure! Go to meganmcdonald.net. Check back this fall for an updated, all-new website. For Judy Moody and Stink fans, check out judymoody.com and stinkmoody.com.

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From the 2007 National Book Festival

How did you begin to write the Judy Moody series? What sparked your imagination for Judy Moody and your other characters?

I grew up with four older sisters and countless stories to go with it! These real-life anecdotes formed the original idea for stories told from the perspective of a "big sister." But I needed somebody for Judy, the older sister, to play jokes on and boss around. So I invented a pesty, annoying younger brother for her (to make it different from my own life) and named him Stink.

Moods were also a big part of inventing the character of Judy Moody. To begin with, that's how I came up with her name. I thought it might be more interesting to write about a girl in all her moods – bad, mad, sad, etc. This made Judy Moody real for me.

What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?

The first challenge was to find an individual voice for the Judy Moody books. Now the challenge is, when I'm writing other books, to find a way to tell a story that doesn't sound like Judy Moody in voice and style.

In writing a series, it's always a challenge to make each book as good as or better than the next for my readers. I try to do this by attempting something different with each book, and by choosing ideas to write about that inspire me with lots of potential for humor and exaggeration. As long as I'm having fun, my hope is that it comes through in the writing.

My editor told me recently that Judy Moody #8 (not yet published) is the funniest book yet in the series. Music to my ears!

What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing? Do you know a fun writing topic to get them started?

My best advice is simple – read, read, READ! A love of reading can turn anyone into a writer. Some of my favorite topics to write about are:

  • Bad moods
  • Bugs
  • Mysteries
  • Sisters
  • Secrets
  • Sock monkeys
  • Penguins
  • People with wacky names
  • Getting in trouble
  • Famous girls in history
  • Banana slugs (kidding!)

What is your list of favorite children or teen books?

  • The Higher Power of Lucky
  • The Higher Power of Lucky
  • The Higher Power of Lucky
  • The Higher Power of Lucky
  • The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Okay, seriously. Only five, huh? Well, then:

  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • One-Eyed Fox by Paula Fox
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  • Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

You've mentioned that pretending to be a pencil sharpener was your first writing task. Can you explain how you made that topic into an inspiring story?

The wonderful thing about being a writer is that I can pretend to be anything. I've been a hermit crab, a library puppet, an indentured servant, even a girl who eats bugs. Anything can be an idea for a story, even a pencil sharpener. It's a little more challenging since it's inanimate. But it's fun to try to personify something like a pencil sharpener. Ask yourself questions: What's it like to eat pencil shavings all day? What happens when somebody who's in a bad mood comes to sharpen their pencil?

It helps to use imagination. Try to really get inside the person (or thing!) you're writing about. Think like them. Imagine it. Feel it. Be it.

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The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt

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Judy Moody Goes to College

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The Sisters Club - Rule of Three

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