Judy Moody and Stink Author Megan McDonald: An Interview

Becoming a Writer, the Judy Moody Books, the Illustrator and More

Photo of Megan McDonald, author of the Judy Moody series and the Stink series of kids' books
Megan McDonald, author of the Judy Moody series. Michele McDonald

Introduction: An Interview with the Author of the Judy Moody and Stink Books

On the 10th anniversary of the publication of Judy Moody, the first book in the Judy Moody series, I interviewed author Megan McDonald. As you'll see, the interview covers her background, her books and her writing life. While I knew the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald was very popular with 6-10 year olds, I had no idea how popular the Judy Moody series and the Stink series about Judy Moody's brother were until I first contacted the publisher Candlewick Press.

I was amazed to learn from the publisher that as of 2010, there were more than 13 million Judy Moody books in print and almost 3 million Stink books in print. When I recently asked for an update, I found out that as of 2015, there were more than 23 million copies of Judy Moody books in print and more than 7 million Stink books in print.

I had lots of questions for Megan McDonald about her work as a published author of such popular children's books. I appreciated having the opportunity to interview Megan McDonald and find out the anwers.

Q. Before you became an author of children’s books, did you do other work or has writing always been your profession?
A. I’ve had lots of other jobs over the years, from chambermaid and cook to park ranger and museum tour guide to bookseller and children’s librarian. Happily, many of my jobs have been book-related, but I think all of my varied work experience makes me a better writer.

Q. When did you start writing seriously?
A. I dreamed of being a writer since I was a kid. But after grad school, I was working as a children’s librarian when I went to a writer’s conference at the public library, and it inspired me to go back to writing and dedicate myself to trying to get a children’s book published.

Q. Was Judy Moody your first book? How long did it take you to write it?
A. I was writing for ten years before I dreamed up Judy Moody. I had written several picture books, an easy-to-read series, a mystery, a YA novel, and historical fiction. But I had never tried a short novel. I started Judy Moody by writing down dozens of funny stories about growing up with four older sisters. It was my wonderful editor, Mary Lee Donovan, who thought of weaving the stories into a short novel. I went through so many drafts and rewrites on that first book, it probably took almost two years to complete Judy Moody in its current form.

Q. How did you go about finding a publisher for Judy Moody?
A. Call it serendipity. Or fate. I had been working with editor Richard Jackson at Orchard for years, but he wasn’t able to take everything I was writing. So I was contemplating where I might send my work when, while speaking at a local writer’s conference, I met Mary Lee Donovan and felt an immediate connection. I admired the books Candlewick Press was publishing, so I asked her if I might show her something, and it happened that my next manuscript was Judy Moody.

Q. Peter H. Reynolds is the illustrator of the Judy Moody series.

I understand most authors neither select nor work with the illustrator. If that was the case for your series, how did you feel when you first saw his illustration of Judy Moody?
A. Thrilled! As in goosebumps! I knew immediately that Peter had captured something special in his sketches of Judy.

You’re right—it surprises most people to learn that the author rarely works directly with the illustrator. Our collaboration is through our editor. Mary Lee was kind enough to show me a few initial sketches for Judy Moody. In the first one, Judy was too short. Then a bit too sad. Then TOO moody!

But I owe a debt of gratitude to Peter Reynolds and to Ann Stott, the designer, for the genius behind the Judy Moody look. After the first book came out and I met the illustrator, he told me that he must have scribbled and sketched Judy 200 times, just playing with her hair, her expressions, her moods, before he hit on the right one!

Q. Do you start out by creating an outline before writing each of your books?
A. Ah, the dreaded “O” word. Outline. In elementary school, I was the kid who wrote the report or paper first and then wrote the outline at the end after the paper was finished. But now I actually do plot the book out chapter by chapter. It’s looser than an official outline, but it is a guide that helps to structure where the story is going and how I’m going to reach a satisfying ending.

For more about Megan McDonald's daily life as a writer, the Stink series, her favorite children's books and characters when she was a child, and she hears from her young fans about the Judy Moody series and the Stink series, and more, go to the next page of my interview with Megan McDonald.

Megan McDonald Interview: Part II

Q. What is your daily life like when you are writing a book?
A. I wake up early and am at my desk first thing in the morning. My best hours are those quiet ones at the beginning of a day. Around lunch time or midday, I go swimming, to give my muscles a stretch and a break from sitting at the computer, and to free my mind. Then after lunch, it’s back to my computer for another stretch.

If I’m up against a deadline, or working on two writing projects at once, I often put in really long hours—sometimes I stay up writing until 2 a.m.! I often tell my readers that one of the best things about being a writer is that I get to go to work in my pajamas!

Q. How did you happen to start a new series about Judy Moody’s little brother, Stink?
A. The idea for Stink to appear in his own series came from my Judy Moody readers. The boys who were reading Judy Moody loved Stink and asked over and over when Stink might star in his own adventures. Soon after, the smelly-sneakered, shrinking kid was born! Now he’s gone on to tackle giant jawbreakers and smelly sneakers, not to mention rescue 101 guinea pigs and help save the planet Pluto!

Q. Where do you get your ideas for your books about Judy Moody? Has that changed over the 10 years you have been writing them?
A. I grew up with four older sisters, and countless stories to go with it!

Lots of the antics between Judy and Stink, like the Toad Pee Club, are based on true stories of funny things that happened growing up. So the “big sister” idea formed the basis for Judy. 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. Her moods help make Judy real for me, and for my readers. I’m the moody one in the family, but I think bad moods are universal, don’t you? We’re ALL in a Judy-Moody-bad-mood sometime, and readers really embrace that.

Q. How about your ideas for the Stink series?
A. Stink is like me; he’s the youngest. So I delight in writing from his point of view. A Stink book might be inspired by a giant jawbreaker I saw at the candy store, or a newspaper article about a kid who won a smelly sneaker contest. When I read about Pluto being demoted and kicked out of the solar system as a planet, I knew Stink had to become a champion for Pluto! I get loads of letters from my readers, and kids have asked me over and over if Stink might play a sport in his next adventure. So… Stink takes up thumb-wrestling, which leads to karate, in his next forthcoming adventure. Hi-ya!

Q. What was your favorite children’s book when you were a third grader?
A. Harriet the Spy. Also Nancy Drew, Ramona, and .

I was quite obsessed with a particular biography of Virginia Dare as well.

Q. Who is/are the children’s authors whose work has most inspired you?
A. Katherine Paterson. Paula Fox. Susan Patron.

Q. Is the Judy Moody series available in other countries and languages? If so, where and what languages?
A. Judy Moody is now published in over twenty languages around the world. Often she is still called Judy Moody, but sometimes her name changes with the language. In Poland, she’s Hania Humorek, in Hungary, Durrebele Dorka, and in Serbia, Caca Faca!

Q. I know you hear from lots of young fans of your series. Are there particular things most seem to like best?
A. My fans especially like the Toad Pee Club, of course, and the practical joke with the fake hand in the toilet! Just as many write to me, though, in appreciation of her generous side—when she tries to save the planet or fixes all the dolls for the kids at her local children’s hospital.

Kids see themselves in Judy, and write to me about their own families, pets, siblings, moods, and collections. They also quite often ask me to have Judy and Rocky get into a best-friend fight, and many ask me to make Judy and Frank Pearl fall in love! Most recently, my readers ask: WHEN is Judy Moody going to be a movie. The answer: Summer 2011!

The First Judy Moody Movie

I was delighted that Megan McDonald was not only willing to answer a lot of questions about her writing and her Judy Moody and Stink books, but that she also was willing to do an interview about the first Judy Moody movie, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer.

For More About Authors of Children's Books and Their Writing Process

For more about how established children's book authors approach their writing, see my article about Kate DiCamillo and my interview with Kate DiCamillo, as well as my interview with Jane Yolen.