Long before Judy Moody hit the shelves, Megan McDonald was the one “in a mood.” “[With Judy Moody], I wanted to show kids that it’s okay to be in a bad mood sometimes, and that there’s even humor in it.” Sixteen years later, Judy Moody has starred in more than a dozen books, as well as in a big-screen movie.
For the past decade, she has shared the stage with her younger brother, Stink, who has a series of his own. In his latest adventure, Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold, Stink’s science club project is taking over his bedroom. Meanwhile, this summer will see the release of Judy Moody and the Bucket List, which features the perpetual third grader writing a bucket list of goals to meet before she makes it to fourth grade.
Q | This April, you’re serving as the national spokesperson for School Library Month. What made you want to get involved?
A | I am a librarian by background, so I feel really strongly about the importance of school libraries. I worry that collections are dwindling and that we don’t have enough librarians. I thought that participating in School Library Month would be a great way to highlight how important libraries are for kids.
When I first moved to California, more than 20 years ago, there was no librarian at my local school library. Once a week, the school bus driver would unlock the library door so that kids could check out a book. I became an advocate for school libraries at that time. I would bring armloads of books into school meetings, and I would help the teachers choose books for the library, build the collections, and train those who were taking on the role of librarian.
Q | Did librarians have a big impact on you growing up?
A | Where I grew up, in a suburb outside of Pittsburgh, we didn’t have a public library. The downtown library was very far away, and that was a big trip for us. So the school library became really important. My school librarian saw what a big reader I was, and she would let me go behind the counter and stamp the date-due cards. I used to check out one book over and over again: a biography called Virginia Dare: Mystery Girl [by Augusta Stevenson]. It was the story behind the lost colony of Roanoke in Virginia. Finally, the librarian cut me off and said, “I think we need to share this book with other readers.” I ended up calling Judy’s school Virginia Dare Elementary School.
Q | The Judy Moody series is soon to be 16 years old! How did the character come to be?
A | It started with my sisters. I have four older sisters and a lot of funny stories about growing up with them. I wanted to capture those stories. I was the youngest, so I knew what it was like to be the youngest, but I thought that as a writer I would switch it up. I decided to make Judy a bossy big sister with this big personality. And then, instead of a younger sister, I gave her a younger brother and named him Stink.
Q | Stink has become a success in his own right.
A | For that, I have to thank my boy readers. [Years ago], when I visited a classroom in Vancouver, I saw that boys had taken over the whole front row and they had all dressed up like Stink. They had taken gel and spiked their hair and put on these big, baggy T-shirts that they’d drawn on, crazy shorts, and high tops. They said, “We decided to take over the classroom because we wanted to tell you that we think Stink should have his own book and he should get to be on the cover.” I thought it was so interesting that I had characterized him as this pesky little brother, but the boys had really connected with him.
Q | Is it challenging to write about Judy from Stink’s perspective?
A | At the beginning, it was really difficult because Judy’s voice kept taking over the story. What helped was following the things that had been established as Stink’s loves. For example, he always reads the S encyclopedia and he loves everything about science. I tried to follow more of what was really true to Stink’s personality and find him his own friends and his own world that was kind of separate from Judy’s. She can pop into the story and be the big sister, but she doesn’t have to take over Stink’s world now.
Q | Have your relationships with the characters changed over time?
A | I think Judy has grown a lot. Even though I keep her in third grade, she seems older to me now. One of my favorite books in the series is Judy Moody Mood Martian. Instead of being in a bad mood, Judy tries to remain in a good mood for an entire week. It’s fun when you’ve been with a character for a while to surprise readers and do something completely opposite. It has been really fun to follow where the characters have taken me.
[As for Stink], when I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist—I had a microscope and I loved bugs and all of that kind of stuff. So I’ve taken Stink down that road and given him some of my interests. For example, there’s a book where he decided he’s going to try to save the planet Pluto after it is kicked out of the solar system and made a dwarf planet. I read about Pluto in the newspaper, and I was so incensed that Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore because I grew up with nine planets!
Q | What’s next for you?
A | I’m very excited about Judy Moody and the Bucket List, which is coming out this August. Judy goes to grab something for Grandma Lou and she finds Grandma Lou’s bucket list. It has all of these crazy-sounding adventures on it, and Grandma Lou tells her that it’s a list of all the things she wants to do before she dies. Judy gets inspired and decides to make up her own bucket list of all the things she wants to do before she gets to fourth grade. She’s been in third grade for nearly 16 years, so it could be a while!
Photo: Michele McDonald