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Megan McDonald (1959-)


Megan McDonald brings her diverse experiences as a park ranger, bookseller, museum guide, librarian, and especially storyteller to her many picture books, beginning readers, and novels for children. In books like Whoo-oo Is It? and Insects Are My Life, as well as in young-adult novels and her popular "Beezy" and "Judy Moody" series of beginning readers, McDonald combines an extensive knowledge of nature with a love of storytelling. "Connecting children with books has always been the centerpiece of my life's work," McDonald once told SATA. In an effort to combat the statistics that show more and more children reading at lower-than-desired levels, the former librarian views the books she writes as another step in the fight against illiteracy.

Among McDonald's most popular books are those she has written for her "Beezy" and "Judy Moody" chapter-book series designed for readers-in-training. The "Beezy" books feature a young girl and the stray dog she adopts and names Funnybone. Growing up in Florida, Beezy's life incorporates that region's characteristics—like hurricanes—but also the universal day-to-day experiences of childhood, in short vignettes designed for easy reading. In Beezy, the girl joins friends in a neighborhood baseball game, spends time with her grandmother, and begins her friendship with Funny-bone, while in Beezy and Funnybone, new friends and new adventures—like jumping out of a hot-air balloon—enter the mix. School Library Journal reviewer Maura Bresnahan praised "the warm and friendly tone" Judy Moody acquires a mood ring and is certain it gives her the powers of a fortune teller in Judy Moody Predicts the Future, from Megan McDonald's series about her lively protagonist. (Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.) of Beezy and Funnybone and considered it a good choice for readers who want "to practice their new skills."

In the "Judy Moody" series, McDonald introduces a spunky, somewhat chameleon-like heroine. Third-grader Judy Moody approaches what life hands her with some trepidation but also with resilience and creativity, whether its vying for membership in the exclusive Toad Pee club or attempting to create the winning entry in her school's adhesive bandage contest. In Judy Moody, readers follow the series star on her first day back at school, which begins badly when there is no suitable T-shirt to wear, then begins to perk up due to the resourcefulness of McDonald's "entertainingly mercurial" protagonist, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. The book's large, easy-to-read type was a hit with reviewers, among them Booklist's Shelle Rosenfeld, who noted that McDonald's ability to tell her story from Judy's third-grade perspective enhances the "simple, expressive prose" and offers a healthy dose of "child-appealing humor." Also praising Judy Moody Saves the World!, Rosenfeld applauded that installment's "characteristically snappy, humorous prose" and "expressive, witty" line drawings by illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. Other volumes in the series include Judy Moody Gets Famous!, Judy Moody Predicts the Future, and Judy Moody, M.D.

Illustrated by S. D. Schindler, McDonald's first picture book, Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, has its roots in a puppet show the author hosted at Petrobe, Pennsylvania's Adams Memorial Library, where she then worked. "Its alliterative sounds, its rhythm and repetition worked so well with young children that I decided to write it as a picture book, in hopes that the story would find a wider audience," McDonald once explained to SATA. In the story, a crab searches a rocky shoreline for a new home, finding the perfect abode in time to avoid becoming an afternoon snack for a crab-eating prickle-pine fish. Praising both its rhythmic text and its pastel illustrations, Five Owls contributor Margaret Mary Kimmel lauded McDonald's debut work as "a beautiful book to look at again and again, to repeat over and over." "Best of all," Carolyn Phelan pointed out in Booklist, "the writer knows when to ask questions to involve the children and when to stop."

After the success of Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, McDonald decided to collaborate with illustrator Schindler on a second nonfiction picture book, titled Whoo-oo Is It? This story revolves around a mother barn owl's attempt to sit on her eggs in peace, while all of nature seems to be intent on making noise. One particular sound—a strange noise that gradually gets louder—persists and is discovered to be the first young owlet pecking its way out of its shell. While the source of the noise, which begins at nightfall, is at first a mystery to listeners, "the final tender family scene will relieve any lingering concerns," according to Horn Book reviewer Elizabeth S. Watson. Praising the book, Five Owls critic Anne Lundin called Whoo-oo Is It? "a spirited book to read aloud, in a kind of celebration of life."

McDonald's The Potato Man and its sequel, The Great Pumpkin Switch, are based on stories her father told about what it was like growing up in Pittsburgh before the Great Depression of the 1930s. The gruff, old Potato Man, with his one good eye, rode through the streets on a wagon, "calling out a strange cry that sounded like 'Abba-no-potata-man,'" McDonald once recalled. "When the children heard the cry, they became frightened and ran away. Because the story has its roots in the oral tradition of my own family, I tried to capture the feel, the setting, the language as I imagined it when the story was told to me as a young girl." In the book, a young boy—McDonald's father—tries to play tricks on Mr. Angelo, the Potato Man, but gets caught each time. When his hijinks cause him to be assigned extra chores at home, the boy decides to make his peace with the old peddler. Praising the story for its evocation of the past, Horn Book critic Mary M. Burns noted that the book's "text . . . sets forth conflict and solution without moralizing." In The Great Pumpkin Switch, the same mischievous boy and friend Otto smash his sister's prize pumpkin, by accident of course. Mr. Angelo comes to their rescue, replacing the smashed pumpkin with another just as good, in a story that School Library Journal contributor Susan Scheps maintained "will not seem the least old-fashioned to today's readers." The water-color illustrations Ted Lewin contributes add greatly to the immediacy of The Great Pumpkin Switch. Describing the author's "warm, beautifully cadenced storytelling," a Kirkus Reviews critic also commented favorably on the book's "engaging period details."

In the intriguingly titled Insects Are My Life, first-grader Amanda Frankenstein has a passion for bugs, much to the dismay of her friends and family. Not content merely to catch and collect dead bugs like most insect aficionados, Amanda thinks of her home as a bug sanctuary and invites her flying and crawling friends inside the house rather than shooing them out. She remains terribly misunderstood until the arrival of Maggie, the new girl in school, who happens to feel equally as passionate about reptiles. "McDonald's single-minded, sometimes naughty heroine evokes chuckles with her feisty independence," according to Margaret A. Bush in a review for Horn Book, while in School Library Journal, Virginia Opocensky dubbed "refreshing" McDonald's creation of "nonsqueamish female characters . . . willing to take on all adversaries in defense of their causes."

McDonald takes up Maggie's plight in a companion volume, Reptiles Are My Life, as the young reptile lover finds a kindred spirit in Emily, leaving bug-loving Amanda feeling left out. Finally, the three girls find a new camaraderie when Amanda saves the "Snake Sisters" from being called to the office for sticking out their tongues in a book a Kirkus Reviews critic noted for its "sprightly writing" and focus on girls with unusual interests. Childhood Education contributor Jill Quisenberry praised McDonald's humorous text as "full of great insect and reptile references," while School Library Journal contributor Linda M. Kenton remarked that Reptiles Are My Life "accurately portrays the roller-coaster ride that some friendships take."

Other picture books by McDonald include The Bone Keeper, The Night Iguana Left Home, and Penguin and Little Blue, the last published in 2003. In The Bone Keeper, an ancient creature of the desert wanders in search of sun-baked bones, then returns to its cave to fashion these bones into a living creature. Told in verse, McDonald's "lyrical" and "evocative" tale was praised as "an original creation story of power and force" by Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Janice M. Del Negro, while in School Library Journal, Rosalyn Pierini dubbed The Bone Keeper "an eerie tale with mythical qualities."

McDonald serves up much more traditional picture-book fare in The Night Iguana Left Home. Readers commiserate with poor Alison Frogley of upstate New York, who suddenly finds herself without her best friend, her pet iguana. "Iguanna," as the languid, sun-seeking reptile styles herself, has high-tailed it to Key West, Florida, but when the money runs out, the clever reptile finds a way to mail herself back north in a quirky picture book that New York Times Book Review contributor Jane O'Reilly dubbed "marvelously written . . . and gloriously illustrated" by Ponder Goembel. A Horn Book contributor praised the story's "slyly humorous balance of fantasy and realism" and called The Night Iguana Left Home a tale that "will stir the imaginations of armchair travelers," while Gay Lynn van Vleck assured School Library Journal readers that McDonald's "inventive tale will guarantee grins."

Animals on the move are also the subject of Penguin and Little Blue, which finds two water park performers taking their show on the road and trying to make their hotel room in Kansas a little more Antarctic-like. Praising McDonald's pun-filled text, a Publishers Weekly reviewer cited Penguin and Little Blue as a story that "touts the importance of home and friends," while a Kirkus Reviews critic was caught up enough in the spirit of the story to claim that "young readers will flap their flippers at this tongue-in-cheek jaunt."

In addition to picture books and beginning readers, McDonald has penned several novels for older readers. The Bridge to Nowhere, a semi-autobiographical novel for young adults, introduces seventh-grader Hallie O'Shea, who is frustrated over her now-out-of-work father's inability to cope with the loss of his job. Depressed and withdrawn from the rest of the family, Mr. O'Shea spends his time in the basement, building metal sculptures, or driving off to his former job site, a still-unfinished bridge over the Allegheny river that he calls the "bridge to nowhere." Hallie's mother, meanwhile, becomes absorbed with worry about her husband, and older sister Shelley escapes to college, leaving the young teen to fend for herself. Things improve after Hallie meets Crane Henderson, a ninth grader for whom she soon develops a crush, but when her father attempts to commit suicide by driving off the unfinished bridge, the young couple's relationship is tested. Praising the book as a fine first effort for former picture-book writer McDonald, a Kirkus Reviews critic called The Bridge to Nowhere "unusually well crafted: accessible, lyrical, with wonderful natural dialogue" between parent and teen. Deborah Abbott pointed out in Booklist that the novel provides "realistic characters, an attention-holding plot . . . and an upbeat ending."

Other novels by McDonald include Shadows in the Glasshouse, which follows the story of twelve-year-old Merry after she is forced to sail from London to the newly colonized Jamestown settlement to work for a glassblower. Taking place in 1621, the novel weaves together drama, mystery, and interesting information about life during that period of American history. Also in the genre of historical fiction is McDonald's 2003 novel All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder. Based on an actual diary of the mid-1800s, the book presents a fictionalized account of what life was like for a young teen who travels with her family from Independence, Missouri, to points southwest. Praising the book as a "solid entry" in Scholastic's "Dear America" series of fictional journals, a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised the story's young narrator as "a heroine readers will enjoy joining on her travels."

"Story can come from memory or experience," McDonald once explained to SATA. "It seems to come from everywhere, and out of nowhere. In everything there is story—a leaf falling, the smell of cinnamon, a dog that looks both ways before crossing the street. The idea, the seed of a story, is implicit—but requires paying attention, watching, seeing, listening, smelling, eavesdropping. . . . To be a writer for children, I continue to believe in the transformative power of story that connects children with books."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001.

McDonald, Megan, The Bridge to Nowhere, Orchard (New York, NY), 1993.


Booklist, March 1, 1990, Carolyn Phelan, review of Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, p. 1347; April 1, 1993, Deborah Abbott, review of The Bridge to Nowhere, pp. 1424-1425; March 1, 1995, p. 1249; April 15, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Bone Keeper, p. 1531; November 1, 1999, John Peters, review of The Night Iguana Left Home, p. 540; July, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Beezy and Funny-bone, p. 2045, and Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Judy Moody, p. 2028; September 1, 2002, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Judy Moody Saves the World!, p. 125; July, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Shining Star, p. 1899; August, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a, p. 1990; September 15, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Judy Moody Predicts the Future, p. 240; November 1, 2003, Lauren Peterson, review of Penguin and Little Blue, p. 502; December 1, 2003, Ellen Mandel, review of The Sisters Club, p. 677.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1995, Deborah Stevenson, review of Insects Are My Life, p. 280; March, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Bone Keeper, pp. 245-246.

Childhood Education, mid-summer, 2002, Jill Quisenberry, review of Reptiles Are My Life, p. 307. Five Owls, July-August, 1990, Margaret Mary Kimmel, review of Is This a House for a Hermit Crab?, p. 105; May-June, 1992, Anne Lundin, review of Whoo-oo Is It?, p. 58.

Horn Book, March-April, 1990, p. 222; May, 1991, Mary M. Burns, review of The Potato Man, p. 318; May-June, 1992, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Whoo-oo Is It?, p. 332; March-April, 1995, Margaret A. Bush, review of Insects Are My Life, p. 185; September, 1999, review of The Night Iguana Left Home, p. 596; September, 2001, review of Judy Moody Gets Famous!, p. 589.

Kirkus Reviews, January, 1992, p. 117; July 1, 1992, review of The Great Pumpkin Switch, p. 851; March 15, 1993, review of The Bridge to Nowhere, p. 374; July 15, 1999, review of Bedbugs, p. 1141; July 1, 2001, review of Reptiles Are My Life, p. 943; July 1, 2002, review of Judy Moody Saves the World!, p. 958; June 15, 2003, review of Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a, p. 861; August 15, 2003, reviews of The Sisters Club and All the Stars in the Sky, p. 1076; September 1, 2003, review of Penguin and Little Blue, p. 1128.

New York Times Book Review, February 13, 2000, Jane O'Reilly, review of The Night Iguana Left Home, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1990, p. 66; February 17, 1992, p. 62; September 29, 1997, p. 89; October 6, 1997, review of Tundra Mouse, p. 55; February 1, 1999, review of The Bone Keeper, p. 84; October 4, 1999, review of The Night Iguana Left Home, p. 74; April 17, 2000, review of Judy Moody, p. 81; July 30, 2001, review of Judy Moody Gets Famous!, p. 85; June 30, 2003, review of Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a, p. 77; August 25, 2003, reviews of Penguin and Little Blue, p. 63, and The Sisters Club, p. 65.

School Librarian, summer, 2002, Andrea Rayner, review of Judy Moody, p. 89.

School Library Journal, August, 1992, Susan Scheps, review of The Great Pumpkin Switch, pp. 143-144; March, 1995, Virginia Opocensky, review of Insects Are My Life, pp. 183-184; October, 1996, Sally R. Dow, review of My House Has Stars, pp. 102-103; November, 1997, p. 92; May, 1999, Rosalyn Pierini, review of The Bone Keeper, p. 93; September, 1999, Heide Piehler, review of Bedbugs, p. 194, Gay Lynn van Vleck, review of The Night Iguana Left Home, p. 195; July, 2000, Janie Schomberg, review of Judy Moody, p. 83; September, 2000, Maura Bresnahan, review of Beezy and Funnybone, p. 204; February, 2001, Kristen Oravec, review of Shadows in the Glasshouse, p. 118; August, 2001, Linda M. Kenton, review of Reptiles Are My Life, p. 156; October, 2001, Sharon R. Pearce, review of Judy Moody Gets Famous!, p. 124; March, 2002, Maura Bresnahan, review of Lucky Star, p. 194; November, 2003, Alison Grant, review of Judy Moody Predicts the Future, p. 106, Catherine Threadgill, review of Penguin and Little Blue, p. 107, Lee Bock, review of All the Stars in the Sky, p. 142, and Laurie von Mehren, review of The Sisters Club, p. 142.


Megan McDonald Home Page, http://www.meganmcdonald.net/ (January 19, 2004).*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalMegan McDonald (1959-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress