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Megan McDonald (1959-)


Megan McDonald is an author of books for young people whose work ranges from picture books to chapter books for early readers. Her first picture book for children was Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, in which a crab searches desperately for just the right kind of home so he won't be eaten by a prickle-pine fish. The gentle story, in which discarded objects are tried and rejected by the house-hunting crab, was praised for its alliteration and vivid paintings by Susan Scheps of School Library Journal, who called it a "wonderful marriage of words and illustrations."

In The Potato Man, McDonald crafts a tale of a yester-year in which a street peddler becomes the object of the neighborhood boys' pranks. After a mishap with a prized pumpkin, the Potato Man helps the boys avert catastrophe and they gain a newfound respect for him. Mary Lou Budd of School Library Journal said the story "gives vitality to a long-ago era" and the "manageable text contains so much descriptive phrasing that action is brought immediately to the mind's eye."

McDonald's "Judy Moody" series of early chapter books concerns the adventures of third-grade sourpuss Judy. In the series' first book, Judy isn't eager for summer to end and third grade to start. Grumpily, she takes her unenviable front-row seat on the first day of school while sporting a homemade t-shirt that says "I ate a shark." But when the teacher has the students create "Me" collages, Judy eagerly explores her favorite topic—herself—and gives a supporting role to her pet Venus flytrap. Outside of school, Judy's adventures frequently involve her little brother Stink, her best friend Rocky, and her dislike of her paste-eating classmate Frank Peal. The book garnered good reviews for its humor and characterization. Janie Schomberg of School Library Journal called Judy "independent, feisty, and full of energy," and Shelle Rosenfeld of Booklist wrote that the "entertaining story … shows how making the best of things can have surprising rewards."

In Judy Moody Predicts the Future, Judy believes that a cereal-box mood ring gives her supernatural powers. Though most of her predictions don't come true, the one concerning her teacher's romance does. Kay Weisman of Booklist commended McDonald's realistic depiction of eight-year-old behavior, stating that "the irrepressible Judy is completely believable as she careens out of control in the classroom." In Judy Moody Saves the World!, a class project prompts Judy to become an environmental activist by raising her parents' consciousness about the destruction of the rainforests and heading up a recycling effort in school. Finally, Judy rises above her bad mood; at least until her little brother Stink wins a Band-Aid design contest and her accomplishments once more take a back seat to his. Rosenfeld, writing in Booklist, called the third of Judy's adventures a "charming read [that] features characteristically snappy, humorous prose."

McDonald put her love of history and nature to use in All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, a fictionalized account of a thirteen-year-old girl's journey from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1848, as part of a wagon train. Along the way, Florrie is introduced to Spanish culture and an entirely new landscape of prairies and mountains, along with wildlife and dangers she never could have foreseen. As a volume in the "Dear America" series, All the Stars in the Sky received praise for its realism. A writer for Kirkus Reviews applauded the well-researched details of wildlife and environment and called Florrie "a companionable narrator [who] is astute enough not only to report what is new to her, but how different she must appear to others," and Lee Bock of School Library Journal appreciated the "compelling narrative" and "excellent" writing.

The Sisters Club concerns the three Reel sisters, Alex, Stevie, and Joey, aged eight to thirteen, who live in an old house built by their great-great-grandmother and whose parents run the adjacent Raven Theater. The story's point of view shifts from Stevie's words to Joey's journals to Alex's original play scripts and highlights the family's unconventional lifestyle, which revolves around all things theatrical. Middle-child Stevie, the most immune to the acting bug, turns out to be the glue who holds the family together when their mom can't learn to cook and Alex breaks her foot in the middle of a performance. Like McDonald's other works, The Sisters Club won over critics. McDonald displays a "flair for quick repartee," according to Ellen Mandel in Booklist, and a writer for Publishers Weekly called it a "family comedy [that] is both affecting and believable."

McDonald once told SATA: "Although I have worked as a park ranger, bookseller, museum guide, teacher, 'living history' interpreter, and storyteller, I have also worked in libraries since the age of fifteen. Connecting children with books has always been the heart of my life's work.

" Is This a House for Hermit Crab? grew out of a story told with puppets to children at the library. 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. The Potato Man is based on a story my father used to tell me about growing up in Pittsburgh before the Depression. The potato man was a huckster who would ride down the street in a horse-drawn wagon, calling out a strange cry that sounded like 'Abba-nopotata-man.' 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.

"Story can come from memory or lived experience. 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. As a writer, I am always on the lookout, waiting, watching, wanting to see the inside. Without the story, we risk losing our way.

"To be a writer, I must write. To be a writer for children, I must continue to believe in the transformative power of story that connects children with books."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Book Links, March, 2000, Megan McDonald, "Bones of a Story," pp. 22-23.

Booklist, March 1, 1990; July, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Judy Moody, p. 2028; September 1, 2002, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Judy Moody Saves the World!, p. 125; September 15, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Judy Moody Predicts the Future, p. 240; December 1, 2003, Ellen Mandel, review of The Sisters Club, p. 667.

Horn Book, March/April, 1990, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, p. 222.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Judy Moody Saves the World!, p. 958; August 15, 2003, review of All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, p. 1076; August 15, 2003, review of The Sisters Club, p. 1076.

Publishers Weekly, December 15, 1990, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, p. 66; April 17, 2000, review of Judy Moody, p. 81; July 30, 2001, review of Judy Moody Gets Famous!, p. 85; August 25, 2003, review of The Sisters Club, p. 65.

School Library Journal, April, 1990, Susan Scheps, review of Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, p. 94; February, 1991, Mary Lou Budd, review of The Potato Man, p. 72; July, 2000, Janie Schomberg, review of Judy Moody, p. 83; November, 2003, Lee Bock, review of All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, p. 142.


Megan McDonald Web site, http://www.meganmcdonald.net/ (May 18, 2004).

Additional topics

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