Although there isn’t a direct career path to being a best-selling children’s writer, Megan McDonald of Judy Moody fame was always being led in that direction. Previously a bookseller and librarian, Megan was at the coal face talking to children and their parents about books and what they wanted to read. Eventually, this led her to publishing her first picture book.
“When I was a librarian my favourite time was story time – my very first book called Is This a House for Hermit Crab? was a story that I first created to tell aloud with puppets at the library and then the parents came up to me and said where’s the book? That really planted the seed.”
It was clear that McDonald could tell a story but being the youngest of five sisters, she also had lots of content – stories about the weird and wonderful things that siblings do to each other. Initially she planned to write about a younger sister, as that was her experience, but then decided to flip things around and get her own back by becoming the ‘bossy’ older sister via Judy Moody. She had no idea how many little readers would love this character.
“When I wrote the first book, I just wanted to get down some of these stories of growing up and then it was my editor that said you have so many ideas it feels like a bottomless well. Would you ever think about writing another one? It was very serendipitous and unplanned at the beginning and we’ve just been going along…”
Twenty-two million copies of Judy Moody in print later and the series is still going strong, and 2020 will mark the twentieth anniversary of Judy Moody.
“It’s so humbling. I think about how I felt growing up with Nancy Drew and growing up with Ramona, the Beverly Cleary books. They were so dear to me and now Judy has been around long that long.”
McDonald is here for the Sydney Writers’ Festival this weekend and will then go on to the Scribblers Festival in Perth. Talking to hundreds of kids might sound like a very full schedule but it’s not work to her.
“It’s great for me to meet my readers. You always have your own self at that age that you can go back to. I think that a lot of the Judy Moody books are based on things growing up with my sisters but how great to meet readers of this age because it keeps me in touch with how they think, and what they find funny. That’s really important to me to always be among my readers and keep remembering just what it’s like to be that 8-year-old.”
Aside from really enjoying engaging with children and understanding what it is that interests them and drives them to read, she is also a keen supporter of libraries.
“I’m such a champion of the school library, well any library I think about how much the school library meant to me and how much the librarian shaped me as a reader… A wonderful quality of the librarian is that they get to know individual readers. I remember as a librarian I’d be unpacking this book and I’d think this book is going to be so great for this child and I couldn’t wait until they would come to the library so I could share that.”
Fortunately, it’s not all work while on tour in Australia and McDonald has been given a warm reception by not only hordes of children and their nostalgic parents but from other special Australians as well.
“On our first day we got to go to a koala sanctuary and hold a koala so that was pretty terrific and then walked through the botanic gardens, so I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit of Australia.”