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McDonald, Megan 1959-

McDONALD, Megan 1959-

Personal

Born February 28, 1959, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of John (an ironworker) and Mary Louise (a social worker; maiden name, Ritzel) McDonald; married Richard Haynes, September 22, 1994. Education: Oberlin College, B.A. (English, children's literature), 1981; University of Pittsburgh, M.L.S., 1986. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic.

Addresses

Home Sebastopol, CA. Office Bookstop Literary Agency, 67 Meadow View Road, Orinda, CA 94563. E-mail [email protected].

Career

Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA, children's librarian, 1986-1990; Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, MN, children's librarian, 1990-91; Adams Memorial Library, Latrobe, PA, children's librarian, 1991; children's writer. Freelance book reviewer and storyteller.

Member

American Library Association, Society of Children's Book Writers, National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling.

Awards, Honors

Children's Book Award, International Reading Association, for Is This a House for Hermit Crab?; Judy Blume Contemporary Fiction Award, Society of Children's Book Writers, for The Bridge to Nowhere; Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award, Best Children's Book, New York Public Library, and Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly, all for Judy Moody; Notable Children's Book, American Library Association, for Judy Moody Gets Famous!; Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association, and Gold Seal Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, for Judy Moody Gets Famous! and Judy Moody Saves the World!; Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association, for The Sisters Club; Red House Children's Book Award shortlist (UK), 2004, for Judy Moody Predicts the Future.

Writings

Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.

The Potato Man, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.

The Great Pumpkin Switch, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.

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

Insects Are My Life, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.

My House Has Stars, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Tundra Mouse, illustrated by S. D. Schlindler, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Beezy, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Beezy at Bat, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Beezy Magic, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Bedbugs, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Bone Keeper, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, DK Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.

The Night Iguana Left Home, illustrated by Ponder Goembel, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.

Beezy and Funnybone, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Lucky Star, illustrated by Andrea Wallace, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.

Shadows in the Glasshouse, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

Reptiles Are My Life, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2001.

All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

Penguin and Little Blue, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.

Shining Star, illustrated by Andrea Wallace, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

The Sisters Club, American Girl (Middleton, WI), 2003.

Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.

Ant and Honey Bee: What a Pair!, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs!, illustrated by Jane Manning, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Saving the Liberty Bell, illustrated by Marsha Gray Carrington, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.

When the Library Lights Go Out, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

"JUDY MOODY" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY PETER H. REYNOLDS

Judy Moody, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

Judy Moody Gets Famous!, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Judy Moody Saves the World!, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Judy Moody Predicts the Future, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Judy Moody, M.D., Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Work in Progress

Judy Moody Declares Independence, Hinky Pinky, and a second "Stink" book.

Sidelights

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 topicherselfand 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 storya leaf falling, the smell of cinnamon, a dog that looks both ways before crossing the street. The idea, the seed of a story is implicitbut 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

PERIODICALS

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.

ONLINE

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

Autobiography Feature
Megan McDonald

Megan McDonald contributed the following autobiographical essay to SATA in 2004:

Before I was a writer, I was a reader.

I grew up in a house stuffed with books. Piled on tables, spilling off shelves, tucked into pockets, hiding under beds. I learned early never to leave home without a book.

Mom read all the great novels; Dad had a photographic memory for the history books he devoured. Mom was an academic in our eyes, with a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, quite unusual for a woman of her time. She'd been inspired to become a social worker after reading Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in college.

Dad never finished eighth grade. In grade school, he was forever in trouble for playing hooky from school. But they soon discovered where to find himhe'd steal across the street to the big library under the clock tower, Allegheny Public Library, where he was surreptitiously reading Tom Sawyer and David Copperfield, one chapter at a time. Reading voraciously all his life was a way of making up for those lost years of formal education.

I, of course, wanted to be just like my four big sisters, who read "fat" books and taught me to speed-read the endings first, deeming the book worthy if the ending made me cry. I tagged along with them to the musty, dusty green Carnegie Bookmobile that rattled into the shopping center near our house once a weekmy first experience with a library, where a whole world of books waited, calling me.

From Grimm's fairy tales to Jane Eyre, we read it all. As kids, we were not supposed to bring books to the dinner table. That was family time, for conversation. But we did it anyway, hiding the books in our laps under the table, because we had to know the ending. Occasionally, when my dad caught us, he'd rip out the last page of a paperback novel and hide the best partthe endingjust to tease us, torment us. We'd chase him around the house and through the yard, trying to win it back. Who doesn't have to know the ending of a good story?

At my school library, I found a biography of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America, who was part of the mysterious Roanoke Colony, one of history's unsolved mysteries. I checked out that book over and over, week after week. That is, until I won the disapproval of Sister Robertine, the librarian. All she had to do was flare her nose at me and peek over those rimless, old-people glasses, and I knew I was in trouble. I had to give the other kids a chance to read about Virginia Dare, too.

Every year at Christmas, Mom went to Kaufman's, the big department store downtown under the clock, and bought us each a special hardback copy of a children's book, which she inscribed with her lacy handwriting. Heidi, Pollyanna, Little Women, Nancy Drew. The Steadfast Tin Soldier. The Princess Who Could Not Laugh. James Thurber's The Thirteenth Clock. Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles.

And my all-time favorite, Harriet the Spy.

When I wasn't reading, I was playing outdoors with my sisters and best friends from across the street. Our house was surrounded by woods and fields and a creek that held endless interest for exploring. We had box turtle races, picked countless blackberries during summers that seemed liked they'd never end, dined on acorns served on skunk cabbage leaves, searched for nickels my dad hid in the mossy insides of tree stumps. We went swimming and sled-riding. We caught newts and salamanders, tadpoles and frogs, pill bugs and centipedes. We sailed leaf boats and built secret hideouts.

My ironworker dad built us a playhousea pint-sized, barn-red replica of our own brick house, complete with glass-paned windows and a porch with awnings. I'll never forget the day he wheeled the whole thing out into the driveway on roller skates! We made our mark, pressing our handprints into the newly cemented sidewalk leading up to the front door.

The playhouse was magical to me, the first real place to call my own. It was here that I had my first tea parties and sleepovers; here that we made up the games of Restaurant and Lady. By day, I imagined myself Laura Ingalls Wilder in her log cabin; by night, Anne Frank hiding out in her attic.

Over the years, my sisters and I left home one by one. The porch began sagging, the awnings faded. For years, that playhouse was just a spidery home to rakes and shovels. After the death of my parents, the new owners had only one request: tear down that unsightly "outbuilding." My playhouse! On the final weekend before the sale of the house, in below-freezing Pennsylvania temperatures, I stood solemnly facing the playhouse, my husband Richard and my cousin Jimmy at my side, crowbars in hand. In no time, my playhouse became a scrap heap of splintered wood, fallen shingles, and loose nails.

I saved one of those old square-headed nails. It sits on my desk, next to a jar of pencils. In that nail is a handful of childhoods, a hundred stories. In that nail is a whole heaven of memories, the place from which I write.

A deep well of childhood stories continues to shape my writing. When I'm asked, "How on earth do you remember so much stuff about your childhood?" I think of Mark Twain's response. He claims to remember everything, whether it happened or not!

But no matter what we were playing, always the dinner bell rang from the back porch, calling us home. My mom and all my sisters sat around the large circle of kitchen table, waiting for dad to come home. My dad, an ironworker, built bridges all across the city of Pittsburgh, including the Fort Duquesne Bridge (the real Bridge to Nowhere). Every ironworker had his own nickname, like Porkchop Smitty, Big Red, Gizmo, and my dad, Little Johnny, the Storyteller.

My sisters and I spun the Lazy Susan, vying for ketchup or french fries and a chance to talk. Dessert was the best part of the meal, because we knew Dad would tell us a story after eating our supper. My father could create a whole story from the shape of the peanut butter heaped on a Ritz cracker. Or he'd have us imagining fantastical worlds based on ice-cream mapslands created from the pattern that the ice cream made from sticking to the lid of the carton.

He told stories about his own childhood, growing up in Depression-era Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not what we called the LBS (Long Boring Stories) that we as kids weren't interested in, but the ones about the scary old one-eyed potato man that used to come around his neighborhood selling fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon. "Abba-no-potata-man!" he'd call out, and we knew an exciting adventure was sure to follow.

These oral stories later became the inspiration for The Potato Man and The Great Pumpkin Switch. The stories were funny and dangerous, from squeezing an orange in his little brother's hair (so flies would buzz around his head, and Dad could tease and call him Old Flypaper) to roller skating down hills to hitch rides on the back of cars, or stowing away in the rumble seat of an old Model-T.

All I have to do is close my eyes and remember my dad's voice, and I can still hear those kitchen table stories.

With four older sisters, I couldn't get a word in edgewise around the dinner table. I'm told I began to stutter in elementary school. My mother bought me a small spiral notebook, and I started writing everything down, in true Harriet-the-Spy fashion.

Perhaps that started me thinking like a writer. But I didn't know then that I wanted to be a writer. My foray into publishing began in the fifth grade when I saw my name in print for the first time on a story in my school newspaper. The subject: a pencil sharpener! Told from the first person point of view, it detailed a life of eating pencil shavings all day.

I still have the story. I've saved it for years and years. The reason this story in particular stands out for me, is that it not only represents the first story I had published, but my first attempt at writing that was truly mine.

When I was in grade school, my mother did all my writing for me. Not reports and homework papers (the boring stuff we had to do on our own!), but the creative writing. Stories, poems, essays, you name it.

It started innocently enough in an effort to save time, I suspect. It was easier somehow just to write the story, than to suggest and gently guide me through the difficult mystery of the writing process.

The only problem was, my mother was a good writer. She had imagination, good grammar, and a strong sense of story. We'd spend hours sitting at the kitchen table, hashing out the details of a story together. Often I was the scribe, writing down my mother's ideas, and turning them in as my own. So I used words like philosophical and serendipity and I didn't even know their meaning. I won prizes, medals, ribbons, that weren't mine.

When I was accused of plagiarizing Paul Zindel's The Pigman, I couldn't tell the teacher that it was impossiblemy mother had never read a young adult novel. She didn't even know what one was.

The real difficulty came when I was asked to write in-class assignments. I didn't have my mother in class. I broke into a sweat. I got lots of hall passes to leave class. At the nurse's office, I knew every bone in Clyde, the skeleton, because I visited the nurse so often.

It wasn't until the fifth grade that I began to be uncomfortable with this. Although I'd had a part in each story, it still didn't feel truly mine. And I'd come to rely too heavily on my mother's ideas and words, rather than my own. So I began looking for my own voice.

Then one day, I did it. There was an in-class assignment.

I didn't sweat.

I didn't throw up.

I didn't rush to memorize all the bones in Clyde the Skeleton.

I wrote.

My own story.

The first story ever, that was mine, not my mother's.

It was about a pencil sharpener. From the first person point of view, of a pencil sharpener!

From there, I struck out on my own, not just personifying pencil sharpeners, but talking to katydids, solving double jeopardy murder mysteries involving twin brothers, sailing around the world as a paper doll reporter in a newspaper boat, á la Nellie Bly, or imagining what it would be like if every day was Saturday.

I still remember the feeling. The first "aha!" when I got the idea, the inspiration. The struggle that went into forming and shaping the idea into story. And the exhilaration that came with completing a piece of writing I could call my own. Mine. My own voice.

That's when I first learned the power, the magic, the goosebumpy feeling that sends shivers down your spine from a striking first sentence, a good paragraph, a moving poem, the ending of an absorbing story, a great piece of writing.

There was no stopping me now. I wrote all the time. I filled up notebooks. I wrote a new story every month for The Knight News, my elementary school paper. I won an essay contest, for which I got to dress up and have dinner with a local congressman. I got a story published in Weekly Reader, and along with it, a big fat gold medal, my most prized possession.

In eighth grade, my family began to take summer vacations to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I had never seen the ocean before. It changed me. Imagination came to life the first time I set eyes on the sea. I couldn't help but be moved to write about it. This time it wasn't stories, but poetry. I got a blank journal for a gift, and began filling it up with new feelings. And poems. I listened to music, or the pounding of the waves, or the crickets at night, and made up lyrics to songs in my head.

When I was a freshman in high school, I had a most wonderful English teacher, Mrs. Nicholls. For the first time, I found someone who could illuminate literature in ways I hadn't thought of before. It was so exciting to learn to think critically and symbolically about books. I remember being homesick and spending the whole time writing an essay about Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. When I turned in my first critical essay, my teacher said to me, "You are a real writer!" Those words meant the world to me. I soared at the thought.

I continued to take English classes with her, and form a kind of teacher-student friendship I hadn't known before. She fed me great books, from Beowulf to Jack London to Harriet Arnow's The Dollmaker. Most of all, she nurtured and encouraged me as a writer. We writers are filled with self-doubtMrs. Nicholls, my first mentor, helped me gain confidence and insight as a fledgling writer.

My next English teacher had us read everything from The Odyssey to Walden to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. She introduced us to a mythological way of looking at story, influenced by Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey. Suddenly, all story seemed to take on an aspect of searching, a quest.

She also played music for us, and had us write poetry to music. She loved children's books, and told us how Dr. Seuss' first book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, had been influenced by the rhythm of the ship's engine when Seuss was aboard an ocean liner.

She read to us from Robert Frost, about the sounds of trees and happy bees; and the soft incense of the hawthorn from Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale." I was a big fan of e e cummings at the time, and loved his words like mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.

Then she gave us a simple assignment: to write a poem about the season: spring.

I was stumped. I couldn't think of a thing to say about the season that hadn't already been said a thousand times over, and far better.

My assignment was overdue. In my frustration, I just sat and stared out my rain-spattered window and jotted down several lines about the dripping rain. I turned my paper in, certain I'd failed. Sure that I was not a writer and never would be.

To my surprise, my teacher told the class that one poem stood out among the others as an example of concrete poetry.

It turned out to be mine!

I didn't even know what concrete poetry was, but apparently I had unconsciously set down the words of my poem in the shape of the thing it was abouta raindrop. I retell this episode in my novel The Bridge to Nowhere. It stayed with me all this time, maybe because it was the first time I discovered writing as something mysterious, something other, something deep and unplanned.

I attended an all-girls Catholic high school, which is to say, there was a serious lack of boys. I had a good friend who worked at the local public library, and she told me it was a good way to make friends, and that all the "cool" guys worked there. So at fourteen, I got a job as a page, shelving books at the Northland Public Library.

At the time, in the mid-seventies, the library was an amazing place. A real cultural center for adults, with an array of story times and innovative programs for kids. I was often assigned to shelve books in the children's department, which was a lively place full of great people to work for. I had trouble shelving, because I always wanted to read the books, and became fascinated with illustrated picture books for kids.

There were four dynamic children's librarians there who really took me under wing when they noticed my interest in children's books. They encouraged me to read aloud to kids at story time, tell stories, play my guitar and sing songs, put on magic shows and plays and puppet shows for the kids. I did a whole comedy routine about a magician and her assistant that screws up all the magic tricks. We made games out of card catalogs and races out of shelving books.

I did not even realize at the time what great mentors I had. I just knew it was a world I loved being part of, from playing hide and seek after hours in the library with my friends, to writing and acting in a play about a human piñata suspended from the library ceiling, that came to life and tossed candy out to the kids. This later became fodder for Stevie's disastrous acting career in The Sisters Club.

About this time, there became known such a thing as Young Adult Literature. S. E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders, and Robert Cormier The Chocolate War. When Judy Blume wrote Forever, one of the librarians decided she wanted to hear from real young adults what they thought about all these "realistic fiction" books. So she formed a book discussion group with those of us in high school who worked at the library. We read newly published young adult literature, discussed it passionately, and got to make decisions about what the library would buy for their collection. What a thrill!

My rich experience with reading and writing and libraries up to this point led me to seek out colleges with a writing program that was not journalism, but creative writing. At the time, the only college in the country that had a major in Creative Writing was Oberlin College. To my delight, it also did not have a math requirement! It was the only place I applied to, despite protests from my high school guidance counselor, who assured me that I was wasting my time, because no student from my small parochial high school had ever been admitted to a college of this caliber before. Thankfully, I was too naïve to listen to her advice. And, based on a portfolio of my writing, I had the good fortune of being accepted into the creative writing program at Oberlin.

I loved my writing classes, where we read "like wolves eat," as writer Gary Paulsen would say. We attended poetry readings, and tried a cacophony of different forms of writing. It opened up new worlds to me, new ideas, and put me in the company of other young writers with interesting minds. I had a willing ear and a big heart, soaking up all forms of the written word. I was still writing volumes of poetry, and had to submit a portfolio to be accepted into the program.

My professor, the head of the Creative Writing Department, called me into his office for a personal, oneon-one conference. He took all of the poetry from my portfolio, held it up, and said, "See this? Go home and rip up all the poems you've ever written."

My heart sank. I was completely crushed. In that moment, it became clear. I wasn't a writer after all.

Then he said prophetically, "You, Megan, are a prose writer."

I was stunned. I didn't know what to think. I left his office and went back to my room and cried.

Then, I have to confess, I looked up prose in the dictionary. To my horror, The American Heritage Dictionary, in its attempt to distinguish narrative from poetry, defined prose as "writing or speech that is ordinary or matter-of-fact, without embellishment."

Is this what I was destined to write? Ordinary, commonplace, everyday writing?

I didn't know then about the extraordinary that can be found in the ordinary. In my own everyday life. And I was so discouraged, so deflated, so defeated, I dropped out of the writing program. I stayed in college, but decided to pursue something else as my major. Philosophy, history, the sciences. There was a whole world waiting out there for me.

I took acting classes, art history, Japanese culture, women's studies. It was all new to me. And while it seems like I strayed far from writing, I stayed close to poetry and literature, the things that mattered most. I was destined to be an English major.

When my advisor learned of my interest in Children's Literature, she directed me to a graduate program at Simmons College that took Children's Literature very seriously, and awarded a master's degree in the subject. I took a year off from Oberlin, moved to Boston, and took courses in the graduate studies program there, for which I received undergraduate college credit. I was on my way now to designing my own individual major in Children's Literature.

On returning to Oberlin, I was fortunate enough to study with a brilliant woman, Kathie Linehan, who was head of the English Department. She worked with me on several independent studies to complete a Children's Literature major. While my friends struggled through Trollope, I was weeping in my dorm room over The Bridge to Terabithia. While my friends wrote long papers for their winter term projects, I got hired on by the Children's Book Shop in Brookline Village to set up a series of author events for the store. I spent my days talking to Marc Brown and Uri Shulevitz on the phone!

And serendipitously, through my studies with Kathie Linehan, I came to find out the happy coincidence that her mother was Zena Sutherland, the revered author of my first textbook in Children's Literature, Children and Books, and a well-known professor and critic of children's books at the University of Chicago. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Zena, who to me was a giant in the field of children's literature.

During college, my summers were spent working, trying to save enough money for the next semester. After freshman year, I worked as a chambermaid at a small inn on Martha's Vineyard so I could be near the ocean. Making beds and emptying other people's trash does not seem like a training ground for a writer, but it proved to be rich in experience of a different kind. I hitchhiked to work every day, picked up by a variety of charactersMr. Convertible, the Poodle Lady, the Professor. I had tea each morning with the owner of the inn, a woman with "spider veins" whose claim to fame was that she was the only "extra" in the movie Jaws who wore pants at the beach. My imagination began to be peopled by a collection of kooky characters that seemed to be straight out of novels.

All the rest of my friends were waiting tables at restaurants, making lots of tips and meeting interesting people. But for me, the mundane work of housecleaning actually left lots of room for reflection and imagination. I made up a game of sorts, a challenge to keep my imagination alive. For each room I'd go in to clean, I'd try to create a character in my mind's eye from what was visible of that person in the room. A pink toothbrush, polka-dot socks, a suitcase full of Band-Aids. (Nurse? Traveling Band-Aid salesperson? Fear of falling?) These became character traits that suggested fictional people to me.

My favorite room at the inn was an attic with steeply sloping ceilings, window seats, old quilts and the smell of cedar. On the bed, someone had left a diary. I didn't open it, but I was tempted. Instead, I imagined and began writing a story in installments about a girl who lives in a house full of history, and finds a diary of a girl from another century. It gave me the dream of someday writing the kind of book that I had loved as a girl. A book about an orphan like Sara Crewe, who survives the evil Miss Minchin solely through having a rich imagination. A book full of history and mystery, like my own Shadows in the Glasshouse, or bold adventure, like All the Stars in the Sky, my novel in the "Dear America" series.

One summer I was a tour guide at the Museum of Transportation in Boston, where I conducted tours through a small museum full of vintage cars, trucks, and fire engines. Another summer, a park ranger, complete with Smokey the Bear hat. My sister had worked as a park ranger for the National Park Service, and from her I learned that it was possible to earn good money while experiencing a beautiful part of the country. She had been to the gold rushes of Alaska, the wilds of northern Minnesota, the petrified forests of Arizona. She had even lived in a lighthouse on one of the remote Apostle Islands.

I filled out pages and pages of applications and checked off Colorado as my first choice. I had visions of living next to the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains under crisp clear-blue skies. I was thrilled when I was accepted for a summer job. As soon as school was out, I headed west on a train for what seemed like days and days.

When I stepped off the train, I was not in the mountains, but in the desert! La Junta, Colorado. The National Historic Site of Bent's Old Fort, an old trading post on the Santa Fe Trail. There, as part of their living history program, I impersonated Charlotte Green, the fort's cook. This meant baking pies in outdoor adobe ovens in 110 degree summer heat, melting tallow into candles, shooting a flintlock rifle at a rendezvous of mountain men, sleeping on a buffalo robe under the stars. Acting a part, or play-acting a role, is another unexpected training ground for a writer. You have to imagine yourself to be somebody else from another time periodhow they look, think, dress, talk, walk. All the ingredients for creating strong characters in fiction.

To my surprise, it turned out to be living, experiencing a variety of people and settings, that was making me a writer, more than formal writing classes had in college. Smelling the ocean, hitchhiking for the first time, living on an island, working as a maid, a first love, a broken heartthese are the things that began to shape me as a writer.

After finishing college, I had no idea what to do with my life, so I applied to the Park Service once again for a seasonal job as a park ranger/tour guide. This time I found myself working on Jamestown Island, the site of the settlement of the first colonists in 1607. I was living in nearby Williamsburg, VA, where I had a tiny house so close to the historic district that people would often peer into the windows to see if it was a colonial inhabitance. For the first time, I had my own place, a tiny house with a garden and a typewriter and good friends across the street. I chopped my own wood, heated with a woodstove, and made my own bread. I lived near the ocean, where I took countless swims and walks along the shore and trips to the Outer Banks beaches of my youth.

I loved the history surrounding me, that sense of stepping back in time, into the past. Passing fields of cotton on the way to the store. Walking the dog on an old road that led to a plantation. The ring of the blacksmith on my way to work. Passing by women in mob caps and men in tricorn hats and breeches.

By day, I led tours instructing visitors about the ruins of the original fort, or told stories about Pocahontas and Powhatan, or the first colonists drinking pumpkin beer and bowling in the streets. I couldn't get enough of the history. The historian at Jamestown led me through basements full of seventeenth-century artifacts, which fascinated me and had me contemplating becoming a museum curator. She invited me to work on a project transcribing actual letters written by George Washington. What a thrill!

My job, however, was a seasonal, temporary one. By Christmas, I had to find work. So I headed for the nearest bookstore. At Scribner's, I got my first real bona-fide full-time job for eight-thousand dollars a year plus benefits. I thought I was rich. To be surrounded by so many books, and get paid for it!

I climbed upstairs to the children's department every chance I got, getting lost in The Great Gilly Hopkins and Dicey's Song.

And I soon discovered that there lived practically in my backyard, my most admired writer of books for children, Katherine Paterson. Every time she gave a talk locally, at a bookstore, library, or conference, I was in the audience. I soaked up every word she had to say about writing, read every essay she wrote on the topic, read every book she'd written.

Around this time, my sister Michele moved to Norfolk, Virginia. She was a photographer and had just landed a job on the Virginian-Pilot. Then one day, she was sent on assignment to photograph the winner of the National Book Award. Her assignment was to take pictures of none other than my heroine, Katherine Paterson! While on assignment, my sister told Katherine that I was her biggest fan. She joked about how jealous I would be that my sister got to meet her and come to her house. By the end of the photo session, Katherine Paterson had invited me to dinner! To say that meeting her in person was such a thrill is an understatement. It changed my life.

Writing was still a dream to me. And I was young and hadn't lived nearly as much as Katherine had by the time she started writing novels for kids. I went from admiring her work, to admiring her as a person. Here was a real person, with kids and a dog and a husband who played pool with me. A person who scribbled in notebooks and made a living as a writer.

Katherine, in her own wise way, made me feel like there was a writer inside me, just waiting to find voice. She taught me that you can't wait for inspiration or you'll never write. You can't wait for the muse to speak. You can't wait for the right time, or you'll never find time. You just have to sit down and do it. Day by day. Word by word. Bone by bone, as in my book The Bone Keeper. "Bird by bird," as Anne Lamott so eloquently put it (in her book by the same title).

From the bookstore, I went on to work at the Williamsburg Public Library. I wasn't a certified librarian, and was sure I wasn't qualified for the job in the Children's Department. In the last question of my interview, I was asked, "What is your favorite children's book of all time?" I blurted out Tuck Everlasting, and the director shrieked, "Mine, too!" I got the job. Thank you, Natalie Babbitt.

I now had a toe in the water in the world of libraries. And I was immediately at home in the Children's Department, where I put on programs for kids of all ages. I told stories, read aloud at story times, played my guitar and sang songs, learned finger rhymes. I discovered a real love and passion for oral storytelling. I'd always had an ear for the told story, since my father's kitchen table stories. So I auditioned to appear in my first public storytelling festival, with a Joseph Jacobs tale I'd heard told by Eleanor Owens, a librarian I had studied with back at Oberlin. It was called "Master of All Masters" and had tons of wordplay and a zany ending that strings nonsense words together in a blizzard of sound. It was delicious.

I went on to work as a children's librarian in the neighboring town of Newport News, where I continued my work with children and learned how to develop a collection of books for the library. Here, I met friend and mentor Therese Bigelow at a neighboring library. Over time, she urged me to go to library school and get a master's in library science. At the time, Virginia did not have an accredited library school, so I asked Therese if she could recommend where I might go to become a librarian. One of the names she recommended was to study with Maggie Kimmel at the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh! My hometown! I'd left home almost ten years ago.

I applied to several universities, but I'll never forget the day I received a call at work while on the desk from Maggie Kimmel herself. She told me the great news that I'd received a full scholarship to come to the University of Pittsburgh to study with her. In that instant, I knew I was headed home.

I moved to a tiny apartment by the railroad tracks, within walking distance of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I took classes from rare books to reference, but it was clear I was destined to be a children's librarian.

While in graduate school working on my M.L.S., I made a wonderful friend, Richard Haynes, who was also studying at the University of Pittsburgh. I didn't know then that we would fall in love and be married almost ten years later. But knowing him made me want to remain in the Pittsburgh area after I graduated.

I soon accepted a position at the "awe-inspiring" library of my youth, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, working under the guidance of one of the greats in my field, Amy Kellman. I could not have asked for a better mentor. Amy is one of the most well-read individuals in the field, and with her, all my instincts as a children's librarian were shaped and under her influence I grew into being a good children's librarian.

I had worked my way through graduate school as a bookseller at Pinocchio Bookstore in Pittsburgh, again mentored by the store's impressive owner, Marilyn Hollinshead. Marilyn was creative, a thinker and visionary, and was successful at operating one of the first independent bookstores dedicated solely with books and events for children, as well as being a founder of American Booksellers for Children. Besides being an incisive reader, she was a writer, and started a critique group for local aspiring writers, none of whom were published. Yet.

It was only a matter of time. Every member of her group went on to become published and flourish in the field of children's book publishing. Because I was still young and just in the infancy of my career as a children's librarian, I wasn't a member of Marilyn's writers/critique group, but I was friends with several of the writers and I was certainly always hanging around, keeping one eye on what the group was doing, and waiting breathlessly, as they were, through the sometimes painful process of submitting manuscripts and suffering rejections.

One by one, as each writer celebrated the acceptance of a first book, something changed in me. I'd never really believed it was possible to get published. I'd heard all the stories. Slush piles. Form letters. Mountains of rejection. The difficulty of simply trying to get your book read by an editor.

Now I knew it was possible. I'd seen it happen first hand, to people I knew. The dream was getting closer. It was right there, in my own small circle.

Then one of life's surprises came my way, in the form of a letter I got in my paycheck from the library. The letter said that the library was struggling financially, and they were going to have to lay people off from their jobs. It invited anyone who would like to take a leave of absence to do so.

I realized that if I was ever going to write, I needed time. Uninterrupted time. Time without the demands and stresses of a full-time job. At the risk of losing my job for good, I took the letter as a sign. An invitation. A calling.

As I look back on it, it sounds pretty crazy, to think I was going to quit my job and write a children's book. But quitting my job turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. I had just the story in mind to write, and now I had the time to write it.

It was a story I had been telling aloud at the library for preschool story time. A story I told with puppets. A story about a hermit crab and a big fish that chases it. My sister had given me these beautiful handmade puppets from a local children's theater. One was a hermit crab, and one a rainbow-scaled fish. I looked for any existing story or book I might use to tell a tale with these two characters. At the time, I couldn't find anything in print about a hermit crab, so I made one up!

It was all about a hermit crab searching for a new home. He tries a rock, a tin can, a bucket, an old shoe, etc. I brought along props for all the possible homes, and I told the story aloud with lots of sounds, inviting the kids in the audience to join in with me and make the scritch-scratch sounds of the hermit crab. They loved it, and after the story time was over, the parents all came up to me and questioned why I hadn't put the book about the hermit crab out on display for them to check out and take home. Of course, there was no book! I had to tell them that the story was made up in my imagination.

A light bulb went off. A seed was planted. I already knew firsthand that the story, with its repetitive refrain of sounds, and the inherent suspense created by a big fish that wanted to eat the tiny hermit crab, was a natural with children and parents alike.

He stepped along the shore, by the sea, in the sand, scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch.

This was an oral story begging to become a book, with illustrations to go along with the visual images the story created. All I had to do now was put pen to paper.

The summer of 1988 in Pittsburgh was hot, hot, hot. We were in the middle of a drought, a record-breaking heat wave. I was happy to be away from the nearly 100-year-old Carnegie Library building that had no air conditioning and windows that had been painted shut eons ago. To stave off the heat, I borrowed a tiny one room air-conditioner from my parents. Feeling as cramped as a hermit crab that has outgrown its shell, I holed up in a walk-in closet in my apartment that I had transformed into a studio, coming out for the occasional tuna fish sandwich.

Looking back, that closet was my artist's garret. My room of one's own. A room without a view.

As fellow Pittsburgher Annie Dillard says, "One wants a room without a view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark."

In the middle of working on the third draft, a friend of mine, another aspiring writer, invited me to a small island off the coast of Maine for a getaway writing vacation. The promise of cool ocean breezes had me packing my bags and stuffing my folders full of drafts into my suitcase.

Every day, we'd trek through pine-carpeted, leaf-dappled forest out to the ocean. Here, we each found a rock, a craggy cormorant-dotted boulder, where we scribbled away all morning in our notebooks, writing and rewriting, warmed by the sun.

Then we'd picnic on a rock and read to each other from our days' work.

My friend, Kathy Waugh, was working on a screenplay, and I found it invaluable to have the encouragement and insightful feedback of a friend and writer I respected so much. It spurred me on as much as the salt air and the magical elfin villages we discovered on our hikes through the forest.

The island was the perfect setting. Not only had I left the heat behind, but I had left behind car payments, rent, bills, shopping for groceries, phone calls. The one-thousand-and-one day-to-day interruptions that start out as distractions and so easily become the excuses not to write.

It was synchronistic that around this time, I attended the Fall Festival of Children's Books at Carnegie Library, an annual event that celebrated children's literature and its writers. At the event, a panel of editors spoke.

Richard Jackson was one of those editors. He was speaking at the conference with one of his writers, Cynthia Rylant. Rylant gave a poignant talk, about her early struggle as a writer, and how she nearly abandoned her own voice, were it not for her editor, Richard Jackson.

Dick Jackson most likely won't remember his own words, but I do. They're imprinted in me, like every one of those skeleton bones that gave me comfort.

It was about, of all things, voice. It was about telling a good story, an honest storybeing true to yourself, taking risks and above all, finding your own voice.

Sitting in that dark audience, listening to Dick's voice, I started to hear my own voice.

SoI worked up all the courage in me, and went to talk with Richard Jackson himself. In the middle of our conversation, he peered at me quizzically, maybe even a tad suspiciously, and asked a simple question.

"Are you a writer?"

The stutterer in me could not speak. I broke out in a sweat. Somehow, the pencil-sharpener girl whispered yes.

And Dick invited me to send him somethinganythingI had written.

I ran home and sharpened a bunch of pencils.

Eventually, I did send him a book about a hermit crab, even though it took two years (to come out of my own shell ) and lots of U. S. mail mishaps for Is This a House for Hermit Crab? to find its way, landing in Richard Jackson's lap.

In that early version, Hermit Crab did all the talking. (We all know how editors feel about talking animals! ) Dick wrote me a letter. A genuine, not-an-e-mail, not-a-post-it note, letter. The letter said, I know you are a storyteller. Would it be possible? Do you think? Might we hearinstead of Crabyour storyteller voice? Your voice.

My voice.

That was the beginning.

Having an editor interested in my work made all the difference. I've always been a person who has more ideas than I have time to write. But believing it can happen, knowing there's a person out there who believes in you as a writer, helps enormously with one's self-doubt as a writer.

The writer Joan Didion says of her editor:

What editors do for writers is mysterious and does not, contrary to general belief, have much to do with titles and sentences and changes. The relationship between a writer and editor is much subtler and deeper than that, at once so elusive and so radical that it seems almost parental: the editor is the person who gives the writer the idea of himself, the idea of herself, the image of self that enables the writer to sit down alone and do it.

Or, as one first grader put it, after hearing me give a talk about the writing process: "So the story starts out real, real bad. Then along comes this guy with a red pencil. And it gets real, real good."

The "guy with the red pencil" told me he wanted to see anything else I'd written. I got to work immediately on The Potato Man, based on those kitchen table stories my dad had told me about the scary old one-eyed huckster of his youth, growing up in Depression-era Pittsburgh. My tale featured the refrain "Abba-nopotata-man!" that dad had so often cried out to draw us into his stories.

By the time I had written a handful of picture books, I submitted a somewhat autobiographical picture book called The Bridge to Nowhere to my editor, about a young girl who grew up with the wonder of the feat of building bridges, because of her dad, who was a bridge builder.

The story was only four pages long, but my editor immediately recognized that there was more here than met the eye, and encouraged me to think about the hidden potential in the story. In other words, he encouraged me to write a novel. My first novel!

The bridge itself was a real place, and an actual bridge in downtown Pittsburgh that my dad had worked on, now called the Fort Duquesne Bridge. Anyone who grew up in Pittsburgh remembers the bridge, and will always think of it as the Bridge to Nowhere. The bridge was incomplete, three-quarters of the way finished, when they ran out of money and stopped work on the last expanse that would connect the bridge up to the other side. For almost ten years, the bridge sat unfinished, looking strangely eerie stretching across the river, out into the middle of the Allegheny, with nowhere to go.

It became famous, because of a story that headlined the newspapers in the early sixties, about a man who drove off the bridge one late night in a beat-up old station wagon. His car was going so fast, it flew through the air, across the river, and landed on the opposite river bank.

I had known the story since I was a kid, and been fascinated with its "truth is stranger than fiction" aspect. I dug into all the old newspaper accounts of the incident, looking not only for concrete details but a reason why. It remains an unsolved mystery to this day. The perfect story for a writer. I could make up reasons for my own character in the story, the troubled father of a twelve year old girl.

As the story began to take shape, I realized the true-life incident that the book hinged on would have to come at the end. So I wrote the book backwards, working on the ending first.

The novel was beginning to take shape, but I had little time to work on it, and I didn't even own a computer at the time. It started as just a lot of unwieldy pages scribbled in a notebook. I also had little time to write, as I was back at my full-time job at the Carnegie Library.

I edited and honed a single, dramatic chapter of the novel, and daringly submitted it to a fiction contest sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Judy Blume. To my surprise and absolute delight, I won the Judy Blume Award for Contemporary Fiction. I was able to use the cash prize to purchase my first computer, and a little time off.

When I was well into the novel, an unexpected opportunity came my way. I heard of a position as a children's librarian in Minneapolis, MN, where my sister lived. Here, I could work part time, and make the same salary as I did working full time at my job in Pittsburgh.

I applied for the job and soon found myself packing my bags and heading for Minnesota in the middle of January. I arrived to sixteen-below-zero freezing temperatures. Everyone thought I was nuts. Ice glittered on the Mississippi River, a stone's throw from my apartment. But I had my ice skates and a stockpile of hot chocolate. And the company of my sister only a few miles away. What better way to write a novel than to hole up inside a toasty little room with my desk, notebook and computer, watching fingers of ice drip from the roofline, and frost paint itself on all the windows?

I now had a few days of the week just for writing. At the library, I met a friend who I'd been at Oberlin with, a fellow writer, and we became fast friends and writing partners. I wrote all week, and every Sunday morning we would meet at the Gem in Uptown, an unusual little diner that made the most incredible gingerbread pancakes. Over our pancakes, we'd read our writing. I tried to bring a new chapter each week or so, and chapter by chapter, my first novel became a rough draft.

At the time, I had no idea that the rough draft was not the hardest part. I had my first real introduction to rewriting. I'd heard it from Katherine Paterson many times, that the hard work really came about in the rewrite. Now I knew it firsthand.

I cut the first forty pages, threw out whole chapters, threw out beginning after beginning, started again. In the middle of the novel, I changed the voice from first person to third person. I read books to try to figure out how other writers did it.

Even working only part time, it took me nearly four years to complete.

I felt like I'd moved to Alaska, the Antarctic, the North Pole. It was so cold, even the mice did not want to live outside. I could hear them squeaking in the walls, making tiny kissing sounds. One day, my first mouse appeared in the house. She kept making nests out of my Cheerio boxes, and I would find them in unwanted places, like my silverware drawer in the kitchen.

My sister's advice was to catch the mouse in a live trap and let it go outside. I caught the mouse the first night, and let her go in the back yard. The next day, she was back in the silverware drawer. I caught the mouse again the next night. Every time I caught the mouse, I let her go further and further away from the house, in the backyard. But every night, she made her way back.

Finally, I got smart. I had to catch the mouse and let her go somewhere farther away. Somewhere like St. Paul. Somewhere like my sister's house, which just happened to be in St. Paul! No way would a mouse be able to find its way back to Minneapolis from St. Paul.

I caught the mouse again in the "box" and put it in the car. When I got to my sister's house, I crept around to the back and let the mouse go in my sister's back yard.

At last! That was the end of the mouse!

Until about a week later, when my sister called to tell me that all of a sudden, out of the blue, she had a mouse in her house! What a coincidence that she had a mouse in her house, just like I'd had.

Too bad I started laughing. I think I gave myself away. Because not long after that day, a mouse appeared back in my kitchen drawer. The same day my sister had been to visit me!

I think we passed that mouse back and forth all winter, from Minneapolis to St. Paul. Finally spring came, and the mouse stayed outdoors for a while.

I did not forget the story of the Minneapolis mouse. Later, it would become a book called Tundra Mouse, a sort of city mouse, country mouse story which I set in Alaska but based on my remembrance of those long Minnesota winters.

A few years later, just after we'd had a blizzard on May 5(!) I vowed not to spend another winter in Minnesota. A friend and colleague that I went to library school with contacted me out of the blue. She was the director of a small public library in western Pennsylvania, which we called the Mr. Rogers library, because it was located in his hometown. Mr. Rogers was very generous to the town library, and had given a large sum of money to build the children's book collection and library. My friend invited me to be the children's librarian there.

By this time, I sorely missed Richard (my husband to be) and I had dreams of escaping another Minnesota winter. So I headed back to Pennsylvania, moved to a small town in the mountains, and worked part time at the Mr. Rogers Library.

It was 1991. About one month after returning home, my father died unexpectedly. I was devastated, and went into a kind of grief I'd never known. Five months later, to the exact day, my mother died. My life was turned upside down with such unspeakable loss. A sorrow took hold of me. I couldn't write. It was all I could do just to get through each day.

I stayed in Pennsylvania for a few years, because I wanted to be close to the memory of my parents. To be able to drive past their house, walk on the old path through the woods, visit their grave, go to the rose garden planted in their memory. And I wanted to be with Richard, in the arms of someone who loved me.

I started writing another novel, about a girl whose father had died. I didn't know then that I was just too close to it. I was really struggling with how to get it right when my editor suggested that I write something funny instead. He told me he thought I was a funny person, and that he saved a lot of my post-it notes because they were so funny.

I will always be indebted to Richard Jackson for seeing just what I needed during that time. I curled up on the couch under the old quilt and wrote Insects Are My Life in my notebook. It's about a girl who loves bugs. Big bugs. Small bugs. Any bugs. All bugs. Creepy bugs. Crawly bugs. Slimy bugs. Climby bugs. Bugs with wings. Bugs that sing

"Amanda Frankenstein, get your feet off the table!" her mother scolded at dinner that night.

"But butterflies have taste buds on their feet," Amanda said.

"Well, please keep your taste buds on the floor," said her mother.

I had the most fun writing that book. I laughed again. It felt so good to remember the childhood stories of collecting dead moths and lining them up in my jewelry box like a scientist, playing the "dead fly in the ice cube" trick on my sisters, hatching hundreds of praying mantises in my sock drawer by accident! These stories all became part of Amanda Frankenstein's world, her passion for bugs.

I thought I might never leave Pennsylvania again, my childhood home, but Richard and I took a trip to San Francisco and drove up the coast along Route 1. I fell in love with the rolling green hills in winter, the morning fog, the sunny blue-sky days, the certain slant of light in the afternoon, something I'd never found anywhere but in the west.

On our way back to San Francisco, we drove through a little town called Sebastopol. A classic California small town with a charming center square and lots of little houses tucked into the surrounding hills. The town had a great coffee shop and an independent bookstore, my two requirements for a place to live. At the time it was just a dream to move to northern California. But we couldn't get it out of our minds.

Months later, we came back again, this time seriously looking for housing and jobs. We were lucky to find a tiny house on the outskirts of Sebastopol, dotted with persimmon trees, calla lilies that sprang wild from sidewalk cracks, and chickens that laid fresh, organic eggs under all the bushes, in a daily hide-and-seek sort of treasure hunt.

In one week, everything fell magically into place, and before we knew it, we were heading west to a new life in Richard's stuffed-to-the-gills pickup, imagining what it was like for the pioneers on the prairie, or the brave souls traversing the Donner Pass in winter. We drove cross country for days, crossing the sunflower fields of Kansas, then the deserts of Nevada on the Loneliest Road in America. For hours and hours, we saw only tumbleweed.

This setting would later inspire the spooky, atmospheric tale, The Bone Keeper, the first book I wrote on coming to California. It's a folkloric tale, based in oral tradition, about an old woman who goes out into the desert to collect bones. She pieces them together, and when the last bone is put in place, magic happens. It springs to life and becomes a wolf, bounding off into the desert.

If you listen to the desert
If you listen
You may hear

A laughing
A chanting
A singing

They call her Owl Woman
They call her Rattlesnake Woman
They call her Bone Woman

Bone Woman is old,
Older than the Joshua tree.
She is bent and stooped,
Closer to earth than sky.
Her hands are withered
Like some ancient oracle
Through a wrinkle on the sole of her foot
She feels everything.

She is Hunter
She is Gatherer
She is Keeper of the bones, bones.

Northern California is a small paradise. In winter, the velvety green hills call to mind Ireland, the ancestral land of my great-grandparents. In summer, we're only a short drive from the coast, which is always dramatic and awe-inspiring. The hills are carpeted in wild lupine and Indian paintbrush, and the seals are always at play in the waves. Since that first time I'd seen the ocean as a child, I'd always had a dream of living near the ocean.

Richard and I married a few weeks after arriving in California, in September, 1994, in a small private ceremony at St. Teresa's Church in Bodega Bay. If you've ever watched Hitchcock's movie The Birds, you'll see our tiny church in several of the scenes, right next to the old schoolhouse where Tippi Hedren helped to rescue the school children.

Richard was working as a teacher, and I was working at the public library and a children's bookstore, speaking to schools and taking on part-time jobs here and there until my writing could support me. Richard eventually went back to graduate school to get a master's degree in counseling, and is now a Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Rosa, CA.

I kept on writing, never short of ideas, always trying out different ways of storytelling, new voices. A few years after moving to California, I finally found the courage to give up my bevy of part time jobs, and became a full-time writer. I continued to speak at schools and conferences around the country. I was speaking at a local conference in northern California, when I was asked to be on a panel with my agent, Kendra Marcus, and an editor from Candlewick Press, Mary Lee Donovan.

Even though we'd never met, we role-played for the audience a scene that demonstrated what the author/ editor relationship was like. We were immediately drawn to each other, and Mary Lee asked me to please keep her in mind if I ever had a manuscript that might be for her.

Call it synchronicity. I've been extremely blessed with synchronistic events in my life. Richard Jackson, my editor of over ten years, was at a time and place in his career where he was not in a position to accept and publish as many books as I was writing. When I met Mary Lee, I was just beginning to think about what other editor I might work with. After meeting her, I had such hopes that we would make a good match.

At the time, I had written a collection of twenty-five short, easy-to-read vignettes about the sibling dynamics of a feisty older sister and her little brother. I showed them to Dick Jackson, who just wasn't in a position to deal with so many stories, and easy readers were not selling at the time.

My agent suggested I take the individual episodes, and turn them into a short novel for kids just starting to read chapter books. She assured me that we had to introduce my writing to a new editor with something really strong, and one of the stories, called The Toad Pee Club, really caught her eye, and her funnybone.

I spent the better part of a year writing the short novel. We sent the manuscript, based on those laugh-out-loud funny stories about growing up with four sisters, to Mary Lee Donovan at Candlewick. My character was a third grader full of moods, good moods and bad moods, who enjoyed tormenting her little brother, Stink. Like the time she put the fake hand in the toilet to scare the pants off of him!

The book was called Judy Moody.

Mary Lee liked it right away, and had a clear and wonderful vision for the book. She put me through several tough revisions, including one where I had to cut about one hundred pages from the manuscript (these papers later became Judy Moody Saves the World! ).

She also brought the inventive mind of illustrator Peter Reynolds to the project. Together with Ann Stott, the designer, they came up with a whole new look for the third grade chapter book.

We set out with only one thing in mind. To make the best book we knew how. Each of us had a part.

We didn't know then that Judy Moody would hit the bestseller lists, reaching millions of young readers and being printed in languages all across the world, from Japanese to Latvian.

I didn't know then that Judy Moody would take me to meet my fans, not only across the United States, but all over Europe and soon, Australia. I didn't know then that Judy Moody would connect with readers in a way I hadn't known before.

Story. All these years, it's the power of story that connects writer and reader.

Katherine Paterson, said it best in an essay in her book Heart in Hiding:

What I think I'm doing when I write for the young is to articulate the glorious but fragile human condition for those whose hearts have heard but whose mouths, at the age of five or ten or fourteen, can't yet express. But the truth is that I can't really express it either. So what happens is a reciprocal gift between writer and reader: one heart in hiding reaching out to another. We are trying to communicate that which lies in our deepest heart, which has no words, which can only be hinted at through the means of a story. And somehow, miraculously, a story that comes from deep in my heart calls from a reader that which is deepest in his or her heart, and together from our secret hidden selves we create a story that neither of us could have told alone.

I've always loved working with clay, as well as words. When I work with clay, I'm reminded of my first pottery teacher, Betsy Krome, who asked us to cut open the first hundred bowls we madeto see the inside.

This is what the writer asks of herself, of each story. This is what makes me a writer. Always wanting to see the inside.

I'm lucky to be a writer. I tell kids I'm lucky because I get to live in my imagination all day. I get to stay up late and go to work in my pajamas, spending my days, as Dick Jackson often put it, "making stuff up until it's true."

Carl Jung says no matter how isolated you are or how lonely you feel, if you listen to your own voice, if you pay attention, if you try to see the inside unknown friends will come and seek you.

All those years ago, I had no idea of the unknown friends that would come and seek me Hermit Crab, Iguana, The Potato Man, Beezy, Amanda Frankenstein, Judy Moody.

What a gift it's been.

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McDonald, Megan 1959-

McDONALD, Megan 1959-

Personal

Born February 28, 1959, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of John (an ironworker) and Mary Louise (a social worker; maiden name, Ritzel) McDonald; married Richard Haynes. Education: Oberlin College, B.A., 1981; University of Pittsburgh, M.L.S., 1986.


Addresses

Home Sebastopol, CA. Agent c/o Author Mail, Candlewick Press, 2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140.

Career

Children's book author and librarian. Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA, children's librarian, 1986-90; Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, MN, children's librarian, 1990-91; Adams Memorial Library, Latrobe, PA, children's librarian, 1991-94; storyteller and freelance writer.


Member

American Library Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.


Awards, Honors

Children's Choice Book, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council (CBC), 1991, and Reading Rainbow book selection, Public Broadcasting System, both for Is This a House for Hermit Crab?; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/CBC, 1992, for The Potato Man; Judy Blume Contemporary Fiction Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1993, for The Bridge to Nowhere; Carolyn W. Field Award, 1993, for The Great Pumpkin Switch; Garden State Children's Book Award for Younger Fiction, 2003, for Judy Moody; other honors include Keystone State Award, American Booksellers Association Pick-of-the-Lists selection, and School Library Journal Best Books of the Year citation.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN


Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard (New York, NY), 1990.

The Potato Man, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Orchard (New York, NY), 1991.

Whoo-oo Is It?, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard (New York, NY), 1992.

The Great Pumpkin Switch, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Orchard (New York, NY), 1992.

Insects Are My Life, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard (New York, NY), 1995.

My House Has Stars, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard (New York, NY), 1996.

Tundra Mouse: A Storyknife Book, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard (New York, NY), 1997.

The Bone Keeper, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.

The Night Iguana Left Home, illustrated by Ponder Goembel, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.

Bedbugs, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.

Lucky Star, illustrated by Andrea Wallace, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Reptiles Are My Life, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard (New York, NY), 2001.

Ant and Honey Bee, illustrated by Tom Payne, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Shining Star, illustrated by Andrea Wallace, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

Penguin and Little Blue, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.

Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.

Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs!, illustrated by Jane Manning, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.


FOR CHILDREN; "BEEZY" SERIES


Beezy, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard (New York, NY), 1997.

Beezy at Bat, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard (New York, NY), 1998.

Beezy Magic, illustrated by Nancy Poydar (New York, NY), Orchard, 1998.

Beezy and Funnybone, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard (New York, NY), 2000.


FOR CHILDREN; "JUDY MOODY" SERIES


Judy Moody, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

Judy Moody Gets Famous!, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Judy Moody Saves the World!, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Judy Moody Predicts the Future, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Judy Moody, M.D., illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.


FOR YOUNG ADULTS

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

Shadows in the Glasshouse, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

The Sisters Club, American Girl (Middleton, WI), 2003.

All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.


Adaptations

In 2003, Candlewick Press published a Judy Moody Mood Journal, a blank book illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, that was inspired by McDonald's "Judy Moody" series.


Work in Progress

Stink: The Adventures of Incredible Shrinking Boy, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, for Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), publication expected in 2005; When the Library Lights Go Out, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, for Atheneum (New York, NY), publication expected in 2005.


Sidelights

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 characteristicslike hurricanesbut 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 adventureslike jumping out of a hot-air balloonenter the mix. School Library Journal reviewer Maura Bresnahan praised "the warm and friendly tone" 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 sounda strange noise that gradually gets louderpersists 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 boyMcDonald's fathertries 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 storya leaf falling, the smell of cinnamon, a dog that looks both ways before crossing the street. The idea, the seed of a story, is implicitbut 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

BOOKS


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

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


PERIODICALS


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.


ONLINE


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

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McDonald, Megan 1959-

McDONALD, Megan 1959-

PERSONAL: Born February 28, 1959, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of John (an ironworker) and Mary Louise (a social worker; maiden name, Ritzel) McDonald; married Richard Haynes. Education: Oberlin College, B.A., 1981; University of Pittsburgh, M.L.S., 1986.

ADDRESSES: Home—Sebastopol, CA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Candlewick Press, 2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140.

CAREER: Children's book author and librarian. Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA, children's librarian, 1986-90; Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, MN, children's librarian, 1990-91; Adams Memorial Library, Latrobe, PA, children's librarian, 1991-94; storyteller and freelance writer.

MEMBER: American Library Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

AWARDS, HONORS: Children's Choice Book, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council (CBC), 1991, and Reading Rainbow book selection, Public Broadcasting System, both for Is This a House for Hermit Crab?; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/CBC, 1992, for The Potato Man; Judy

Blume Contemporary Fiction Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1993, for The Bridge to Nowhere; Carolyn W. Field Award, 1993, for The Great Pumpkin Switch; Garden State Children's Book Award for Younger Fiction, 2003, for Judy Moody; other honors include Keystone State Award, American Booksellers Association Pick-of-the-Lists selection, and School Library Journal Best Books of the Year citation.

WRITINGS:

for children

Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard (New York, NY), 1990.

The Potato Man, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Orchard (New York, NY), 1991.

Whoo-oo Is It?, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard (New York, NY), 1992.

The Great Pumpkin Switch, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Orchard (New York, NY), 1992.

Insects Are My Life, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard (New York, NY), 1995.

My House Has Stars, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard (New York, NY), 1996.

Tundra Mouse: A Storyknife Book, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Orchard (New York, NY), 1997.

The Bone Keeper, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.

The Night Iguana Left Home, illustrated by Ponder Goembel, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.

Bedbugs, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.

Lucky Star, illustrated by Andrea Wallace, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Reptiles Are My Life, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard (New York, NY), 2001.

Ant and Honey Bee, illustrated by Tom Payne, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Shining Star, illustrated by Andrea Wallace, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

Penguin and Little Blue, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.

Baya, Baya, Lulla-By-A, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.

Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs!, illustrated by Jane Manning, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.

for children; "beezy" series

Beezy, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard (New York, NY), 1997.

Beezy at Bat, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard (New York, NY), 1998.

Beezy Magic, illustrated by Nancy Poydar (New York, NY), Orchard, 1998.

Beezy and Funnybone, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Orchard (New York, NY), 2000.

for children; "judy moody" series

Judy Moody, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

Judy Moody Gets Famous!, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Judy Moody Saves the World!, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Judy Moody Predicts the Future, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Judy Moody, M.D., illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

for young adults

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

Shadow in the Glasshouse, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.

The Sisters Club, American Girl (Middleton, WI), 2003.

All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

ADAPTATIONS: In 2003, Candlewick Press published a Judy Moody Mood Journal, a blank book illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, that was inspired by McDonald's "Judy Moody" series.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Stink: The Adventures of Incredible Shrinking Boy, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, for Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), publication expected in 2005; When the Library Lights Go Out, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, for Atheneum (New York, NY), publication expected in 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: 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 CA. 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. Beezy grows up in Florida, and her 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 Funnybone, 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" 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 Latrobe, 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 CA. 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 crabeating 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 oldfashioned to today's readers." The watercolor 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, firstgrader 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 bugloving 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, sunseeking 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 styled 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-yearold 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 Florie 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 CA. "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…. Tobea writer for children, I continue to believe in the transformative power of story that connects children with books."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

books

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

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

periodicals

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 Funnybone, 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: The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, 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.

online

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

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McDonald, Megan 1959-

Megan McDonald 1959-

INTRODUCTION
PRINCIPAL WORKS
AUTHOR COMMENTARY
GENERAL COMMENTARY
TITLE COMMENTARY
FURTHER READING

American author of children's novels, readers, and picture books.

INTRODUCTION

McDonald has earned an international reputation for her range of picture books, story books for early readers, and chapter books for middle-grade readers. Often combining engaging storylines with educational information, McDonald's works attract young readers through her use of lively protagonists in such works as The Potato Man (1991), Beezy (1997), The Night Iguana Left Home (1999), and Judy Moody (2000). Best known for her recurring Beezy and Judy Moody series, McDonald also explored the myths and traditions of indigenous Americans in The Bone Keeper (1999).

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Born on February 28, 1959, McDonald was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the youngest of five girls. Her father, John, was regarded as great storyteller and loved to tell his tales at family dinners; several of them provided inspiration for McDonald's children's works. During primary school, McDonald wrote her first short story for a school newspaper in which she detailed, in first person, the life of someone who ate pencil shavings all day. She began her post-secondary education at Oberlin College, graduating with a B.A. in 1981. After graduation, McDonald enrolled at the Center for the Study of Children's Literature in Boston, receiving a B.A. in children's literature. McDonald continued her training at the University of Pittsburgh where she obtained her M.A. in library science. She worked as a children's librarian at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh between 1986 and 1990, later working at the Minneapolis Public Library and the Adams Memorial Library. In 1987 McDonald became interested in writing children's literature after hearing children's book editor Richard Jackson speak at a conference. She eventually sent Jackson the manuscript for Is This a House for Hermit Crab? (1990), which became her first published work.

MAJOR WORKS

McDonald's picture books focus primarily on combining elements of natural science with entertaining fantasy. Is This a House for Hermit Crab? originated as a story for a puppet show that McDonald had composed during her tenure as a children's librarian. The title character is based on one of her own pets, a hermit crab who got loose and eventually found a hiding place in McDonald's shoe. The book follows Hermit Crab, who has outgrown his old shell, forcing him to search for a new home. He tries on many different new houses—none of which suits him—while trying to avoid the dreaded pricklepine fish. Before the pricklepine fish can catch him, Hermit Crab discovers a sea snail shell that fits him perfectly. Covering similar subject material, Whoo-oo Is It? (1992) recounts a mother owl's contemplation of a strange noise she hears during the night. The mother owl makes several guesses before figuring out that the sound is coming from her own baby owl, hatching from its egg. In addition to her works that focus on animals and nature, McDonald has also written a number of books based on stories originally told to her by her father. One of these tales, The Potato Man, is narrated by a young boy who observes a strange-looking man with only one eye and a lumpy face which makes him look like a potato. The Potato Man's odd appearance scares little girls and causes him to be relentlessly taunted and teased. Throughout the narrative, the Potato Man catches the narrator causing trouble three times, resulting in punishment, but the narrator continues to view the Potato Man as a gentle and understanding soul. McDonald wrote a sequel to The Potato Man in 1992, The Great Pumpkin Switch, which describes an incident where the narrator accidentally destroys his sister's prize pumpkin and has to enlist the aid of the Potato Man to save the day.

The 1997 easy reader book Beezy christened one of McDonald's most popular recurring series. Each Beezy story contains three short stories about a little girl named Beezy, her friends, and her dog Funnybone. In the three stories collected in Beezy, the title character meets Funnybone for the first time, makes a new friend, and stays indoors during a hurricane. The subsequent titles in the series include Beezy at Bat (1998), Beezy Magic (1998), and Beezy and Funnybone (2000). A departure from McDonald's previous works, The Bone Keeper melds images from a mixture of cultural mythologies to create an archetypical Wise Woman character. Set in a desert environment and utilizing the structure of a tone poem, the story follows the title character as she collects old bones from the desert floor. She eventually performs a ritualistic dance around the bones which brings them back to life as a wolf. McDonald returned to the genre of nature-fantasy picture books—which she first explored in Is This a House for Hermit Crab? and Whoo-oo Is It?—with The Night Iguana Left Home. The protagonist, Iguana, resides in Schenectady, New York, where she has her own e-mail address and subsides on a diet of anchovy pizza. However, Iguana longs to travel to Florida and, one night, she runs away and takes a bus to Key West. For weeks, she lives a life of indulgence until her money runs out, and she realizes that she needs to find a job. After a variety of bad job experiences, Iguana decides that she misses Schenectady. As a result, she finds a new job at the post office and mails herself home. Torn between her desire to be in both places, Iguana solves her problem by spending part of the year in each location and traveling between the two.

Spotlighting the trials and tribulations of a grouchy pre-teen, McDonald's middle-school chapter books about Judy Moody have proved to be one of her most successful and popular series. The first book, Judy Moody, establishes the protagonist as a young girl who seems to be perpetually stuck in a foul mood. Her displeasure is further aggravated when her little brother manages to ruin the collage she made for a homework assignment. In the end, Judy figures out how to save the assignment, though it hardly changes her grouchy outlook. Judy's life has been further documented in Judy Moody Gets Famous (2001), Judy Moody Saves the World (2002), and Judy Moody Predicts the Future (2003).

CRITICAL RECEPTION

McDonald's easy-reader books have become popular with both students and teachers, with the Judy Moody series drawing particular attention for its humor and unique characters. Reviewers have also lauded McDonald's science-picture books for their combination of educational information and entertaining narratives. Elizabeth S. Watson has commented that, in Is This a House for Hermit Crab?, "Hermit Crab's search for a new house is told simply and very effectively with a wonderfully alliterative, rhythmic refrain." Watson further commended McDonald's skill with descriptive language in Whoo-oo Is It?, noting that, "[t]he mysterious sound will send delicious shivers up little spines, but the final tender family scene will relieve any lingering concerns." McDonald's Potato Man books have also been praised for their imaginative phrasing and evocative illustrations. Additionally, the Beezy series has received similar critical acclaim, with the critic for Publishers Weekly asserting that, "[McDonald's] ear for the way children speak is on target." However, McDonald's The Bone Keeper has been met with a decidedly mixed critical reception, with some commentators expressing both admiration and confusion about the book's narrative. Some critics have found the work to be evocative and dream-like, while others have complained that the story is overly puzzling and borderline incoherent. Susan Dove Lempke has commented that, " [The Bone Keeper] 's austere quality will not be to all tastes, but the words and pictures together create a spooky, thought-provoking experience." McDonald's Judy Moody books have been her most favorably received works to date, with Janie Schomberg complimenting Judy as "a delightful new character for beginning chapter-book readers." Audiences have also embraced the series' sly humor and recurring commentary on the perils of pessimism. Junko Yokota and Mingshui Cai have noted that, "[t]he moody yet spirited protagonist [in Judy Moody] is as lovable as the story is enjoyable. Teachers will admire her intelligence in dealing with challenges in school."

AWARDS

McDonald received the Children's Book Award from the International Reading Association for Is This a House for Hermit Crab? The Bridge to Nowhere (1993) won the Judy Blume Contemporary Fiction Award from the Society of Children's Book Writers. Judy Moody was named a Best Book of 2001 by the American Library Association, and Judy Moody Gets Famous received the same honor in 2002 as well as being named a Boston-Globe Horn Book. Several of McDonald's other books were on the American Booksellers Pick of the List and received citations for Best Book of the Year from the School Library Journal.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

Is This a House for Hermit Crab? (picture book) 1990

The Potato Man (picture book) 1991

The Great Pumpkin Switch (picture book) 1992

Whoo-oo Is It? (picture book) 1992

The Bridge to Nowhere (young adult novel) 1993

Insects Are My Life (easy reader) 1995

My House Has Stars (picture book) 1996

Beezy (easy reader) 1997

Tundra Mouse: A Storyknife Tale (picture book) 1997

Beezy at Bat (easy reader) 1998

Beezy Magic (easy reader) 1998

Bedbugs (picture book) 1999

The Bone Keeper (picture book) 1999

The Night Iguana Left Home (picture book) 1999

Beezy and Funnybone (easy reader) 2000

Judy Moody (easy reader) 2000

Lucky Star (easy reader) 2000

Judy Moody Gets Famous (easy reader) 2001

Reptiles Are My Life (easy reader) 2001

Shadows in the Glass House (historical fiction) 2001

Judy Moody Saves the World (easy reader) 2002

Baya, Baya, Lulla-By-A (poetry) 2003

Judy Moody Predicts the Future (easy reader) 2003

Shining Star (easy reader) 2003

AUTHOR COMMENTARY

Megan McDonald (essay date March 2000)

SOURCE: McDonald, Megan. "Bones of a Story." Book Links 9, no. 4 (March 2000): 22-3.

[In the following essay, McDonald reflects on the creation of The Bone Keeper.]

Bones. My first experience with bones was eating one. In my family of older sisters, we still tell the story of being given holy relics from Rome, by an uncle of mine who is a priest. Each ornate case was rumored to contain the bone of a saint. My sisters convinced me, the youngest, that if I smashed my case and swallowed the tiny bone inside, I would be holy forever. Without hesitation, I smashed the jeweled case and swallowed the tiny bone. I don't know that it made me holy! But, it did begin my fascination with bones, with things that once were.

As a child, I was famous for collecting—bones, skulls, fossils, shells, skins of snakes and bugs, and charcoaly leaf-prints pressed between layers of Pennsylvania shale. Even scabs—and baby teeth I could not surrender to the Tooth Fairy. What do we know of bones in our culture? There is the Halloween skeleton, the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone, and the museum artifact. Scary. Wishful. Old.

A few years back, my young niece arrived at the family farm after a 13 hour road trip. She stepped out of the car, took a look around the farm, and asked, "You got any old bones around here?" Bones signify age, wisdom, and a connection with the past. Her interest reminded me that bones inspire a child's natural curiosity about things that came before us, about things that may have existed. When I visit schools and tell young people that I've written a story about bones, I get many emphatic responses of "YES!"

Bones, to me, are anatomy and history. They are haunting, lonely, and lovely. Think for a moment of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of blue sky seen through the "window" of a pelvic bone, or her juxta-position of roses against cow skulls. Through her eyes, bones can be seen as form and contour, shape and composition. Bones become, in a word, art. It was her work that first had me connect bones with the desert, first let me see. And, in the words of that great painter, "to see takes time."

It took time to see this story. Like The Bone Keeper 's creation, many pieces had to come together. I had never been to the desert until my husband and I came across Nevada in the heat of an August, traveling what's called the Loneliest Road in America. It is. This gave me the setting for The Bone Keeper. More important, it offered me the feeling of loneliness and isolation I needed to write about the desert, rather than just imagining it.

I never knew my own grandmothers, so I invented an old woman. She's an every-grandmother, the book's single character, the collector of bones. It had to be someone wise. Images of the archetype of the old woman are ancient and many: the crone, grandmother, wise woman the Greek deity Hecate, the Russian witch Baba Yaga, Italy's Strega Nonna, India's Kali, and the Hopi Spider Woman, to name a few. I borrowed attributes from mythology for my own composite. For example, Hecate, in Greek mythology, is said to have three heads, tame wild animals, turn invisible, and be able to see past, present, and future, like Bone Woman in my story.

The Bone Keeper is not based on any one individual tale. I remembered coming across oral tales in which storytellers spin yarns about bones that come back to life. I consulted a friend of mine with extensive background in mythology, who excitedly informed me that these bone stories appear in virtually every culture around the world. My curiosity had me racing to the library, heading first for mythology and folklore. To my delight, I discovered tales of bones coming to life from Africa to India, Greenland to New Guinea, Australia to Iran. From the American Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts to the Arabian Rub'al Khali and the Takla Makan of China. I found bones that jump from fires and deep wells, animals that leap from skeletons, earths and mountains created, and heroes born from a single swallowed bone.

I read everything I could get my hands on about deserts all over the world. I discovered a strange and unique ecosystem where eerie rock shapes loom, sands sing, and silence is deafening. I researched desert plants and animals. I imagined a place where mammoths, sloths, and camels once roamed. I pored over books with animal skeletons and studied the facts and names of bones. The small collarbone of an owl is called a wishbone; snakes have 400 vertebrae.

I made lists! Yucca and catclaw, ocotillo, ironwood and smoke tree; bat and badger, kit fox and kangaroo rat, rattlesnake and ring-tailed cat. None of my research was wasted; it did more than provide the "bare bones" of the story. It was like learning a new and foreign language. Its words and sounds created a rhythm, became part of the poetry, giving the story its otherworldly quality. "One by one by one / she collects / each lonely bone."

Early attempts at finding an illustrator for the story turned up sketches and drawings that were scary and dark and disturbing. This was not at all what I intended. I wanted mystery, magic, creation—as with castles from sand, sculptures from clay, stories from words—a wolf from bones.

Illustrator Brian Karas understood my intentions. He says, "There is a stillness when you come across a bone. You think about origins, the post and the future. The stillness … is where the book takes place."

Listening to a group of third-graders at the Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis give a choral reading of The Bone Keeper, I was surprised by that stillness, the spell that was cast over the room. Read it aloud to a classroom full of sixth-graders and you'll feel it: The hush. The stillness. The magic of bones.

Megan McDonald (essay date 27 February 2002)

SOURCE: McDonald, Megan. "Homepage." 27 Februray 2002 <http://www.meganmcdonald.net/about.htm (9 August 2003).

[In the following essay, McDonald talks about why she became a writer.]

Becoming a pencil sharpener was my first experience as a writer.

I was in fifth grade when I wrote the story for my school newspaper. In first person, it detailed a life of eating pencil shavings all day.

Since then, I've been a hermit crab, a one-eyed potato man, and a girl who loves insects. I've been to Alaska and Florida—places I've never actually visited—lived in a Mongolian yurt or a Philippine houseboat under the stars, and peered through the eye of a hurricane. I even know what it's like to drive off a bridge!

Growing up was filled with box-turtle races, chasing the ice cream truck, searching for nickels hidden by my father in the mossy insides of a certain tree stump. But always the dinner bell rang from the back porch, calling my sisters and me home to the circle of the kitchen table, where we'd carved our names with the tines of forks.

"Abba-no-potata-man!" my father called after dinner. A story would begin, about the scary old one-eyed huckster from his neighborhood who later became the inspiration for The Potato Man and The Great Pumpkin Switch. His stories were funny and dangerous, from squeezing an orange in his brother's hair to stowing away in the rumble seat of an old Model-T.

With four older sisters, I couldn't get a word in edgewise during those dinner-table conversations. I'm told I began to stutter in elementary school. My mother bought me a small notebook, and I began writing everything down in true Harriet-the-Spy fashion.

I'm often asked how I remember all those things from my childhood—tricking my sisters with a plastic ice cube that had a dead fly in the center, hatching praying mantises in my sock drawer a la Amanda Frankenstein, or drinking a dozen glasses of water like Hallie in A Bridge to Nowhere because I was convinced I had rabies.

I'm not a writer because I had an adventurous childhood. I'm a writer because of what I choose to do with remembering. I'm a writer because I imagine.

What made me want to write? Reading. Did I always want to be a writer? Deep down. How did I become a writer? I'm still becoming one.

I'm lucky to be a writer. I spend my days thinking like a mouse. Or pretending I have taste buds on my feet, like a butterfly. I spend my days looking at things sideways, questioning, always wanting to see the inside.

Megan McDonald (interview date 27 February 2002)

SOURCE: McDonald, Megan. "Homepage." 27 February 2002. <http://www.meganmcdonald.net/about.htm (9 August 2003).

[In the following self-interview, MacDonald answers questions children often ask her.]

Where were you born?

I grew up in a house full of books in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the youngest of five girls. My father, an ironworker, built bridges all across the city, including the real Bridge to Nowhere. Known among ironworkers as Little Johnny, he was a great storyteller. My mother, a social worker, was a very good listener.

Dinnertime took place at a large round table in the kitchen, where the seven of us gathered nightly, talking and telling stories. With four older sisters, I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I'm told I began to stutter. That's when I first started writing things down.

What was your childhood like?

What I remember of childhood is summer—the woods, the creek, the goldfish pond. Skinned knees from climbing in tree wells. Picking blackberries. Searching for nickels in old tree stumps, where my father used to hide them. Chasing after the ice cream truck.

What is the first story you remember writing?

A story in grade school called "The Plea of the Pencil Sharpener," told from the point of view of a pencil sharpener!

Did you have a favorite book as a child?

A biography of Virginia Dare, the child from the Lost Colony at Roanoke [in Virginia], until I was banned from taking it out of the library, in order to give other kids a chance to read it.

Where did you go to school?

Oberlin College. And the University of Pittsburgh, where I got my M.L.S. [Master of Library Sciences degree].

Did you always want to be a writer?

Deep down, I did. In the meantime, I've had jobs as a park ranger, chambermaid, cook, tour guide, and storyteller. I've worked in bookstores, libraries, and schools, a children's theater company, a children's museum, and a museum full of old cars and fire engines!

How did you become a writer?

I'm still becoming one.

What made you want to write?

Reading. Love of language. Childhood. Imagination. Belief in the transformative power of story.

When did you know you wanted to write books for children?

The exact moment? In 1987, when I heard Richard Jackson, my editor, speak at a conference. It took me two years from that time to work up the courage to send him a manuscript. When I finally did, it got lost in the mail … two times!

How do you get your ideas?

Ideas are like secrets waiting to be told. An idea begins as a tiny seed, then swells inside me until it captures my imagination, makes me laugh, or strikes me deeply. Ideas come from inside out and outside in. An idea may enter with the surprising force of a thunderclap or slowly, gradually shape itself over time.

You write about animals. Do you have any pets?

Over the years, I have had goldfish, newts, turtles, snakes, mice, lovebirds, canaries, finches, parakeets, and—yes—hermit crabs. Right now I have two dogs named Banjo and Fudgie, two adopted horses, and 15 wild turkeys that hang out on the roof of my house.

How did you get the idea for your first book,Is This a House for Hermit Crab?

It grew out of a story told with puppets to children at the library, based on an incident where my pet hermit crab got loose and hid in my tennis shoe. Its alliterative sounds, its rhythm and repetition worked so well with children that I imagined it as a picture book, in hopes that it might find a wider audience.

GENERAL COMMENTARY

Janet Schnol (essay date 21 December 1990)

SOURCE: Schnol, Janet. "Flying Starts: New Faces of 1990." Publishers Weekly 237, no. 51 (21 December 1990): 13-18.

[The following essay, Schnol gives an overview of McDonald's early work.]

A crab hand puppet and a children's story hour inspired librarian Megan McDonald to create the tale of a crustacean in search of a new home in Is This a House for Hermit Crab? When she decided to use the puppet as a visual aid, and couldn't find a book starring a hermit crab, McDonald remembered a story she had written more than 10 years earlier, in college. With a few alterations to the old story and some props of possible homes, McDonald told the children in her library the tale of the hermit crab looking for a place to live. Afterwards, when people asked where they could find the book, McDonald decided to write it.

Though she had thought about writing for children while in college, McDonald says, "When I felt the story worked with kids, it was the first time I believed in my own work." Even so, when she decided to take a leave of absence from the library to concentrate on writing, McDonald was too nervous to tell anyone she was using the time off to write a book. "Everyone kept asking if I was pregnant," she recalls.

McDonald had previously met editor Richard Jackson of Orchard at the Pittsburgh Fall Festival of Books. She was so taken with his encouragement of new writers that when the manuscript was finished she sent it directly to him. Jackson accepted it, though McDonald says it wasn't until she saw illustrator S. D. Schindler's drawings for the story that reality began to sink in.

The Potato Man, McDonald's second title, is due from Orchard next March. There are two more picture books under contract as well: Whoooo Is It?, inspired by a nature program on television (from which McDonald learned that barn owls can hear their babies crying inside the egg); and a sequel to The Potato Man. McDonald has just received a grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers, the Judy Blume Contemporary Fiction Award, and she is currently working on a novel for 11-to-13-year-olds called The Bridge to Nowhere. "It's about a girl and her relationship to her father, an unemployed bridge builder," which McDonald says is semiautobiographical.

Though she says she was prepared for bad reviews and low pay, McDonald has been happily surprised—Is This a House for Hermit Crab? recently went into its second printing. Now a part-time librarian at the Minneapolis Public Library, McDonald says she is also surprised by the different ways the story affects readers. She has heard about the book being used in science classes, and received a touching letter from a boy whose family moves often and who felt he could relate to the hermit crab in search of a home.

Not only is McDonald's reputation growing, but she is gaining confidence as a writer. When asked what advice she would give to other newcomers, McDonald's first response is, "The most important thing is to try to believe in your writing."

TITLE COMMENTARY

IS THIS A HOUSE FOR HERMIT CRAB? (1990)

Elizabeth S. Watson (review date March 1990)

SOURCE: Watson, Elizabeth S. Horn Book Magazine 66, no. 2 (March 1990): 222.

Hermit Crab's search for a new house [Is This a House for Hermit Crab? ] is told simply and very effectively with a wonderfully alliterative, rhythmic refrain: "So he stepped along the shore, by the sea, in the sand … scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch. " Rejecting in turn a rock as too heavy, a tin can as too noisy, a pail as too deep, and several other equally unsuitable habitats, Hermit Crab finally finds his new home in the nick of time, just as he is about to be eaten by the dread prickle-pine fish. The pictures are realistic yet spare—appropriate for a sea-swept beach. The sand is textured so well that one must touch and touch again before believing that the page is really smooth and not grainy. The text has movement, repetition, drama, and a time-honored, comforting conclusion: "It was not too heavy, not too noisy, not too dark, and not too deep. It was not too crowded and did not have too many holes. At last, Hermit Crab had found a new home. And it fit just right." Goldilocks would love it, and the young listener will, too. Hermit Crab will fit just right into summer story hours and family suitcases.

Susan Scheps (review date April 1990)

SOURCE: Scheps, Susan. School Library Journal 36, no. 4 (April 1990): 94.

Across flecked, sand-colored pages [Is This a House for Hermit Crab? ] crawls Hermit Crab—"scritch-scatch, scritch-scratch"—hunting for a new house.

He tries a rock, some driftwood, a plastic pail, and a net. Nothing suits him until, washed to sea by a great wave, he must find a place to hide from his enemies. An empty sea snail's shell provides the perfect home. Schindler's pastel illustrations provide the perfect visualization of the text. Hermit Crab and his enemy, the prickle-pine fish, appear so realistic that children will want to reach out and touch them. Prints in the sand left by Crab's moving "houses," foamy waves breaking on the beach, the vastness of the ocean floor and its quiet greenness—all can be felt in [S. D.] Schindler's pictures. The bits of repetition in the text are pared with the visual continuity of sand and sea and the outgrown shell left on the sand as Hermit Crab tries on each prospective home. This wonderful marriage of words and illustrations is destined to become a well-loved storyhour tale.

THE POTATO MAN (1991)

Diane Roback and Richard Donahue (review date 14 December 1990)

SOURCE: Roback, Diane, and Richard Donahue. Publishers Weekly 237, no. 50 (14 December 1990): 66.

When the Potato Man came to East Street, a white-haired man tells his wide-eyed grandchildren, bad luck came with him [The Potato Man ]. Back then, the narrator was a boy in knee pants and the street, with its endless stream of hucksters, was an exciting place. But then the one-eyed, lumpy-faced old Potato Man arrived, scaring the girls and prompting taunts from the boys. Three times the Potato Man caught the narrator making mischief, and three times the boy wound up with extra chores at home. Finally, "I figured three times bad luck was enough for me," the narrator relates, and on the first day of winter the boy finds a way to make peace with the Potato Man. McDonald (Is This a House for Hermit Crab? ) and [Ted] Lewin (Tiger Trek) have created a lovely, evocative period piece. The artist's horse-drawn wagons, rugged faces and turn-of-the-century kitchen are perfectly matched by the gentle homespun writing style. Like the narrator's grandchildren, who beg him to "tell us another one about when you were a boy," readers will eagerly await more from this team.

Mary Lou Budd (review date February 1991)

SOURCE: Budd, Mary Lou. School Library Journal 37, no. 2 (February 1991): 72.

Children will seldom turn down a good story of the "olden days" from a grandfather, and this one [The Potato Man ] gives a vivid glimpse into the early part of our century. Scissor grinders, organ grinders, and peddlers' wagons creaked through the streets and alleys in those days with things or services to sell. Mr. Angelo, with a face as lumpy as his potatoes, is just such a huckster and it seems natural that he should be the butt of the neighborhood boys' pranks. But he is the ultimate winner of these "battles" through his use of gentleness and understanding. The exceptional, realistic watercolor artwork fairly leaps from the pages with its portrayal of emotions and action. It is so evocative that readers and audiences are swept into and held to the action of the intriguing story. The manageable text contains so much descriptive phrasing that action is brought immediately to the mind's eye. With a fine balance between text and illustration, this is picture book reading at its best, revealing a genuine cohesion of word and picture. And, as all "Grampa" tales should, it gives vitality to a long-ago era, as well as subliminally teaching something of compassion, understanding, and remorse. Whether read to a group or on an individual basis, this will be a popular choice for a wide spectrum of ages.

Mary M. Burns (review date May 1991)

SOURCE: Burns, Mary M. Horn Book Magazine 64, no. 3 (May 1991): 318.

An incident from Grampa's boyhood [The Potato Man ] told to his two attentive grandchildren transports the reader back in time to an era when Stanley Steamers were still in vogue and peddlers with horse-drawn carts brought their wares and services directly to neighborhoods. Of these hucksters, the Potato Man makes the greatest impression on the narrator, for he seems to be the harbinger of bad fortune. Injured in "the Great War," he has only one eye and a face "as lumpy as a potato"—which terrifies most of the children and causes others to tease him. The boy finds himself catapulted from one scrape to another—from stealing potatoes to breaking a neighbor's window—and each time the source of the problem seems to be the fearsome old Potato Man. But an opportunity comes one snowy day at Christmas time for the boy and his nemesis to reach out to each other and resolve their differences. The text, a slice-of-life evocation of a past era, sets forth conflict and solution without moralizing. The tone suggests an underlying sentiment but not sentimentality, matched by Ted Lewin's handsome, glowing watercolors. Ranging from expressive portraits to interiors, from studies of laden wagons to a breathtaking impression of a snow-shrouded street, they add dimension and verisimilitude to the story. The conclusion suggests that Grampa may have still more memories to share. Let's hope so.

THE GREAT PUMPKIN SWITCH (1992)

Susan Scheps (review date August 1992)

SOURCE: Scheps, Susan. School Library Journal 38, no. 8 (August 1992): 143-44.

McDonald's storytelling skill is once again very much in evidence in this sequel [The Great Pumpkin Switch ] to The Potato Man (1991). This time Grampa tells of the time he and his friend Otto accidentally cut the stem of his sister's prized pumpkin, causing "Big Max" to tumble down 34 front steps and smash. With some quick thinking and the help of Mr. Angelo, the Potato Man, the boys are able to bring about a happy ending. Although the story is set in the early part of the century, this very realistic tale involves typical childhood dilemmas and will not seem the least bit old-fashioned to today's readers. [Ted] Lewin's outstanding watercolor paintings add even more flavor and appeal to the well-crafted text. Especially noteworthy is the composition of each illustration and his use of perspective and bold color highlights to define the focal points. This perfect melding of words and pictures is a shining example of the finest in picture book production.

WOO-OO IS IT? (1992)

Hazel Rochman (review date 1 February 1992)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Booklist 88, no. 11 (1 February 1992): 1041.

From twilight through the darkness to dawn, a mother owl hears secret, half-familiar sounds in the night [Whoo-oo Is It? ]. Is it the whoosh of a dragonfly's wing? The tat-a-tat-a-tat of the woodpecker? [S. D.] Schindler's fine, textured pastel drawings—brown, gray, black, and white on colored paper—combine a mood of mystery with precise observation, extending the images, sensations, and movements of the silence. As our eyes grow accustomed to the dark, we're drawn into the pictures, and we notice details of the barn, a stone wall, a raccoon in shadow, a distant fence. The surprise of the story is that all this whispery life is coming from the birth of the owl's new nestling. The crack of the egg, "fine as the vein of a new leaf," is part of a wide, natural universe, lit by the first splinter of light at dawn. Like McDonald and Schindler's Is This a House for Hermit Crab? this would make a fine read-aloud, with lots of audience help in re-creating the sounds.

Susan Scheps (review date April 1992)

SOURCE: Scheps, Susan. School Library Journal 38, no. 4 (April 1992): 96.

McDonald once again combines story and nature lesson in this sophisticated piece of prose [Whoo-oo Is It? ] that incorporates some nighttime sounds. Mother barn owl, sitting on her eggs in the eaves of the barn at sundown, hears some familiar noises and flies off to investigate. Observant children will quickly connect the odd noises to the eggs shown in an early illustration, yet the first glimpse of an owl hatchling holds an element of surprise. [S. D.] Schindler illustrates this soft, sometimes poetic piece in a style similar to that in his earlier collaboration with McDonald, Is This a House for Hermit Crab? (1990). Most of the realistic pastel drawings rendered on earth-toned papers are dark scenes of barn interior and woods, with an occasional sand or gray-bordered scene for contrast. The format is quite attractive. Although this quiet story with its unfamiliar sounds is not exactly exciting fare, it will make a satisfying read-aloud selection for classrooms and story hours.

Elizabeth S. Watson (review date May 1992)

SOURCE: Watson, Elizabeth S. Horn Book Magazine 68, no. 3 (May 1992): 331.

The author-illustrator team of Is This a House for Hermit Crab? has produced another handsome book [Whoo-oo Is It? ]. This one asks a new question: Who or what is making the noise—" whhh, whhh, whhhhh … no more than a whisper"—that troubles Mother Owl as she sits on a clutch of eggs? Ruling out a small mouse on the barn floor, a puppy barking, a kitten crying, the creaking of the barn floor, a snake, and a raccoon, the worried mother "circled the fields and returned, out, over, away, and back. Sweeping, swooping, through the trees she searched, then flew back to her eggs, her nest. Wondering. Waiting." All is well when the noise is discovered to be the first owlet emerging from its shell. The illustrations are as dark as the barn night, but perfectly discernible. The velvety pastels create texture and depth, making the white features of the barn owl all the more dramatic. The mysterious sounds will send delicious shivers up little spines, but the final tender family scene will relieve any lingering concerns.

THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE (1993)

Susan Oliver (review date April 1993)

SOURCE: Oliver, Susan. School Library Journal 39, no. 4 (April 1993): 143.

In a story [The Bridge to Nowhere ] almost as fragmented as the family at its center, readers get a glimpse of hard reality in tough economic times. Hallie's father was laid off from his job building bridges and his disintegrating emotional health has begun to tear at the other members of the family. The young teen feels abandoned by her older sister, away at college, and by her mother, who is struggling to support the family and maintain its facade of normalcy as her father disappears more and more into his basement workshop and out to his last, unfinished bridge. Hallie struggles—with junior high school, with her gossipy best friend, and with a budding romance with an incredibly sensitive teenage boy—as anecdotes take a troubled family to a dramatic climax, if not to resolution. Rich in metaphor, slim in character development, this is a moving, but not fully satisfying, slice of life, sure to inspire more questions than answers.

Deborah Abbott (review date 1 April 1993)

SOURCE: Abbott, Deborah. Booklist 89, no. 15 (1 April 1993): 1424-425.

Seventh-grader Hallie O'Shea [The Bridge to Nowhere ] tries desperately to close the ever-widening gap between her and her father, who was laid off two years earlier from his job as a bridge builder. It makes no sense to anyone—especially Jim O'Shea, whose only passion in life has been the intricate construction of iron and steel webs that span rivers in Pittsburgh—that a bridge should be left uncompleted, a bridge to nowhere. Hallie's mother nervously watches her husband's mind deteriorate, and Hallie's sister, Shelley, away at college, is unwilling to see the real picture at home. Hallie turns to Crane Henderson, two years older, who offers a fresh perspective and warmth, kindling Hallie's first boy-girl relationship. In the typical fits and starts common to new friendships, Hallie learns a lot about herself. When her father unexpectedly travels the bridge to nowhere and ends up in the hospital, she finds a new strength and the ability to cope. This welcome first novel by the author of several picture books (among them, The Great Pumpkin Switch ), offers realistic characters, an attention-holding plot that blends Hallie's normal teen concerns with her worry about and anger at her father, and an upbeat ending.

Publishers Weekly (review date 19 April 1993)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 240, no. 16 (19 April 1993): 63.

Despite this first novel's [The Bridge to Nowhere ] firm sense of place—Pittsburgh—its grasp on time, narrative structure and characterization remains rather shaky. A pivotal event, in which protagonist Hallie's father "flies" his car from an unfinished bridge across the Allegheny River, is—according to a note in the text—based on an actual incident in 1964. McDonald does practically nothing to anchor the story in that period. She sets the scene for a problem novel rife with dramatic possibilities—embittered unemployed father, mother struggling to support the family, older sister with dark secret, a seventh-grader's first love—but she constantly misses the payoffs. Her troubled family is miraculously fine again after Hallie's father suffers amnesia following his car stunt, Shelley has only to sniffle a little to be straightened out, and Hallie's fears of physical intimacy with older admirer Crane melt away with a mere hug. Lack of a satisfying resolution makes this an uncompelling read.

INSECTS ARE MY LIFE (1995)

Publishers Weekly (review date 16 January 1995)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 242, no. 3 (16 January 1995): 454.

Pigtailed and bespectacled—and with a freckled, round face and turned-up nose—Amanda Frankenstein looks like a junior pedant [Insects Are My Life ]. And perhaps she is. Crazy about insects, the strong-willed girl dumps her brother's fireflies out of the jar and informs him, "Bugs are people, too, you know." Amanda amasses a huge collection of bugs ("Dead ones, of course"), is proud of the number of mosquito bites on her leg (22) and utters the dramatic claim stated in the book's title. Incessantly talking about (and even acting like) various insects, she antagonizes her brother and classmates. The plot wears thin, although some of Amanda's antics are engaging and many of McDonald's (Is This a House for Hermit Crab? ) lines are quite funny (when the aspiring entomologist puts her feet on the kitchen table because, she announces, butterflies have taste buds in their feet, her mother orders her to "please keep your taste buds on the floor"). [Paul Brett] Johnson's (The Cow Who Wouldn't Come Down) animated watercolor, colored-pencil and pastel illustrations depend on exaggeration for their humor; even so, they are truer to life than the text in their depiction of ordinary feelings.

Virginia Opocensky (review date March 1995)

SOURCE: Opocensky, Virginia. School Library Journal 41, no. 3 (March 1995): 183-84.

Amanda loves bugs [Insects Are My Life ], a fact that no one else seems to appreciate. She examines them, collects them, protects them, and imitates their behavior. She even gets into trouble at home and at school because of them. Kids tease her, and one in particular, Victor, makes her life miserable. In one humorous exchange she calls him "…a stinkbug on the leaf of life." Then she discovers Maggie, a classmate who has a passion of her own—reptiles. Factual tidbits slipped surreptitiously into the appealing text add information to this spirited tale. It's refreshing to have nonsqueamish female characters who are willing to take on all adversaries in defense of their causes. Full-page and vignette illustrations rendered in soft-hued watercolors, colored pencils, and pastels complement and add humor to the story. They are energetic, engaging, and entomologically correct. Insects Are My Life is an almost-perfect specimen.

Stephanie Zvirin (review date 1 March 1995)

SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Booklist 91, no. 13 (1 March 1995): 1249.

Amanda Frankenstein adores insects [Insects Are My Life ]. She collects them ("dead ones, of course"), observes them, reads about them, and even writes poems about them. But nobody seems to understand her fervor, not her mother or her brother, and certainly not the kids at school—that is, for except Maggie, whose green scuba goggles betray her dearest love: "Reptiles are my life!" Amanda's discovery of a new friend comes a mite too abruptly at the close of the story, but McDonald beautifully captures kids' wonderful ability for all-encompassing devotion and offers children reassurance that it's perfectly OK to be different, [Peter Brett] Johnson's pleasingly unsaccharine illustrations, rendered in a combination of watercolor, pencil, and pastel, catch sometimes sour Amanda at her willful, stubborn, preoccupied best.

Margaret A. Bush (review date March-April 1995)

SOURCE: Bush, Margaret A. Horn Book Magazine 71, no. 2 (March-April 1995): 185.

Megan McDonald, whose previous books have been picture-book nonfiction such as Is This a House for Hermit Crab? and Who-oo Is It? adroitly blends humorous human nature and respect for natural science [Insects Are My Life ]. Life among humans is not always easy for Amanda Frankenstein, whose passionate interest in insects is not shared by family and classmates. Amanda sets free the fireflies her brother has captured in a peanut-butter jar. She examines live bugs and collects dead creatures. In her avowed role as a bug's best friend, Amanda not only goes to great lengths to protect insects and invite them into the house, but she also gets even with her detractors. "And you, Victor, are less than a flea. You are a stinkbug on the leaf of life." Amanda's devotion to insects causes problems as other class members begin to ostracize her, but all ends unexpectedly well when she is sent to sit next to newcomer Maggie—who loves reptiles. Paul Brett Johnson's crayon and pastel illustrations, which sometimes border on caricature, aptly convey the emotional ups and downs of all concerned as Amanda explores nature and aggravates folks at home and school. Megan McDonald's single-minded, sometimes naughty heroine evokes chuckles with her feisty independence, and she will surely have special appeal for readers possessing their own personal passions.

MY HOUSE HAS STARS (1996)

Publishers Weekly (review date 26 August 1996)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 243, no. 35 (26 August 1996): 97-8.

McDonald (Is This a House for Hermit Crab? ) turns to geography here [My House Has Stars ], showing vastly different houses from around the world which all have one feature in common: the "roof" of stars that hangs over them. Eight colorful, dense vignettes feature a child describing his or her home ("My house has walls made of sheep's wool and a real door in the front of the tent that squeaks like a crybaby"). The "tour" of each dwelling, be it houseboat, igloo, skyscraper, yurt, etc., concludes with a reference to the stars above; for example, a child in a pueblo says, "I see stars, like tiny handprints, where Coyote scattered the mica dust and stars were born!" Unexplained facts and referents abound, tantalizing readers but also likely to frustrate them: What is a jeepney? Why does the Weaver Princess star go to meet the Ox Boy star? [Peter] Catalanotto's (Who Came Down That Road?) diffused watercolors show the children in their environments. Facing art, beneath the blocks of text, clues readers into the characters' locations: a hazy map of the world, with the child's homeland circled. The impressionistic style of the pictures suggests as much as it represents. Unfortunately, this approach exacerbates the gaps left in the vignettes. At best this is a lyrical invitation to a scavenger hunt on the reference shelf; otherwise it is essentially a cliff-hanger.

Sally R. Dow (review date October 1996)

SOURCE: Dow, Sally R. School Library Journal 42, no. 10 (October 1996): 102-03.

Children from widely different cultures have one thing in common—all of their homes have a view of the night sky [My House Has Stars ]. From the roof of his mud-walled house in Nepal, Akam sees stars; Carmen watches them from her houseboat in the Philippines; Abu sees the night sky from his village in Ghana; Mariko looks out of paper windows from her house in Japan. In an adobe pueblo, Chili can see the stars when he climbs to his flat rooftop; Oyun sees the heavens above her yurt in the Mongolian desert; Sergio goes out on the roof of his Brazilian city skyscraper to see the night sky, and Mattie views the winter night from her igloo in Alaska. The concept of one earth, one sky unfolds in poetic imagery embracing the universality of people everywhere: "Our house, the earth. Our roof, the sky." Full-page watercolor paintings in soft, misty colors reflect the awesome quality of the universe as viewed by youngsters throughout the world.

Carolyn Phelan (review date 1 November 1996)

SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist 93, no. 5 (1 November 1996): 508.

In the framework story [My House Has Stars ], a mother tells her daughter that "night is falling somewhere. And now. And now again. Night is coming to this sky. To houses everywhere. This house. / And there are stars." In the pages that follow, eight children around the world tell about their homes at night a houseboat in the Philippines, a mud house in Nepal, a group of round huts in Ghana, a Japanese house, an adobe pueblo, a Mongolian yurt, a skyscraper apartment in Brazil, and a house on the Alaskan tundra. Each child, each culture views the night sky and the stars in a slightly different way, yet as the book's point of view pulls back visually in the last pages, it is clear that earth is home to all, and the roof above our heads is the same sky. [Peter] Catalanotto's impressionistic watercolor paintings capture each culture's individuality yet maintain the same soft-focus view of the world after darkness falls. Although the scenes take place at night, each is full of light: firelight, starlight, moonlight, city lights, the northern lights, and even the light of glowing silkworms. All add to the sense of wonder created by the well-crafted words and art in this purposeful yet impressive picture book.

Publishers Weekly (review date 18 June 2001)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 248, no. 25 (18 June 2001): 83.

McDonald turns to geography in this picture book [My House Has Stars ], showing vastly different houses from around the world which all have one feature in common: the "roof" of stars that hangs over them.

BEEZY (1997)

Stephanie Zvirin (review date 15 September 1997)

SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Booklist 94, no. 2 (15 September 1997): 235.

Enlarged type, lots of leading, and amiable watercolor illustrations give this book for new readers [Beezy ] plenty of visual appeal. McDonald's stories are pleasant, with two of the three (Beezy finds a dog and Beezy makes a new friend) solidly anchored in everyday life. The third (actually the first in the collection) is a bit more dramatic four "friends" sit out scary hurricane winds together, telling stories by candlelight. Kids who take things literally may be a little confused by Beezy's seeming unconcern about the predicament ("Maybe we will have another hurricane tomorrow"), but they'll have no trouble understanding the idea of friends helping one another during difficult times.

Publishers Weekly (review date 29 September 1997)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 244, no. 40 (29 September 1997): 89.

A trio of breezy tales fills this beginning reader [Beezy ], which stars the peppy title character and her easygoing best buddy, Merlin. McDonald (The Great Pumpkin Switch ) shrewdly gives each selection a theme or setting loaded with child appeal: in "Eye of the Storm," the lights go out, candles make spooky shadows and the two youngsters listen to tales of a long-ago hurricane; Beezy secretly hopes no one will respond to her notice about a stray dog she has found in "Funnybone" ; and in the third, she and Merlin make friends with a new girl, "Sarafina Zippy," whose parents are circus performers. The author's cleverly subtle repetition of words and phrases, often appearing in the punchy dialogue among the young characters is well suited to beginning readers. And her ear for the way children speak is on target, as when Beezy tells Sarafina that she has known Merlin her "whole life," or at least since the age of two, "except for one week when I was mad at him." In step with the stories' energetic stride, [Nancy] Poydar's (Cool Ali) cheerful, brightly hued pictures imbue Beezy and her companions with an extra measure of personality.

Barbara Elleman (review date November 1997)

SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. School Library Journal 43, no. 11 (November 1997): 92.

In three short stories styled just right for the beginning-to-read crowd [Beezy ], Beezy waits out a Florida hurricane with her Gran; adopts a homeless dog she names Funnybone; and befriends newcomer Sarafina Zippy, whose parents are the Flying Zippys in the Pickle Circus. McDonald uses lots of word repetition and short sentences, injects dialogue in a natural way, and repeats story elements within the plot, which will be helpful for problem readers, without losing any punch to the narrative. Poydar follows suit: the full-color illustrations are delivered with zest and are integrated into the text for an easy flow between word and image. McDonald delivers another winner.

TUNDRA MOUSE: A STORYKNIFE TALE (1997)

Jane Marino (review date October 1997)

SOURCE: Marino, Jane. School Library Journal 43, no. 10 (October 1997): 42.

A multilayered but often confusing tale within a tale [Tundra Mouse ]. Older sister Elena repeats a family holiday story to her little sister, Lissie, using words, sounds, and "storyknifing," described in the book's foreword as a Yup'ik Eskimo technique of drawing pictures while telling a story. Elena recounts how Tundra Mouse is accidentally picked up in Grandmother's gunnysack and taken into the house, where she meets the House Mouse, who takes her into his own nest. When a huge, sparkling spruce tree appears, the two mice spend the nights before Christmas spiriting away the tinsel and ornaments. By Christmas morning, the tree is bare. Grandmother explains the disappearing decorations as the work of the cingssiiks, tiny, magical people. When a pipe bursts and drives the mice back into the fields, they build a nest for their new family with the tinsel, which the girls discover out in the fields one day. Although this picture book celebrates family tradition and the pleasure taken in a story remembered, lapses in logic, unexplained elements, and amazing coincidences, along with Lissie's interruptions and interjections, overwhelm the narrative. The expertly rendered, colored-pencil illustrations have a scratchboard look; the brown paper that surrounds each one shows the small storyknife figures and gives the story a rustic air. A package with many appealing elements, but they don't come together to create a satisfying whole.

Publishers Weekly (review date 6 October 1997)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 244, no. 41 (6 October 1997): 55.

A felt-like, mouse-brown background sets the mood for this original "storyknife" tale [Tundra Mouse ], traditionally relayed by Yup'ik Eskimo girls, who use a knife's tip to scratch pictures in the mud or snow while storytelling. Sprinkling her tale generously with Eskimo terms, Elena tells of a mouse who was transported from the Arctic prairie to her grandmother's home, where it met a mate and filched their Christmas tinsel to feather its nest—a nest which mysteriously reappears many weeks later back on the tundra (filled with baby mice). Storyknife symbols (rendered by a Yup'ik elder) encircle [S. D.] Schindler's softly realistic colored-pencil illustrations in a tender wreath of authenticity.

Susan Dove Lempke (review date 1 January 1998)

SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Booklist 94, no. 9 (1 January 1998): 824.

As she tells a story about Tundra Mouse to her sister, Lissie, Elena uses her storyknife to scratch pictures in the mud that represent the mouse's adventures. When her cozy home is disturbed, Tundra Mouse hides in Grandmother's gunnysack and winds up journeying to a place with delicious tastes but frightening sights and sounds. Diving into an open silverware drawer, she meets House Mouse. Together, they work to improve House Mouse's messy home by stripping a Christmas tree of its tinsel, cookies, and candy canes, and when Elena and Lissie wake up on Christmas morning, the tree is empty. The mouse's adventures are in roman type, the girl's comments appear in italics, and the storyknife pictures are in the page borders. The illustrations, on warm brown paper, look like scratchboard art and ingeniously echo the scratches of the storyknife. The book nicely captures the style and tone of the Yup'ik people's storytelling, at the same time giving children a glimpse of contemporary Yup'ik custom and some laugh-out-loud fun.

BEEZY AT BAT (1998)

Pam Hopper Webb (review date September 1998)

SOURCE: Webb, Pam Hopper. School Library Journal 44, no. 9 (September 1998): 176.

Youngsters who are already familiar with the unflappable heroine, introduced in Beezy (1997) and Beezy Magic (1998), will enjoy these new adventures [Beezy at Bat. ]. In the first chapter, Beezy, her Gran, and neighbor Mr. Gumm spend a summer evening "cracking" riddles as they crack nuts. The next episode features the girl and a friend who is so troubled about snakes that he can't pick blackberries. The third chapter finds Beezy and her companions playing a sandlot baseball game during which they recruit a mysterious right fielder with an alligator-tooth necklace and a unicycle. Sarafina Zippy takes center stage in this episode, and while she is a spirited character, readers may wonder who she is and where she came from, and question her fielding techniques. What makes the book so appealing is that all of the characters and situations are child centered and fun and the plots use familiar settings with innovative devices. Subtle humor and softly colored, though slightly washed out, gouache illustrations make this title a suitable addition to the early-reader shelves.

Hazel Rochman (review date 1 November 1998)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Booklist 95, no. 5 (1 November 1998): 508.

In the third easy chapter book about Beezy [Beezy at Bat ], she plays baseball, scares her friend with a snake, and cracks riddles with Gran on the porch. The riddles are silly, but they are a playful way to enjoy words; the baseball action has a nice turnaround when the clumsy kid learns to catch; and the snake episode is just on the edge of shivery. Cheerful gouache illustrations show Beezy and her friends having fun in the Florida sunshine.

Horn Book Guide (review date spring 1999)

SOURCE: Horn Book Guide 10, no. 1 (spring 1999): 58.

In this third chapter book about Beezy [Beezy at Bat ], she trades riddles with Gran and Mr. Gumm, finds a snake while picking berries with her friend Merlin, and gets an unusual new unicycle-riding player for her baseball team. The stories and their cartoon-style illustrations are amusing enough, but readers who don't know the previous books might feel a little lost.

BEEZY MAGIC (1998)

Jackie Hechtkopf (review date April 1998)

SOURCE: Hechtkopf, Jackie. School Library Journal 44, no. 4 (April 1998): 104.

In the first of three easy-to-read stories [Beezy Magic ], Beezy decides that her name is uninteresting, but when her grandmother tells her the story about how her nickname came about, she is delighted with it. In the next chapter, Gran tells Beezy and her friend Merlin a humorous trickster tale of a clever rabbit who outmaneuvers a panther. Unfortunately, this segment takes readers too far away from the characters for too long, giving the book a disjointed tone. In the final story, Beezy's dog jumps into a pastry shop window to eat his favorite food, key lime pie. The reaction to his foaming green mouth is very funny. Fans of Beezy (1997) are likely to enjoy this title more than readers not previously introduced to this charming character. Only one of the three chapters puts her in a starring role, which serves to distance readers. [Nancy] Poydar's gouache paintings have a great deal of energy and child appeal, but they don't elevate the book enough to make it a first choice for beginning-reader collections.

Stephanie Zvirin (review date July 1998)

SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Booklist 94, no. 21 (July 1998): 1891.

Lively, carrot-haired Beezy returns in another collection of "adventures" for young readers [Beezy Magic ]. In the first, Beezy learns about her nickname; in the second, Gran tells about a tricky rabbit besting a panther; in the last, Beezy's dog goes on a hunt for its favorite treat, key lime pie. There's enough commotion and variety to keep readers interested; the artwork is adequate; and the text, which is mainly dialogue, is printed in easy-on-the-eye, extralarge type. Children who like Beezy will enjoy this as well.

BEDBUGS (1999)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 July 1999)

SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 67, no. 13 (15 July 1999): 1141-142.

Getting ready for bed is a challenge if there's an ostrich in the bathtub [Bedbugs ], and everyone knows that it's hard to brush teeth with a shark in the sink. Both parents and children will identify with Susan's clever attempts to put off going to sleep and will chuckle at the illustrations showing the transformation of everyday objects into creatures unlikely to reside in any normal family's home. [Paul Brett] Johnson is fearless in his depictions of the creatures, imaginary and real, residing in Susan's home, and the ongoing conversation between father and daughter is one children will recognize and relish.

Ginny Gustin (review date September 1999)

SOURCE: Gustin, Ginny. School Library Journal 45, no. 9 (September 1999): 194.

A little girl's active imagination slips into high gear as bedtime approaches [Bedbugs ]. Suddenly, a moth becomes a bat, a mop an octopus, a pair of furry slippers a bear … until the bedroom resembles a miniature wild kingdom. The child's father nonchalantly reassures her, viewing her panic as a tactic to delay bedtime. Eventually, he plays along with the frenzy and she must reassure him. The final pictures raise questions about imagination versus reality. The book's charm lies in the unrestrained line-and-wash illustrations that depict common household objects transformed into menacing creatures. Unfortunately, the text isn't as strong as the pictures. While the rhyming verse echoes a child's world, it is too forced and awkward to be truly effective. The narrative flaws keep this title from being a first purchase.

Jennifer M. Brabander (review date spring 2000)

SOURCE: Brabander, Jennifer M. Horn Book Guide 11, no. 1 (spring 2000): 19.

Susan puts off bedtime [Bedbugs ] by conjuring up a series of imaginary distractions in the form of animals—a moth becomes a bat, a mop is an octopus, and so on. Her father patiently plays along, and soon she's all tucked in. Though sometimes awkward, the rhyming text aptly conveys a child's creativity. Amusing illustrations show the various animals, invisible to Daddy, traipsing around the house.

THE BONE KEEPER (1999)

Chris Sherman (review date January-June 1999)

SOURCE: Sherman, Chris. Horn Book Guide 10, no. 2 (January-June 1999): 259.

In words sounding like an incantation, the text [The Bone Keeper ] describes a desert-dwelling woman who "searches the sand, / searches and sifts / for bones, bones." Piecing together bones from various animals, she brings a wolf to howling life. Spare pictures capture the parched setting as well as the story's mysterious mood. The story is evocative but somewhat puzzling, as readers are left wondering exactly who the enigmatic conjurer is.

Janice M. Del Negro (review date March 1999)

SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 52, no. 7 (March 1999): 245-246.

This lyrical tone poem [The Bone Keeper ] brings us the bone keeper, a creator figure who gathers bones from the desert sand and breathes life into them: "Some say she has three heads, / past, present, and future. / Some say she carries the snake, / walks with the wild hare. // Some say Bone Woman brings the dead back to life." McDonald's Bone Woman sifts and searches the sand for remains ("One by one by one, / she collects / each lonely bone"), reconstructs the creature they come from, and dances, chants, and moans the bones to life. Mythological images combine into an original creation story of power and force. [G. Brian] Karas' mixed-media illustrations are pseudocave paintings, sepia variations on primitive themes, with dark brown lines against sand backgrounds limning the outline of the bent old Bone Woman, the curve of white bones seemingly scraped into stone walls and white lines scratched into thick dark paint to indicate an emerging wolf. There is a primal feeling to Karas' illustrations that suits the evocative nature of McDonald's text; combined, they conjure ancient images and archetypal possibilities.

Susan Dove Lempke (review date 15 April 1999)

SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Booklist 95, no. 16 (15 April 1999): 1531.

In this picture book for older readers [The Bone Keeper ], a rhythmic, lulling text almost chants as it speaks of the Bone Woman: "She is Hunter. She is Gatherer. She is Keeper of the Bones." She moves through the desert sifting sand, gathering bones, and taking them back to her cave: "One by one by one, she collects each lonely bone." As the bones are assembled, a wolf comes together, then springs to life and goes off howling. Karas' illustrations reflect the moody mysterious text, showing, in a range of browns, the dry desert setting. At the same time, they reveal only the essence of the words, never overexplicating their meaning. The book's austere quality will not be to all tastes, but the words and pictures together create a spooky, thought-provoking experience.

Rosalyn Pierini (review date May 1999)

SOURCE: Pierini, Rosalyn. School Library Journal 45, no. 5 (May 1999): 93.

An eerie tale with mythical qualities [The Bone Keeper ], set in the Southwestern desert. The protagonist is an elemental creature referred to as the Bone Keeper and additionally as Owl, Rattlesnake, or Bone Woman. This ancient entity wanders through the desert alternately laughing, singing, and chanting while collecting bones from the sand. She gathers her finds deep in a cave and then calls together the desert animals for a show of sorts—that of a skeleton maker. When at long last she has assembled her creation and performed the appropriate rituals, a flesh-and-blood wolf emerges. The process by which this miraculous transformation takes place is mysterious to say the least. Young readers will be puzzled by the text's enigmatic description of the Bone Keeper's supernatural machinations, as well as the illustrations. Artwork resembling primitive petroglyphs employs "a variety of materials, conventional and otherwise," to achieve a grainy and highly textured appearance. Most of the figures depicted are obscure and shadowy. The effect of both text and art is to create more mood than substance. There is too much left unspoken, perhaps lost in the sands of time, to convey a coherent story.

Book Links (review date March 2000)

SOURCE: Book Links 9, no. 4 (March 2000): 23.

This intriguing tale [The Bone Keeper ] takes the reader on a mythological journey of an old woman called the Bone Keeper. She meticulously combs the desert for animal bones and carefully reassembles them. After the assembly is complete, she performs a rhythmic chant, accompanied by a hypnotic dance, which ultimately transforms the bones into a new living creature. Earth-toned and textured illustrations bring The Bone Keeper to life without unmasking her mystical persona.

THE NIGHT IGUANA LEFT HOME (1999)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 August 1999)

SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 67, no. 15 (1 August 1999): 1229.

It's not that Iguana is angry or anything [The Night Iguana Left Home ]. After all, she has her own e-mail address and all the anchovy pizza she wants; she loves her human pal, Alison, who treats her as a best friend should. Iguana pines for the sun and surf and as many miles as she can get between herself and Schenectady, New York, where the winters know no mercy. So she grabs a bus to Key West, where she lives the good life until her allowance runs out. Then she has to wash dishes in a restaurant, and on the night the restaurant serves a special iguana, Iguana lights out for a stamp-licking job at the post office, then tucks herself into a parcel addressed to Schenectady. The warm south is in her blood (this comes as no surprise, given [Ponder] Goembel's wry, alluring scenes of the place) and she heads back to Big Pine Key, commuting back to Alison for anchovy pizza when it beckons. McDonald's story is wonderfully alive, with the iguana a bit of a cool cat, and the Keys exotic but available. It is full of love, independence, and natural law, and the slice of biogeography can't hurt.

Gay Lynn Van Vleek (review date September 1999)

SOURCE: Van Vleek, Gay Lynn. School Library Journal 45, no. 9 (September 1999): 195.

Alison's pampered iguana longs for warm weather perks [The Night Iguana Left Home ]. One day, the lizard travels from Schenectady, NY, to Florida via bus where her attempt at living "the high life" meets with mixed success. For a while, the creature sun-bathes, swims, and surfs, but soon her money runs out and she is forced to find work. Another problem is that the two friends miss one another. Eventually, the animal finds a job licking stamps at the post office and the two are able to find happiness through a compromise of e-mail and semiannual visits. [Ponder] Goembel's dynamic drawings done in sepia ink with watercolor washes produce portraits of the lonely child and sunbonneted iguana with equal panache. Although young listeners may need explanations for a few of the words and phrases in the text (forwarding addresses, priority mail), this inventive tale will guarantee grins.

Kitty Flynn (review date September-October 1999)

SOURCE: Flynn, Kitty. Horn Book Magazine 75, no. 5 (September-October 1999): 596.

When Iguana's dewlap droops, her skin peels, and she craves seaweed [in The Night Iguana Left Home ], it's time to leave her comfortable life with her human friend and "almost sister," Alison Frogley. Iguana boards a bus to Key West, where she basks in the sun and enjoys the high life until her allowance and luck run out. Text and illustrations contain a slyly humorous balance of fantasy and realism, making the surreal seem plausible. While Iguana has an e-mail address and library card, the text portrays her as (relatively) true to her species: she needs calcium and a heating pad; dogs are her enemy. (Young iguana experts, however, may have trouble reconciling liberties taken with other facts.) Using spare cross-hatching and shading to good effect, the detailed ink-and-watercolor-wash artwork give scenes an almost stage-lit quality at times. Like a movie camera, the front matter scenes move progressively closer to the Frogleys' snow-covered house; though the text never mentions that the tale starts in winter, [Ponder] Goembel has provided a context for Iguana's physiological and emotional state. Despite some anthropomorphized facial expressions and a penchant for colorful scarves, Iguana looks realistically reptilian. With a well-developed character on an intriguing odyssey, The Night Iguana Left Home will stir the imaginations of armchair travelers.

John Peters (review date 1 November 1999)

SOURCE: Peters, John. Booklist 95, no. 5 (1 November 1999): 540.

Though Iguana is happy living in the bedroom of her good friend Alison Frogley [The Night Iguana Left Home ], she needs something more, and so leaves Schenectady for the sand and surf of Key West. It's an idyllic life, until the money runs out and Iguana discovers, almost too late, that the eatery where she lands a dishwashing job specializes in "Gallina de Palo"—iguana stew. In [Ponder] Goembel's illustrations, done with a bold, hilariously enhanced realism, Iguana (only slightly less than human size) basks in scaly resplendence beneath pink shades and stylish neckwear, her great tail sweeping out behind her in strong, graceful curves. After a narrow escape, Iguana settles down on another Key, supporting herself as a stamp licker for the local post office, keeping in touch with Alison via e-mail, and, twice a year, mailing herself to Schenectady for tête-à-têtes over "the best anchovy pizza in the world."

BEEZY AND FUNNYBONE (2000)

Carolyn Phelan (review date July 2000)

SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist 96, no. 21 (July 2000): 2045.

This volume [Beezy and Funnybone ], the fourth in the Beezy series, features three stories about a little girl and her dog, Funnybone. In the first, Funnybone is slow to learn to fetch, but once he grasps the concept, he fetches more than his owner ever wanted. In the second, he digs up some flowers, leading Beezy to an interesting discovery about the word spat. In the third, Beezy and her friends jump out of a hot-air balloon gondola just before it rises into the air, taking Funnybone on his first flight. Well designed for young readers, these mildly amusing tales are enhanced by [Nancy] Poydar's appealing gouache paintings of Beezy, her dog, and her friends.

Maura Bresnahan (review date September 2000)

SOURCE: Bresnahan, Maura. School Library Journal 46, no. 9 (September 2000): 204.

Beezy is back for another set of adventures, this time with her canine companion [Beezy and Funnybone ]. As this easy chapter book opens, Funnybone is learning how to fetch. Unfortunately, he carries this new game a bit too far. In the next lighthearted escapade. Beezy and her classmates unsuccessfully search for the meaning of the word "spat"; even a trip to the library proves fruitless. Not until Funnybone digs up the garden and they notice a slug on the flowers, do they learn from Gran that a "spat" is a baby snail. In the last chapter, the pup takes an unexpected trip in a hot-air balloon when he accompanies Beezy to her friend's birthday party. The simple sentence structure will encourage children to practice their new skills. The gouache illustrations match the warm and friendly tone of the stories and provide visual clues.

JUDY MOODY (2000)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 2000)

SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 68, no. 8 (15 April 2000): 564.

Changeable skies arch over a third-grader's mood-scape in this easy-reading chapter book [Judy Moody ] from the versatile McDonald (The Night Iguana Left Home, 1999). Whether it's having to sit next to Frank "Eats Paste" Pearl on the first day of school, having a toad relieve itself in her hand, or playing the role of a cavity at the Brush Your Teeth Week assembly while her little brother Stink gets to tour the White House, something is always putting Judy into a grouchy mood, at least for a while. The author casts her appealing protagonist with equally appealing friends, plus a brother who not only holds his own, but also has a redeeming ability to take a practical joke. She brings the episodic story to a satisfying climax in which Judy, instead of throwing a tantrum, resourcefully rescues her homework, a painstakingly constructed collage, after Stink accidentally splashes it with purple juice. [Peter] Reynolds's black and white washes are perfectly placed to track Judy's ups and downs, though parts of the full spread scenes do vanish into the gutter. Surefire fare.

Janice M. Del Negro (review date May 2000)

SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 53, no. 9 (May 2000): 324-25.

Third-grader Judy Moody lives up to her name in this beginning chapter book [Judy Moody ]. Judy is moody about the first day of school after summer vacation, moody about being in a different class with a different teacher, and moody about her autobiographical "Me collage" assignment (she doesn't have anything to put in the "THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME" space). Ably assisted by best friend Rocky, "pest friend" Frank, and younger brother Stinky, Judy navigates the moody muddy waters of third grade with a fair amount of grace. The humor is third-grade funny (the establishment of the TP Club requires an initiation that will have readers howling) and Judy, despite (or because of) her many moods, is a character with sass and style. Each chapter is amiably illustrated with black-and-white mixed-media (pen and ink, tea, watercolor) full-page and spot art that extends the friendly feeling of the humorous text. The catchy cutout cover and overall book design (large fonts, wide leading, generous borders) will appeal to young readers, and adults will welcome Judy to the readaloud shelf.

Shelle Rosenfeld (review date July 2000)

SOURCE: Rosenfeld, Shelle. Booklist 96, no. 21 (July 2000): 2028, 2030.

Judy Moody is in a bad mood the first day of school, certain third grade won't be as fun as second. Being assigned a front-row seat, beside yucky Frank "Eats-Paste" Pearl, isn't encouraging, although things improve when her teacher assigns an intriguing "Me" collage, and Judy gets a new pet, a Venus Flytrap. There's always some trial to contend with, from pesky brother Stink to being the only girl at a birthday party, but sometimes the worst events—or people—turn out better than expected. Deceptively hefty, this beginning chapter book features large type; simple, expressive prose and dialogue; and plenty of child-appealing humor. Children will enjoy lively Judy and her diverse hobbies and adventures with best-friend Rocky. They'll also like the witty, detailed drawings (especially the picture of Judy's unique collage, a nice activity idea), contributed by Peter Reynolds. An entertaining story that portrays challenges and pleasures from a kid's perspective, and shows how making the best of things can have surprising rewards.

Janie Schomberg (review date July 2000)

SOURCE: Schomberg, Janie. School Library Journal 46, no. 7 (July 2000): 83.

Judy Moody is grumpy. She hates the thought of summer ending and dreads starting third grade, until her new teacher asks each student to create a "Me" collage to share with the class. Then she can't wait to tell about her new pet—a Venus flytrap that eats bugs and hamburger, the T.P. (Toad Pee) Club initiation, and how she ate a shark over the summer. Judy's second-grade brother Stink and her friend Rock are major figures in the story as is her nemesis, Frank Pearl. Judy is independent, feisty, and full of energy, a delightful new character for beginning chapter-book readers. [Peter] Reynolds has captured her personality in his humorous illustrations done in watercolor, tea, and pen and ink.

Horn Book Guide (review date fall 2000)

SOURCE: Horn Book Guide 11, no. 2 (fall 2000): 308.

Judy Moody discovers that being in third grade brings a new set of challenges, including the creation of a "Me collage" that showcases her feelings, family members, and favorite activities. McDonald's offbeat humor coupled with expressive black-and-white cartoonlike illustrations make Judy, her family, and her friends both appealing and realistic.

Junko Yokota and Mingshui Cai (review date September 2001)

SOURCE: Yokoto, Junko, and Mingshui Cai. Language Arts 79, no. 1 (September 2001): 80.

Judy Moody starts third grade in a bad mood. Summer ends too soon with no adventures to show off, and she hates having to sit by her "pester friend" Frank. But she cheers up as she thinks about herself being the star of her "me" collage. Judy has a best friend, Rocky, and a pesky, second-grader brother, Stink, who is the cause of the "Worst Thing Ever" and "Funniest Thing Ever" in her collage. Her relationships with Rocky, Stink, and Frank furnish one comic episode after another in this hilarious story. The moody yet spirited protagonist is as lovable as the story is enjoyable. Readers will admire her intelligence in dealing with challenges in school.

LUCKY STAR (2000)

Maura Bresnahan (review date March 2001)

SOURCE: Bresnahan, Maura. School Library Journal 47, no. 3 (March 2001): 194

In [Lucky Star ], Star accidentally damages her library book. When her attempts to repair it are not successful, she and a friend start weeding a neighbor's garden to earn money to replace it. This inspires them to have a sidewalk sale for money to buy toys. Young readers will identify both with Star's concerns and her friendship. The illustrations are filled with subtle humor, especially those chronicling the attempts to remove a pizza-sauce thumbprint from the page of a book.

JUDY MOODY GETS FAMOUS (2001)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 June 2001)

SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 12 (15 June 2001): 867.

Envious of classmate and spelling-bee champ Jessica's picture in the local paper, the irrepressible third grader introduced in Judy Moody (2000) tries for her own 15 minutes of fame [Judy Moody Gets Famous ]. As she quickly discovers, it can be elusive. Like its predecessor, a disarming plot and likable characters are matched to an equally appealing format: small pages, generously spaced and sized type, die-cut windows in the dust jacket, and frequent ink-and-wash illustrations featuring smiles and high spots inside. In the end, Judy Moody earns her write-up inadvertently, after spiriting away a bagful of battered dolls from a hospital's playroom, refurbishing them from her large private collection of loose doll parts—plus hospital gowns made from an old sheet and little casts of "oogey wet newspaper"—then returning them anonymously. "Phantom Doll Doctor Strikes County Hospital," reads the headline. Only she, her affectionate nuclear family, and her likely-to-burgeon fan base know the truth. New chapter-book readers will enjoy watching Judy's moods, and the ensuing complications, unfold.

Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 30 July 2001)

SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 31 (30 July 2001): 85.

This sequel [Judy Moody Gets Famous ] to Judy Moody handily matches the original in zip and wit, portraying the spunky Judy in her quest for recognition. Famous for her changeable moods, the third-grader wants to become just plain famous after her arch rival, Jessica, wins a spelling contest to earn the title of Queen Bee, an honor accompanied by a bejeweled tiara and a front-page headline in the local newspaper. In contrast, green-eyed Judy "felt about as famous as a pencil." When it becomes clear that her spelling prowess will not pave Judy's way to fame, the resourceful child tries to pass off a hammered cherry pit as one from George Washington's ill-fated tree—a ruse that bombs when a boy mistakes it for an M & M and swallows it. Judy's cat, Mouse, makes another appearance, helping the heroine attract the spotlight when it wins second place in a pet contest; but the newspaper photo shows only her elbow, and her name appears as "Judy Muddy." McDonald provides an inventive conclusion to her tangy tale, as an altruistic undertaking on Judy's part garners her fame (hint: her medical school aspirations once again come into play)—but anonymously. Even Judy could spell two words that describe both the plot and its heroine: f-r-e-s-h and f-u-n-n-y. Here's to her quick return.

Martha V. Parravano (review date September-October 2001)

SOURCE: Parravano, Martha V. Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 5 (September-October 2001): 589.

In this sequel to Judy Moody [Judy Moody Gets Famous ], the irrepressible third grader—envious of goody-goody classmate Jessica Finch, who gets a tiara and her picture in the paper when she wins a spelling bee—is in the mood to get "F-A-M-O-U-S." Her relentless and indiscriminate pursuit of fame yields few results, however. She tries to pass off a cherry pit as belonging to George Washington, but a little kid swallows it before she can attract reporters; she manages to win second place in a pet contest (her cat makes toast), but only her elbow makes it into the newspaper photo. Worse, when she recruits the gang to try to set the world record for farthest human centipede walk, her friend Frank ends up in the hospital. When she eventually does make it into the newspaper, it's anonymously, as a secret philanthropist—but it's for a cause she really cares about, and it makes her feel "famouser" than even George Washington. The ending may leave some readers bemused—it's not really clear why Judy's lust for fame is satisfied by her anonymous rehabilitation of the hospital dolls—but the force of Judy's personality and the story's great energy and humor should carry the day. Everything about these Judy Moody books—from the liberally illustrated, spaciously designed, accessible format to the believability of Judy's third-grade worldview—spells G-O-O-D N-E-W-S for early chapter book readers.

Sharon R. Pearce (review date October 2001)

SOURCE: Pearce, Sharon R. School Library Journal 47, no. 10 (October 2001): 124.

Third-grader Judy Moody is back in her second adventure for the young chapter-book crowd [Judy Moody Gets Famous ]. She has a mood for all seasons, and this time it is jealousy. She thinks everyone else is famous except for her—even her parents and brother all have claims to fame. Sure that she'll be a winner when her cat makes toast for the "Famous Pet Contest," she loses to a boy whose chicken plays "Three Blind Mice" on a toy piano. In the end, Judy becomes famous anonymously after she steals some broken dolls from the hospital, fixes and cleans them, and mails them back, and the local newspaper picks up the story. To her surprise, she finds her secret even more satisfying than having everyone know who did the good deed. Funny black-and-white cartoons appear throughout. Dialogue is right on target for the character's age and feelings. The child's self-centered attitude may be tiresome to some adult readers, but kids will relate to her every concern. Look for future adventures of this feisty heroine, and don't miss her time in the spotlight.

REPTILES ARE MY LIFE (2001)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 July 2001)

SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 13 (1 July 2001): 943.

Non-stereotypical hobbies and sprightly writing keep this routine tale [Reptiles Are My Life ] of a friendship's collapse and regrouping afloat—but barely. Insect-lover Amanda and Maggie, mad for reptiles, are as close as "two bugs in a rug, two crocs on a rock," until new classmate Emily, another reptilephile, shoulders in. Suddenly Amanda's out in the cold, watching Maggie and Emily bond and seeing her own overtures to join in ignored or scorned. Only when Amanda steps up to save the "Snake Sisters" from a reprimand by explaining to a teacher that they weren't sticking their tongues out to be rude does the ice suddenly melt, and without further ado the trio becomes "three bugs on a rug, three crocs on a rock." The plot's not going to sell many readers, nor will the art; though he catches a guilty look on Maggie's face once, by and large [Paul Brett] Johnson depicts a set of indistinctly drawn, stiff-faced children walking through a series of conventional school and playground scenes. The children do impart snippets of fact about the creatures to which they're devoted, but the brio and good humor of Insects Are My Life (1995) is missing from this follow-up.

Linda M. Kenton (review date August 2001)

SOURCE: Kenton, Linda M. School Library Journal 47, no. 8 (August 2001): 156.

Readers first met Amanda and Maggie in Insects Are My Life (1995). The ups and downs of their friendship are the focus of this story [Reptiles Are My Life ]. Maggie adores reptiles and she and Amanda share their respective passions by doing the sorts of things good friends do—they change their names, reptile and insect related of course, and enjoy a secret hiding place. Things are perfect until a new girl, Emily Elligator, joins their class. Maggie gravitates to Emily, another reptile aficionado, abandoning her friend. Amanda is left out of their games, and friendship, until she defends them against the accusations of a classmate and "From that day on, they were as together as three bugs in a rug, three crocs on a rock." The story accurately portrays the roller-coaster ride that some friendships take, and the language is filled with delightful metaphors. [Peter Brett] Johnson's impressionist acrylics depict a multicultural cast of characters and a host of creatures.

Jill Quisenberry (review date mid-summer 2002)

SOURCE: Quisenberry, Jill. Childhood Education 78, no. 5 (mid-summer 2002): 307.

Amanda and Maggie are best friends [Reptiles Are My Life ]. Amanda is an insect enthusiast and Maggie feels the same about reptiles. They are an inseparable pair until Emily comes along. Emily loves reptiles as much as Maggie does; the two pair up and exclude Amanda, driving her "buggy!" Friendships have strong roots, though, and this story helps young readers see that three's not always a crowd. The story is full of great insect and reptile references.

SHADOWS IN THE GLASS HOUSE (2001)

Kristen Oravec (review date February 2001)

SOURCE: Oravec, Kristen. School Library Journal 47, no. 2 (February 2001): 118.

Set in 1621, [Shadows in the Glass House ] begins when 12-year-old Merry is kidnapped from London and forced to suffer a grueling journey by ship to the New World. Upon her arrival in the Jamestown settlement, she is promptly sold into indentured servitude and forced to work in a glasshouse. There, Merry works under the tutelage of kindly Franz, the master glassblower. A mystery ensues when someone begins to sabotage the operation and tries to steal the formula for cristallo, a valuable clear glass from Italy. The historical descriptions of Jamestown and especially glassblowing are detailed and lively enough to hold readers' interest. While the mystery element is somewhat predictable, it adds another level to the historical detail. "A Peek into the Past" section describes the era and includes appropriate photographs, reproductions, and drawings. A quick and fun read for those who have outgrown the "American Girls" books.

JUDY MOODY SAVES THE WORLD (2002)

Shelle Rosenfeld (review date 1 September 2002)

SOURCE: Rosenfeld, Shelle. Booklist 99, no. 1 (1 September 2002): 125.

The third title in the Judy Moody series [Judy Moody Saves the World ] finds the spunky third-grader in a save-the-world mood. Judy would like to enter an adhesive bandage design contest, but she doesn't have any ideas. Then a class environmental preservation project inspires her creativity, as well as a new mission. But it's not long before Judy discovers that saving the world isn't easy, whether she is trying to convince her father not to drink rainforest bean coffee or her mom to dispose of a rubber toilet plunger. However, Judy persists, and while bandage-art fame eludes her, she does come up with a class recycling project that makes a difference. It also puts her in a very good mood. This charming read features characteristically snappy, humorous prose; expressive, witty, black-and-white illustrations; and some great ideas for classroom or home projects. The book stands alone, but fans will enjoy familiar, distinctive characters and references from previous titles.

BAYA, BAYA, LULLA-BY-A (2003)

Publishers Weekly (review date 30 June 2003)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 250, no. 26 (30 June 2003): 77.

McDonald's (Judy Moody ) lilting poem [Baya, Baya, Lulla-By-A ] tells parallel stories about a mother baya bird weaving a nest "strand/by strand / by willowy strand" and an Indian mother weaving a safekeeping blanket "thread / by thread / by whispering thread." McDonald's languorous and graceful text flows with satisfying imagery. The mother carries her baby "heartbeat to heartbeat, / through the pale green / haze of desert," and "she sings to you morning after morning, / like a sleepy cricket. / Kira, kira. / Your heart answers, a small drum. / Dholak, dholak." The rhythmic repetition of Indian words lends a peaceful, somnolent tone to the narrative (the words are translated in an appendix). After the two stories merge and baya bird helps save the baby from a cobra, however, the narrative meanders between lullaby and story, and loses some of its effectiveness. [Vera] Rosenberry's (Savitri) framed watercolors in jewellike colors recall the stylized perspectives and, occasionally, the motifs of Hindi paintings. The portraits are not always consistent in their portrayal of the characters, but the landscapes and the textiles are intricately detailed. One painting, which invites comparison of the elaborate designs of the mother's scarves with the stars of the night sky, presents the mother almost like a goddess, with four arms: she tends the baby while at the same time plucking the moon from the sky and presenting a yellow garland to the bird. This cross-cultural venture will delight the ear—and intrigue young readers with its exotic introduction to the customs of another country.

JUDY MOODY PREDICTS THE FUTURE (2003)

Publishers Weekly (review date 21 July 2003)

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 250, no. 29 (21 July 2003): 197-98.

Judy Moody Predicts the Future in the famously temperamental third-grader's fourth adventure by Megan McDonald, illus. by Peter H. Reynolds. Here Judy, equipped with a mood ring, convinces herself and her classmates of her clairvoyant capabilities. Fans can track their own mood swings with The Judy Moody Mood Journal ; the paper-over-board volume, with lined pages and Reynolds's occasional spot art, sports a spinner set into the cover, whose arrow (when spun) lands on one of 10 possible Judy moods. Sections such as "Favorite Pets" suggest prompts and provide quotes from the books to spark budding writers' entries.

SHINING STAR (2003)

Gillian Engberg (review date July 2003)

SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Booklist 99, no. 21 (July 2003): 1899.

In this Step into Reading title [Shining Star ], Star and her friend, Blister, discover the joys of "duck" tape. In the first episode, Blister has a hole in his bike tire. After chewing gum fails to patch the leak, the friends turn to duck tape, and then, in a frenzy of duck-tape fever, they repair everything from a backpack to a doghouse. In the second story, Star's older sister, Ivy, notices that Star's paintings resemble the styles of Picasso, Matisse, and van Gogh. Determined to make her art her own, Star adds cluck tape to her final masterpiece. In the last episode, the friends take their taped flashlight out for an evening of stargazing. The duck-tape references get old, but the art information and warm friendship between Blister and Star distinguish these stories, which will help prepare children for chapter books. Appealing watercolor art illustrates the rhythmic text, which is filled with enticing sounds and repetition.

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Children's Book Review Service, Inc. (March 2000): 86.

Review of The Night Iguana Left Home.

Flynn, Kitty. Horn Book Guide 11, no. 1 (spring 2000): 45.

Review of The Night Iguana Left Home.

Horn Book Guide 11, no. 2 (fall 2000): 295.

Review of Beezy and Funnybone.

Additional coverage of McDonald's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 135; Literature Resource Center ; and Something about the Author, Vols. 67, 99.

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