Judy Moody Makes a Movie
Author Megan McDonald helps bring her award-winning character Judy Moody to theaters this month.
Judy Moody’s disposition must be pretty bright right about now. After 10 years and nine books (14 million in print), the third-grader created by Pittsburgh native Megan McDonald is hitting the big screen. Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, starring Heather Graham, Jaleel White (remember Steve Urkel?) and Australian newcomer Jordana Beatty as Judy, will be released nationwide June 10.
We spoke to McDonald from her home in Sebastopol, Calif., where she lives with her husband, Richard Haynes, who’s also a Pittsburgh native. She reminisced about growing up (and later working) in the ’Burgh, coming home for visits, the series’ popularity and the exciting process of bringing her beloved signature character to life.
McDonald grew up in the North Hills and was the youngest of five sisters (which, of course, provided plenty of fodder for adventures). “My dad, who was a bridge builder, was a great storyteller, and every night around the dinner table, he’d tell stories about growing up,” she says. Her father’s stories about the huckster selling vegetables out of his wagon led to some of her early picture books, including The Potato Man and The Great Pumpkin Switch.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, McDonald took courses at the University of Pittsburgh to earn her masters in library science. “It was fun to come back to Pittsburgh as an adult, live in Oakland—experiencing and appreciating Pittsburgh in a whole different way,” she says. In the mid-1980s through early ’90s, she worked in Shadyside’s sadly missed Pinocchio Bookstore and as a librarian in the children’s department of the Carnegie Library main branch. During story time, children asked where they could find the stories she was creating. After seeing a writer’s group led by Marilyn Hollinshead at Pinocchio Bookstore, McDonald was inspired by the writers and began to make her own dream a reality.
Fame and literary success came in 2000 when McDonald created Judy Moody, an 8-year-old third grader who, as her name suggests, surfs the waves of moods—from happy to sad, cool to cranky—through a variety of adventures where humor is key. The series won popular and critical acclaim: It’s been translated into at least 24 languages and won more than 50 awards and honors.
McDonald considers herself to be rather lucky that she was invited to take a highly active role in the production of Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. Producer Sarah Siegel-Magness invited her to co-author the screenplay, and McDonald was on the set each day to consult with the cast and crew—and to write lines as needed. “I feel very fortunate that I got to develop the story—not based on one particular book, but [rather] a brand new adventure that has all the familiar elements that kids who read the books know and love,” she says.
Q&A with Megan McDonald
Q: Do you visit Pittsburgh often?
A: Yes, one of my sisters still lives in Friendship, and the rest of us are scattered. So, Pittsburgh is the meeting place for all of us. We all go to my sister’s house. In fact, my next Judy Moody book is based on something that happened on my last trip: I was with my nephew, Ben, and his daughters, Jordan and Chloe, at Ritter’s [Diner]. Jordan was about to play the prize-claw machine and said, “It’s so hard, and I’ll never win.” But she won three times in a row. So, I just finished my newest Judy Moody book called Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm, and it’s all about Judy going to a diner where there’s a prize claw machine; she wins three times in a row and is convinced she’s on an unstoppable lucky streak. So, it’s fun for me having kids in the family to hang out with because they always inspire crazy stuff for Judy to do.
Besides the Judy Moody series, what other books do you write?
The boys who read Judy Moody absolutely love her brother, Stink, and always asked why he couldn’t star in his own book. So, Stink has his own series. I’ve also written American Girl books, early readers and others.
Now that you’ve written one screenplay, do you want to write more?
The whole process of making the movie has been eye-opening and fascinating. Now, I’m developing a Judy Moody sequel, so I’m hoping that will move forward. Honestly, books are my first love and always will be. But the movies are so much fun and reach so many kids. Of course, I’m hoping the movie will bring new fans to the books, kids who will discover Judy through the film and want to learn more.
Is it true that the “Toad Pee Club,” one of the most popular elements of the Judy Moody series, comes from a true family story?
Yes! As an adult, our whole family used to vacation every summer in the Outer Banks, and the kids would catch toads. Toads have this defense mechanism that, if they get scared, this liquid comes out. We just thought they were peeing on us. So, we started the “Toad Pee Club.” I use a lot of family stories in my work, and the Club became a real centerpiece for Judy Moody and her little brother, Stink. It’s the kind of thing that pulls a lot of boys into Judy Moody. Even in the movie, we had to include it because it’s such signature Judy Moody.