Moira Rose Donohue is the author of ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE and PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE, two wonderful picture books for families, schools, libraries, and of course, kids!
Kathy: Moira, can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?
Moira: Getting published is tough. It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and a fair amount of luck! I wrote my first book, a story about a ballet dancer, when I was in sixth or seventh grade and sent it to Scholastic. Of course it was rejected, but the editor sent me a very nice, personal letter—I wish now that I had kept it!
I didn’t try again until around ten years ago. And I racked up a lot rejection letters (over one hundred!), many not nearly as nice as my first one. Then I got lucky. An editor at Albert Whitman found charm in my quirky tale of personified punctuation marks and took a chance and published ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE.
As a closing note: I was very pleased when Scholastic bought the Book Club rights to ALFIE.
Kathy: I think it’s more than just luck–it’s called talent! So, who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
Moira: Despite the fact that a wonderful play, The History Boys, has trivialized the following phrase, I grew up with a “love of the language” because of my father, who read the dictionary every night. Grammar and punctuation came easily to me and I never lost interest in them, which is perhaps why I was drawn to legislative drafting when I was a practicing attorney. And how I ended up thinking about punctuation in the shower one morning and started imagining what talents and personalities various punctuation marks might have.
But I also have a great interest in the performing arts – classic movies, musical theater, opera, and especially dancing. I appreciate the importance of “the theatrical” and try to use it in my own writing. And I have published two plays for children. I expect that most of what I write in the future will incorporate the performing arts in some fashion.
Kathy: Your dad read the dictionary in the evening? Now I don’t feel so bad for reading encyclopedias! How do your ideas come to you?
Moira: I often wake up with ideas. But as the murky fog between sleep and being awake fades, sometimes, so do the ideas. I finally learned to keep a pad by my bedside to make notes. But I think my best time for inspiration is the shower. I don’t know if it’s the steam, the patter of the water or the aroma of the soap, but somehow my imagination just starts working. It can be tough, since there’s not pad of paper nearby, but thankfully a dear friend gave me crayons that write on bathroom tile, so I can at least jot a reminder!
Kathy: When do you write (other than shower time)?
Moira: I’ve always been a morning person, so I usually write in the morning. Lately, however, I have been trying to train myself to work in the middle of the day as well. But after 10 PM, I turn back into a pumpkin, so I can’t imagine that anything I write in my grumpy bear mode would be worth reading!
Kathy: Ha! What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?
Moira: I really hope that young readers and teachers come away from reading ALFIE and PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE thinking that punctuation and grammar don’t have to be boring. I have a lot of fun ways to teach punctuation that are a little different, including punctuation magic tricks, a punctuation bee, a quiz to find out which punctuation mark you are and a read-aloud “sounds” of punctuation story.
In this current environment of abbreviated communication (email, text, IM) punctuation has become even more important. And there’s room for new forms of punctuation, like emoticons :o). So, in other words, I think punctuation doesn’t have to be a boring, “stickler” type subject. Check out my blog for more information and teaching hints at http://punctuationplayground.blogspot.com.
Kathy: I did check it out and it’s F-U-N! Why do you write for young people?
Moira: Have you ever watched a re-run of a beloved TV show from your childhood and wondered what on earth made it appeal to you? I have. But those books that I read as a child that I just loved, books like MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, ANGELINA BALLERINA, and THE STORY OF PING? They never fail to make me feel warm and loved, no matter how often I re-read them.
Not too long ago, I found one of my very favorites, MISS FLORA MCFLIMSEY’S CHRISTMAS EVE among my niece’s books. I tried to reclaim it, because I had always loved it, but my sister said it was hers. I knew better because my great aunt, a librarian had given it to me and sure enough, I had, in shaky writing, put my name in it all those years ago.
So, it should be no surprise when I say that the greatest reward in writing for children is having a child tell me that he loves one of my books and sleeps with it under his pillow. Then I know that in some way, I have reached his heart.
Kathy: Awwww. How much of your book is autobiographical?
Moira: Penny, the main character of PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE, is a lot like me – spunky, competitive, persevering – qualities that have both good and bad aspects to them! But if I were a punctuation mark, I don’t think I would be a period like Penny. I envision myself as twinkly, sparkly asterisk.*
I think there’s a piece of me in most of my main characters; it’s just not always the same piece.
Kathy: You are definitely a twinkly, sparkly asterisk, Moira! What’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling?
Moira: Imagine this: it’s my very first dance recital. I have the routine completely memorized. I am wearing a stunning pink tutu. The music starts. But all of the girls are standing still. I look around; not only is there no dancing, there isn’t even any movement. But I’m not going to let that spoil my debut performance. I start the dance anyway, figuring the rest of the class will wake up and start too. But they don’t. Still, I dance away, not caring, until, well, they get in my way by not moving. So what do I do? I push them out of my way and finish the dance entirely by myself.
My parents caught it all with an old movie camera, so sadly, I cannot deny that even at age 5, I was a pushy little show-off.
Kathy: Can you put that video on your blog? I would seriously love to see that!! Moira, what are you working on now?
Moira: I am currently polishing a middle grade novel about girls in a theater program, a picture book biography, and a couple of silly picture books. And when I’m not writing, I try to schedule school visits. Please visit my website at www.moirarosedonohue.net to see in greater detail what I’m up to.
Kathy: Sounds good! And I happen to have read a draft of the middle grade novel and not only is it entertaining and engaging, but it also has some underlying important things to say about relationships. I can’t wait to see it on the shelves! Is there anything else you want us to know?
Moira: Don’t forget – September 24 is National Punctuation Day!!!
Kathy: Thank you, Moira!! Next up, Beckie Weinheimer, author of CONVERTING KATE!