Monday, May 24, 2010

The Story Behind the Story-Moira Rose Donohue

Moira Rose Donohue

What a pleasure it is to introduce Moira Rose Donohue, author of Penny and the Punctuation Bee and Alfie the Apostrophe.  We first discovered Moira while attending the Kidlitosphere Conference 2009 and are thrilled to tell you that her books are available at Grow Up With Books--the Netflix of children's books!

Reading her two stories was truly a pleasure and delight.  I read them to myself, my own children, my mom, my cousin, my husband, and more children...get the idea?  I believe  it was the crafty way she wove the topic of  "punctuation" within an engaging picture book.   It can be difficult to find a book that holds what the teacher needs to teach and what the parent/child needs for a meaningful experience all in one book.  Moira has been successful in putting that into not one, but two books.

After reading Penny and the Punctuation Bee and Alfie the Apostrophe to several elementary school classes, I began to wonder what questions the children might have.  Their questions and thoughts did not disappoint me or Moira Donohue.

Moira was kind enough to share her thoughts about these questions and GUWB is thrilled to share them with you!

The STORY behind the STORY from Moira Rose Donohue!

Would you tell us about your family?
I have a husband, Rob, and two kids who are now in college.  My son is majoring in architecture and my daughter is studying anthropology.  She is also a drummer.

Do you have a favorite hobby?
I always wanted to be a dancer/choreographer.  A couple of years ago, I took tap dancing lessons.  I wasn't very good, but I really liked it.  I was even in a couple of recitals!

What is your favorite food?
My favorite food?  French bread, with lots of butter.  And steak.  

Do you have another job?
Another job?  Not any more.  I practiced law for 20 years, took some time with my kids while they were in middle and high school, and now I write full-time!

What do you look like?  Do you resemble someone we might know?
Well, I'd like to tell you I look like Beyonce.  But I don't.  I don't think I really look like any person.  I do kind of look like a feather pillow.  

What was your favorite book as a child?  What is your favorite children’s book today, not including your own of course.
I had a lot of favorite books, and I still do.  But the one I remember the most was MISS FLORA McFLIMSEY'S CHRISTMAS EVE by Mariana.  I thought I had lost it until I found it at my sister's house.  She claimed it was hers.  But when I opened it, I had written my name in the front.  So she had to give it back.

Do you have any pets?  Would you ever include them in your stories?
I have two dogs – a pug named Sniffles and Quincy, who is half Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and half poodle.  I love dogs, so I try to include them, when I can, in my writing.  Remember ALFIE'S dog?  I wish I'd named him.  What name would you give him?
Looks like Sniffles has a story to tell!

Take a look at Quincy!

Will there be another year of the Punctuation Bee?
Why did you make Penny the main character rather than Elsie or Quentin?
I don't have any plans for another Punctuation Bee book.  I'd like to do a story about another punctuation mark.  If you have any thoughts about which one you'd like to see, let my publisher, Albert Whitman, know.  Then they might just ask me to do it!

How did you come up with the character’s names?
I love alliteration and rhyme, so I tried to think of names that started with the same first letter as their punctuation mark and, if possible, sort of rhymed with it ("Quentin" and "question").  "Marla the period" just doesn't have the same fun sound.

What might happen if someone asks Quentin a question?  Will he be able to answer without a question?
I don't know – I tried to phrase all of his responses in the form of a question, like on Jeopardy!

Could there be another story where they get their marks all messed up?  Kind of like The Scrambled States of America. 
Oh, that's a great idea!  I will seriously think about doing a story like that!

Where did you get the idea for Alfie’s name? 
How did you come up with punctuations as a topic?
Is “apostrophe” really Greek?
I picked "Alfie" because it sounded a lot like "apostrophe."  "Apostrophe" IS a Greek word.  I thought it was, but I looked it up in my dictionary to be sure.  

Thanks to my dad, I have always loved words, grammar and punctuation. Imagine how excited I was when I got to research a question about a missing quotation mark in a very old banking law back when I was a lawyer. Without the quotation mark, it looked like the law, which people thought had been around for almost 100 years, really didn't exist. The case ultimately had to be decided by the United States Supreme Court!

One day, while I was taking a shower (I always get my best ideas in the shower), I was imagining what talents punctuation marks might have, based on both their function and their appearance.  An apostrophe as a magician just came to me.  I ran to my computer and wrote my first draft that morning.

*QUESTIONS about Illustrations...
We noticed that the illustrations are done by different people, but look similar.  Did you have an idea for the illustrations and share them with the illustrators?
Why weren’t they the same person?

Interesting question.  My publisher, Albert Whitman, asked the illustrator of ALFIE, JoAnn Adinolfi, to illustrate PENNY.  Unfortunately, she had a lot of books she had promised to illustrate and couldn't do it for 2 years.  They didn't want to wait, so they asked Jenny Law to use a similar look.  She used only paint (JoAnn used some collage paper), but I think it looks a lot like ALFIE.  

I'm not very artistic.  I pictured the characters differently, but I like the way the illustrators painted them better than the way I saw them in my mind!

How many books have you written?  
I have probably written 25 books (the first when I was in 6th grade).  But I've only had two published, so far.  I have also published plays, articles and a poem.

What is the process for writing stories like these?  (This came from a 1st grader!!!!)
Super question!  First, you write the story.  Then you share it with your writer friends for suggestions, edit it and mail it to publishers.  In the case of ALFIE, several publishers rejected it. But one bought it and found an illustrator.  Then they gave me more edits.  I was lucky, because they showed me the sketches and drawings along the way.  I was able to comment when there was something in the picture and the text that didn't line up – for example, I had written that the cheerleading exclamation points did splits.  But the illustrator drew them without legs, so we changed it to "flips."

The book is then sent to the printer, who prints it on giant rolls of paper with eight pages on each sheet, which is why picture books are either 24, 32 or 48 pages – something divisible by 8!  Then it's bound and sent to bookstores!

Do you have a book waiting to be published?
I have several books that I have submitted to publishers, but nothing that they have agreed to publish yet.  Keep your fingers crossed!  And right now I am working on a middle grade novel.

Do you have a pen name?
No.  My name is unusual, so I just go with it!

Do you know Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling?
No – I wish I did!  But I know Kathryn Erskine, whose latest book, MOCKINGBIRD, is probably going to win a lot of awards!

*COMPLIMENTS for Mrs. Donohue...
I loved how you described the “snow” in Alfie’s tummy when he couldn’t remember the words to the spell.
We love how you end both stories!
Thank you.  A writer once told me that you should end your stories with lots of lights and sounds.  I loved that idea, so I always try!!!

We like how Elsie looked like a question mark at the end.  Maybe she will start to see things differently.  Maybe the story could continue.  What would happen then?
Making Elsie droop until she looked like a question mark was actually my daughter's idea!  

I bet you can’t survive without apostrophes!
Here's a question for you to think about – if you were a punctuation mark, which one would you be and why?  I would be an asterisk, because it's sparkly and twinkly like a star (and its name comes from the Greek word "aster" meaning star.)

Thank you to Moira Donohue for taking time to share with us about these delightful books.  If you haven't read them, take the time to do it!  Check them out at GUWB--you and your children will be entertained for sure.  Take time to visit her website and the Punctuation Playground.  You can even listen to part of Penny and the Punctuation Bee read by Mrs. Donohue!

So, we leave you with that question from our featured author..."What punctuation mark would you be?  Why?"

Happy reading!
The GUWB Team

*Pictures used from Moira's website.


  1. Great interview, and great questions from the students!!!!

  2. Bravo! Loved the questions and the answers.
    Jacqueline Jules

  3. Isn't it amazing how inquisitive young minds can be? Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I'll be sure to let them know. :-)