“I lived in New York for eleven and a half years and I don’t think anybody ever asked me about my religion. I never even thought about it. Now, all of a sudden, it was the big thing in my life.” – Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.
The queen of children novels, Judy Blume, encompasses a rare ability to write classic books for years to come. As teens, we had expectations of her to teach us the truth about things that no one else would, and this revealed an obvious reliance never before presented to other authors; a social responsibility Blume clearly took seriously. Many of you have read her gripping, almost addictive and quite memorable stories as a child, myself included. Tales of divorce, losing a parent, snooping neighbours and first bras aided young children to believe that yes, maybe there was an adult out there who understood all our problems. Puberty and its dark shadows on a young child’s life was nowhere near fun, yet Blume’s many individual and intriguing characters, proved that her characters lived through what we lived through. They shared our joys and pain, and her stories proved to be a revelation in the eyes of the youth. Her gift of making almost depressing topics, engaging to a young reader, prompted her excellent ability to tackle themes of religion, American politics and racial tension as well as other topics like socialising, sibling rivalry and puppy love. Judy began her career in the in 1966, whereby after graduating from New York University, she received a B.A in education. She began with several picture books for young children in the early days and in 1972 found her big break when “Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing” (1972) was published. Initially this story was intended to be called “Peter, Fudge and Dribble” and had a different plot to the final story, but as time went on Blume decided to base Fudge on her own child and the New York City lifestyle of her memories of a close friend’s family life.
“Sometimes life in the Hatcher household is enough to make twelve-year-old Peter think about running away. His worst problem is still his younger brother, Fudge.”
In 1980 one of the most popular and my personal favourite Judy Blume book “Superfudge” was published. I can remember purchasing it from a book shop when I was in Year 4 in primary school. My teacher had picked it out for me and I loved that the cover was bright orange with three intriguing characters on the front; two boys and a baby girl. Surprisingly Blume claimed “I remember exactly where I was when the idea finally came to me—in the shower, covered with soap and shampoo. And the idea seemed so simple I couldn’t believe it had taken seven years. I would give the Hatchers a new baby.” Baby Tootsie the new member of the family causes friction when Peter, the oldest son, is unhappy that a new edition to the family will arrive soon and that they’re all moving home to compensate for his parent’s dream careers. Blume has many other books, spin off of the Hatcher family and they’re friends. These include “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” (1972), “Fudge-a-mania”(1990) and “Double Fudge” (2002).
Blume has also published a string of highly influential, if not controversial novels, which are very much cherished by fans still today. Iggie’s House (1970) was different to the Superfudge series in that it was not too focused on young children, rather was classified as a young adult novel. It deals with the topic of racism in the late 1960’s where Blume herself commented that “the late sixties was a turbulent time in America. Racial tensions were high, especially following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The ongoing fight for racial equality affected all of us, one way or another.” The main character Winnie’s fascination with the new black family next door, allows her to quickly become friends with them. However, her own family’s disapproval of her new friends is disheartening as the story takes a turn for the worst. Blubber (1974) deals with bullying in school, a common and relatable topic, whereas the next novel by Blume called “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” (1977) was an autobiographical novel whereby Blume concealed herself in this character wearing a colourful dress, reliving her past as a Jew throughout the war.
“Suppose there aren’t any more A + days once you get to be twelve? Wouldn’t that be something! To spend the rest of your life looking for an A + day and not finding it.” – It’s Not the End of the World (1972)
“It’s Not the End of the World” (1972) chronicled a marriage falling apart at the seams whilst the story is told from the point of view of a young girl named Karen. Her parents constant fighting leads her to lose faith in love and marriage, as does her hope for her favourite teacher’s marriage lasting, instead believing it has made her evil. Her parent’s quick decision toward divorce, causes her to do anything in her power to make them stay together, even if that means pretending to be ill.
The controversial topic of religion is tackled in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (1970) and follows a young girls search for a religion in the confusion of her Jewish/Christian family. She often talks to God, and begins her prayers with ‘‘are you there God?” Her pre-teen concerns are a main factor of this novel, however throughout there remains a fierce confusion between two faiths, which causes conflict in Margaret’s family, making her angry at times. This I believe to be a poignant novel in Blume’s career, due to its popularity, but also its subject matter.
”Who says March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? That’s a lot of bull. All it’s done this March is rain. I’m sick of it.” –Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971)
“Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” (1971) was a different spin on earlier Blume novels, because the point of view changed. It was the adolescent voice and life of a teenage boy. Blume’s success from “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret” was the catalyst for this pleasant surprise. Tony and his family move to a new town due to his father’s promotion, and his family’s abrupt changes being to annoy Tony. He keeps all his emotions inside, causing him emotional anguish and pain. The false pretence of people in his life, he views as fake, and so he searches for reality through his binoculars, into his neighbour’s bedroom window, where he soon becomes known as a peeping tom.
“When Deenie sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream, Forget it…I’m never going to wear that thing! But the words won’t come out. And beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips.” – Deenie (1973)
Deenie (1973) deals with a young girl of the name Wilmadeene, nickname Deenie who suffers with Scoliosis but also has big dreams of becoming a model. When the doctor diagnoses her with Scoliosis and she has to wear a brace for her condition, the four year wait to take it off, begins to take a toll on her. Her decision to ditch modelling and become a Orthopaedist is not taken lightly by her pushy mother.
”Now, besides being best friends we’ll also be neighbours. And moving just a few blocks away really isn’t like moving at all. I think the only reason we moved is that our house needed a new roof and Mom and Dad just about passed out when they learned what it would cost.” – Just as long as we’re together (1987)
My personal favourite “Just As Long As We’re Together” (1987) deals with the teenage melodramatic reaction of a teenage girl who is moving home, dealing with new friends, compulsive liars, a new school, and boys. Stephanie Hirsch is living with her family in a new home in Palfrey’s Pond, Connecticut and deals with an array of ups and downs with her two best friends, Rachel and new girl Alison. On a more serious note, this novel highlights the fears children have about their families and their future well-being. Divorce plays a large role here, as well as the strength of friendship and trust. In a spin off story, ”Here’s to you Rachel Robinson” (1993), best friend Rachel Robinson is a straight-A student. She practices the flute 45 minutes a day and strives for perfection in everything she does. But she grinds her teeth at night and dreads dinnertime, now that her troublemaking older brother, Charles, has been thrown out of boarding school and is now back home, acting up to get attention as usual. Her resentment for him is clear, and his attempt at breaking the family apart is obvious too. Counselling and a trip to Ellis Island, New York may put the family back together, or it may tear them apart.
Other popular Judy Blume novels include “Tiger Eyes” (1981), “Forever” (1975), and many more young adult novels dealing with similar themes. Blume’s simple yet fascinating writing style encapsulates even adults today who have read her novels in the past. “Letters to Judy. What your kids Wish They Could Tell You” (1986) revealed secrets and opinions from Blume’s readers, in an attempt for parents to walk in their children’s shoes. It contained thousands of letters sent by fans, pouring their hearts out to their favourite author revealing her very profound effect on many lives.