Don’t worry, this is not an obituary! John Hobbins has a post entitled, biblical bloggers discuss children’s books: a first list, and yours truly happens to be one of those biblical bloggers. And so the author I want to discuss is Judy Blume.
Judy Blume is not exactly revered by the Christian right, for it has long labored to ban her books from school libraries (see Judy Blume – Wikipedia). As much as I like the Christian right, I’m not totally with them on this one, for I have a soft spot in my heart for this particular author.
Why? A big reason is that she got me to enjoy reading. When I was in the third grade, we had to do the Book-It program, in which we got prizes for reading a bunch of books. Or at least the smart kids did. I didn’t win a whole lot, because I hated to read.
We’d go to the school library, and we had to check out a book so we could write a report on it. I usually checked out the Hardy Boys mysteries because their covers looked intriguing. But they didn’t grab me that much when I was reading them. I couldn’t follow the plot, and, when it was time for me to write my report, my mom often scanned the book and walked me through the process of writing about it.
It would also take me forever to read a book. One time, an adult relative of mine made me sit down at a table until I finished my Hardy Boys book. I could not do anything else until then. I cried. It was torture!
One day, I went to the school library and noticed Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume. My teacher had referred to it on one occasion in my class, and it sounded like an interesting title, so I checked it out when I saw it.
I loved the book! For one, I followed the plot, which was pretty unusual for me. More than that, I enjoyed the plot! It was about a fourth grader named Peter Hatcher and his mischievous, annoying little brother, Farley Drexel, also known as “Fudge.” You can imagine that it was hilarious!
But, even more importantly, Judy Blume communicated what I was feeling as a child. Like Peter Hatcher, I was the oldest. My little brother and sister could be annoying little Fudges themselves, and I didn’t really like it when the adults paid more attention to them than they did to me. I also didn’t care for the responsibility that came with being the oldest.
And I guess what Judy Blume did was that she showed me it was normal to feel that way. She even made a joke out of it! I didn’t feel as alone after reading her book.
But Judy Blume would help me out soon after that. When I was in the fifth grade (I think), I was dealing with the problems of pre-adolescence. You know, fitting in, girls, confusion, girls, etc., etc. My mom recommended that I read a book that touched on that stuff: Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.
Margaret was a girl in her pre-adolescence. She had a very intimate relationship with God, as she talked with him about what was going on in her life. “Help me to be kissed at the party by this particular boy,” she prayed. She was also a child of an interfaith marriage, in which her dad was Jewish, and her mom was Christian. At one point in the book, she blurted out in anger that she didn’t believe in God, but she didn’t really mean it. She was just upset that the adults in her life were arguing about what religion she should be.
Obviously, there were parts of the book that I didn’t identify with. I’ve never had a period, and I don’t work hard to increase my bust size. But, if my memory serves me correctly, I think that I first learned about these things from this book (believe it or not).
But other parts of the book spoke to me. There were times when I talked to God on an intimate basis. I myself had some religious confusion, since my family was Christian, yet we did Jewish things that no one else in our town did, and so others assumed that we were Jewish. I also wanted to be noticed by the opposite sex.
There was one other Judy Blume book that I enjoyed: Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. From this one, I learned who Adolf Hitler was. That was also the longest book I had read up to that point. I thought that 100 pages were a lot, but this book had about 300!
And so Judy Blume got me into reading, and she was a companion and a guide to me as I was growing up. Often, her guidance came, not because she told me how I should act, but because she expressed my feelings in a time when I could not.