Williamson County Public Library Blog

Are You There, Judy Blume? It’s Me, Parish.

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By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Dear Judy,
Happy 78th birthday! I really wish you lived closer to me so that I could take you out to lunch and buy you a present, although nothing I could give you would remotely compare to the marvelous gifts that you have bestowed upon readers of all ages over your prolific and inspiring career. I mean, seriously—find me a woman in North America whose life as a young adult wasn’t made just a little bit better as a result of reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Although, I guess there are some unfortunate people out there who were deprived of the opportunity to read Margaret and Deenie and Forever, which in turn possibly inspired you to become an active proponent of the National Coalition Against Censorship.) I hope your day is as fantastic as your books. Blessings on you—

Stacy Parish, Williamson County Public Library, Franklin TN

(Author’s note: So, yeah. I have serious doubts that Judy Blume will ever read my birthday wishes to her, but I’m still going to put it out there. Doesn’t cost me anything.)

If you’ve read this far (bless your heart) and are wondering to yourself: Who is this Judy Blume that you speak of? Then please, Dear Reader, continue. Judy Blume, nee Judith Sussman, was born on February 12, 1938 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a suburban town just west of New York City to Esther and Rudolph Sussman, a homemaker and a dentist. Judy, as she preferred to be called, had a brother David, who was four years her senior and preferred to spend his free time working on mysterious and often volatile science experiments in the garage. Hence, she found herself being the one who entertained her parents and other family members with her games and performances, much like funny, charismatic Sally Freedman in Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself. In fact, Judy would again draw upon her own childhood experiences, seven years and seven books after publishing her award-winning Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret., as the basis for Sally, and her brother David as the model for Sally’s sardonic loner brother Douglas.

Judy Blume was a voracious reader as a child, and loved stories and books of all kinds. She says that she spent most of her childhood making up stories inside her own head, but no matter how much she read, she never found any characters in those books whose lives and experiences were relatable to her own. Books of that era were often “sanitized for your protection,” to borrow a phrase one of my coworkers uses frequently. That is, nobody had an agonizingly annoying little brother who went into their room and messed with their stuff and swallowed their turtle (a la Fudge, from Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing), nobody was bullied (Blubber), nobody started their period (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret), and you can be absolutely certain that nobody ever wrote about their father being shot and killed in a convenience-store holdup (Tiger Eyes.)

After graduating from high school, Judy was accepted by and enrolled in Boston University, where she spent all of two weeks before contracting mononucleosis. She returned home to New Jersey and transferred later that year to New York University. Life for Judy, as it does for most of us, proceeded apace—during her junior year of college, she began dating John Blume and was soon engaged to be married; she lost her beloved father, whom she affectionately called “Doey-bird,” in July before her senior year; she married John later that summer; and by the time she graduated from college in 1961, she was pregnant with her first child. Her daughter Randy was born later that year, and two years after that, the family moved from their apartment in Plainfield, New Jersey, to a house a few miles away in Scotch Plains. While living there, Judy gave birth to their second child, a son they named Lawrence. (How fun is this–Judy has stated in interviews that Lawrence was the inspiration for the character named Fudge, and Lawrence directed the critically-acclaimed film adaptation of Tiger Eyes in 2012.)

As a young suburban homemaker, Judy didn’t enjoy the activities that the other wives and mothers did. Golf, tennis, and shopping held no charm for her, and as a result, Judy often found herself being bored. Determined to make her life more interesting and to flex her creative muscles that had atrophied since childhood, she tried for a time to write songs. When that didn’t work out, she started making crafts out of felt, but she found that quite unsatisfying and also developed an unfortunate rash from the craft glue. Then one fine day when she was twenty-seven, Judy received a brochure in the mail from her alma mater (NYU) that advertised a class on writing for children. She was already trying to write and illustrate children’s books, so this was a positive omen. Judy signed up for the class, and even took it again the following semester. Her patience and persistence paid off, and before her second semester ended, she had a few of her stories accepted for publication in a magazine and was paid the roaring sum of $20 per story. And the rest, as they say, is history. Her first full-length children’s book, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, was published in 1969, and in the decades since, her novels for children and young adults have exceeded sales of 85 million copies and have been translated into 32 languages.

By the end of the 20th century, Judy’s original demographic of readers had grown up and had children of their own. Her books had extended from the first generation and were still popular with—and relevant to—the next one. Her original readers were also rewarded with several adult novels from Judy’s beautiful mind—Wifey (1978), Smart Women (1983), Summer Sisters (1999) and In The Unlikely Event (2015.) Just as with her children’s and young adult novels, these books all showcased Judy’s transcendent talent for chronicling family life and its convoluted, often messy, occasionally hysterical, events. She also published a nonfiction book, titled Letters To Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You in 1986. Inspired by a 10-year-old girl named Amy, the purpose of the book was to illustrate what kids were thinking and feeling about different issues such as divorce, sex, drugs, suicide, et cetera, issues that kids might be hesitant to approach their parents about and parents in turn might be completely in the weeds for talking to their children about.

Lucky readers are we, as the delightful Judy Blume shows no signs of slowing down, even as she approaches her eighth decade on the planet, and that her books of such timeless quality have endured along with her. What a marvelous way to spend a winter afternoon, curled up with a cup of tea and some of the charming characters she brought us—Margaret, Deenie, Davey, Fudge, to name just a few. Happy birthday, Judy Blume! Mazel tov, and thank you.


Suggested reading and sources:

*The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not intended in any way, shape, or form to influence anyone to trespass into their sibling’s room and swallow their pet. The author and her employer hereby absolve themselves of any such untoward behavior being emulated by WCPL patrons, their families, neighbors, classmates, yada yada yada.
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