Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 22, 2013

Feeling like a kid again with Blume

— — If I could go back and relive my teen and preteen years again, I would do so with the condition that Judy Blume write my life story.

The writer — who turned 75 this month — authored some of the characters who became my literary best friends during my adolescence. Her books were an instrumental part of growing up for me and I would dare say for many women who grew up during the past 45 years.

Some of my first exposures to Judy Blume’s books were on the bookshelf of books my mother had saved from her own adolescence. It was there I first picked up “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” and the books of the “Fudge” series.

With her first book published in 1969, it is no wonder she is now reaching out to multiple generations through books passed down mother to daughter.

It was those happy-go-lucky, cheerful books like “Superfudge” that provided a nice introduction to Blume and made me more willing to pick up other books she had authored on more serious subjects.

Those books were also some great introductions to the whole concept of reading a “chapter book,” something that many younger elementary kids find daunting when they first begin developing their reading skill. Reading a Judy Blume book seemed to take no time at all because I was having so much fun.

I distinctly remember being up late at night, hiding under the covers with a flashlight while I devoured the pages of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

As a pre-teen girl, I found a kindred spirit in the protagonist Margaret Simon who herself was having a hard time navigating the choppy waters of not being an adult yet not wanting to be a child any more.

Of course, what makes Blume great to me at least is the fact that she tackles subject matters a lot of her readers are dealing with. She took on the subject of bullying in her 1974 novel “Blubber,” about a group of fifth-grade girls who pick on an overweight classmate.

Blume was one of the first young adult writers to really deal with divorce in an honest way in books like “It’s Not the End of the World” and “Just As Long as We’re Together.” Her novel “Tiger Eyes” is about a young girl trying to cope with the death of her father who was a bystander murdered in a botched convenience store robbery.

Though many of her main characters have their own insecurities, they always manage to get through whatever troubles they have experienced with a sense of hope for the future. The fact that Blume ends her novels with a hopeful spirit allows her readers who are experiencing the same things to have hope themselves, the hope that things will indeed get better even if that process is slow.

Despite the fact that her books deal with so many issues important and on the minds of young readers, she remains one of the most frequently challenged writers in schools and libraries across the country.

It always seemed odd to me that so many people wanted to ban these books, which answered so many questions and dealt with so much subject matter I was too nervous or embarrassed to ask parents, teachers and even my friends.

 The thing about her books is I always found it so easy to slip into the story, to identify with her characters whether they were performing hilarious antics or going through immeasurable heartbreak. She fostered my love for reading at an early age. Without Judy Blume, I don’t think we would have other popular young adult writers we have today like Meg Cabot, Jennifer Echols, Lisi Harrison, Sarah Dessen, Cicley von Ziegesar, Ally Carter, E. Lockhart, Sarah Mylnowski, Louise Rennison, and Ann Brashares and her “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series.

There is even a book called “Everything I Learned About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume” containing essays from several writers about how Blume’s writing influenced their own paths. A generation of young adult writers have taken her style of using humor to help tackle difficult issues from body image to divorce to abuse to cliques. Blume is also known for responding to her readers who have written her thousands of letters about their own struggles with peer pressure, divorce and death.

Sometime this weekend, I will undoubtedly locate my copy of “Are You There God?” on one of my many bookshelves just to flip through the well-worn pages and remember all of those adventures I had with Margaret Simon and her friends.

And maybe, just for old times sake, I might turn off the lights, crawl under the bed covers and reread the book with my flashlight just to feel like a kid again.

Kate Coil is a reporter with the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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