Judy Blume Was Every Girl's BFF When We Felt Like We Didn't Have One

Judy Blume

As a young girl, I disappeared a lot. Not physically, but in all other respects ... disappeared into the world of the authors whose words I devoured, transported. I was one of those kids -- head always stuck in a book, escaping into the pages, my own world immeasurably enriched and expanded by the worlds within two paper covers. Books were -- and still are -- my soul's food, seeming necessary as oxygen and water. Escape, entertainment, edification, enlightenment ... I truly can't imagine what my childhood would have been like without books. So, for Women's History Month, when I think about influential women who've made a deep and personal impact on my life, I think of Judy Blume. 

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None of the other girls who kept me company -- from that vintage, plucky Titian-haired Nancy Drew, to my beloved Anne of Green Gables; from Laura and Mary out there on the prairie, to Harriet the Spy with her egg creams and her beloved, troublesome notebook -- spent much, if any, time talking about their bodies. In fact, other than a few physical descriptions, most characters in the books I read didn't even seem to have bodies ... but not the girls of Judy Blume. 

Those friends of mine not only had bodies, but they also talked and thought about them, just like I did.  They wondered when they were going to get boobs, they worried about their periods, they compared themselves to other girls and women, and -- gasp! -- they thought about sex. A lot. These thoughts and conversations, whether with "God" or in their own heads (heads that we were so lucky to have uncensored access to), weren't written as titillation or exploitation -- they were honest and truthful, and by echoing what went on in my own heart and mind, they assured me that I was normal, that there was nothing to be ashamed of.  

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 Are You There God It's Me Margaret


Who She Is

Originally a Jersey girl (born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey), Judy received her BS in education from New York University in 1961. She's written dozens of books, from young readers' books like Freckle Juice and the Fudge series to novels for adults. And, of course, there are her books for older kids and "young adults" -- the ones nearest and dearest to my heart: 

Blubber; Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing; Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great; Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself; Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Then Again, Maybe I Won't; Deenie; Tiger Eyes ...

Just hearing those dear titles brings me back to being a girl, curled up on a couch or lying on my bedroom floor or sardined into a backseat on a family road trip, the "real" world -- filled with stress and uncertainty -- faded into unreality, my life intertwined with these girls who, despite being awkward or confused or unpopular (just like me), still managed to navigate the mysterious and choppy waters of adolescence. They inspired me in their realness, they echoed my fears and channeled what I hoped was my bravery, and they told me frankly that I was not alone.


How She's Shaped History (and Still Is!)

NYU named Judy a Distinguished Alumna in 1996, and that same year, the American Library Association honored her with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement. She's also a recipient of the Library of Congress Living Legends Award and the 2004 National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

The woman's got cred, no doubt about it.

Judy wrote fearlessly about sex, death, divorce, bullying, periods, puberty, and complicated and messy friendships, just for starters ... So, it's no surprise that there have always been those who felt her stories and words were "inappropriate" for young minds. Not only did Judy give a voice to kids everywhere, but, as it so succinctly states on her website, "Judy is a longtime advocate of intellectual freedom."

Back in the 1980s, the Judy Blume books were the target of an organized book-banning campaign, and Judy not only fought back for herself, but she also mobilized other authors to do the same. A board member of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Judy knows the power and importance of the written word, and she's dedicated to protecting it.

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Sally J Friedman


Words to Live By

Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear.

Now that I'm a mom myself, I can appreciate that wisdom even more. 

Of course, we can't talk about Judy Blume quotes without letting some of her characters speak ...

Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow, God. You know where.

-- Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

Like my mother said, you can’t go back to holding hands.

-- Forever

 A person without curiosity may as well be dead.

 -- Summer Sisters

Some changes happen deep down inside of you. And the truth is, only you know about them. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.

-- Tiger Eyes

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So excited. #judyblume #idol

A photo posted by April Hussar (@aprilhussar) on

Meeting my idol at a book signing, with my daughter. #BestDayEver


Why She Inspires Me

When I was a young girl, Judy Blume's characters and words kept me company. They offered me respite from the anxieties of always feeling like the odd girl out, they showed me that no one's family was "normal," and they let me know that things would be okay. 

As a mother, I'm inspired by Judy Blume to not just encourage my daughter to read, but to also allow her to explore and find her own paths and literary soul mates -- they won't be the same as mine, and that's fine. Other girls, other worlds, wait for her. 

And, as a writer, I'm inspired by Judy Blume to be open and honest, because I know firsthand what it can mean to see a hidden part of yourself reflected in the words on a page. 

 

 

Images via Ed Quinn/Corbis; Amazon.com; Amazon.com

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