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Judy Blume: Writer for Kids, Teens, and Adults

Updated on August 26, 2014
Judy Blume in 2009 Photo by Carl Lender via Wikimedia Commons
Judy Blume in 2009 Photo by Carl Lender via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Judy Blume has written more than twenty books since 1969, and has won more than 60 awards, including the Children's Choice Award in 1988, the Carl Sandburg Freedom to Read Award in 1984, the West Australian Young Readers' Book Award in 1982, the Rhode Island Library Association Award in 1980, and the Charlie May Swann Children's Book Award in 1972 (Weidt 123-125). What makes this even more amazing is that Blume doesn't just write young adult novels; she writes children's books, young adult novels, and adult novels. Crossing over is not easily or often done, especially when the writer is so controversial. Blume has consistently topped the list of most banned authors, with four of her young adult novels - Deenie, Forever, Blubber, and Then Again, Maybe I Won't - being among the most frequently censored titles for five years. So what allows Judy Blume to cross the lines so easily? Why does she succeed? And why is she censored?

Who is Judy Blume? By Random House Kids

Judy Blume’s Children’s Books

Blume's first book would give no one cause to question her ability to write or her need to be censored. It's a children's book - The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. Illustrated by Irene Trivas, it tells the story of a young boy, Freddy, who is stuck in the middle, with an older brother and a younger sister. Freddy feels that he has nothing special in his life; his brother is older and gets to do more, and his sister is younger and the baby in the family. Because of this, when Freddy hears about a school play, he decided he wants to be in it. Neither of his siblings have been in a play. But the play is for older children, and Freddy worries that he will be disappointed again. Instead, the teacher lets him in - he will be the green kangaroo. His job is to jump around on stage and answer, whenever asked who he is, that he's the green kangaroo. In the end, having the chance to do something special makes him happy, and he doesn't regret being the middle child anymore. The story, while written about sibling rivalry, is accessible to all children. A child doesn't need to be one of three in order to want to feel special.

Blume wrote two other children's stories - Freckle Juice and The Pain and the Great One. Both were successful, and neither ran into problems with censorship. Like The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, they deal with problems that all children can encounter. Freckle Juice again deals with needing to be special, and The Pain and the Great One deals once more with sibling rivalry.

Judy Blume’s Young Adult Novels

Blume's first young adult novel came out the year after her first children's book and was quickly followed by another young adult novel. That first novel was Iggie's House. It was quietly successful, telling the story of a young girl who learns to deal with racism after her new neighbors aren't the same as everyone else in the neighborhood. It was overshadowed by Blume's third publication, however. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was Blume's breakthrough work in more than one way. While it paved the road for her future successes, it also showed how easily her books could be considered inappropriate and put on banned lists or restricted shelves.

Blume writes from both male and female perspectives, and succeeds at both. Her most popular male-narrated book is Then Again, Maybe I Won't. In Then Again…, the main character, Tony, must deal with multiple transitions. Besides the fact that he is entering puberty, he also enters a completely different life. Because of his father's invention, his family is suddenly rich and catapulted from a simple but poor life into one of money and privilege. But Tony sees what some others don't - while the neighbor's son appears to be a "good kid" to all who meet him, Tony knows that he secretly peeps into girls' windows to watch them undress and he shoplifts compulsively.

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Judy Blume’s Adult Novels

Blume's adult novels were no less successful or controversial than her young adult novels. Beginning with Wifey in 1978, Blume broke free from the mold she had created for herself and published her first adult novel. Blume wrote Wifey because she felt "a great need for change" (Weidt 16). Wifey told the story of Sandy, a woman who is trapped in a marriage that she regrets. Sandy engages in extramarital affairs, trying to find herself and her love of sex, but, in the end, winds up with her husband.

According to Blume's website, many of her fans were upset with Wifey when it first appeared. Some feared that since she hadn't used a pseudonym that children would inadvertently pick up and read the book. Others felt that she had ruined her personal image. Still others enjoyed it. She followed it up with Smart Women in 1983 and Summer Sisters in 1998. Smart Women and Summer Sisters were not as graphic as Wifey, but both still dealt with adult themes. Smart Women focused on women overcome divorces, and Summer Sisters told the story of two girls and the friendship and heartache they shared over six summers, eventually ending in the dissolution of their friendship after both had grown.

Judy Blume for the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out!

Judy Blume’s Censorship Experiences

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret began Blume's career with censorship. The main character is a twelve-year-old girl named Margaret, whose major preoccupation is when she will get her period. Despite the attempts to both restrict and censor it, the book won four awards in the first ten years that it was out. It is still in print, and has gone through numerous cover changes, but it still finds and attracts an audience. Using Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret as an example, it is possible to see why Judy Blume has remained so popular with so many young adult readers. According to Maryann Weidt, the author of Presenting Judy Blume, numerous critics have tried to explain Blume's popularity. The general consensus is that there are two reasons for her ability to reach such a large audience. First, Blume's characters and their actions are real (Weidt 20). Not only middle-class American children think so, but children all over the world identify with the characters and their lives. In fact, every one of Blume's young adult novels has been translated into three languages. Two of them have been published in eight different languages. The second reason is what Blume writes about. She deals with real problems and situations that young adult readers deal with. She doesn’t shy away from issue. Unlike those who wish to censor her, she discusses menstruation. She discusses masturbation. She discusses sex. Throughout all of it, she maintains her cloak as a teen, and the teen readers are able to identify with what they read.

Letters to Judy Blume

Blume's success at young adult novels was made evident with her book Letters to Judy, published in 1986. Compiling and selecting from the thousands of letters she received every month, Blume put together a collection showing the real lives of her readers, their concerns, and her responses to them. The letters involved children who had peer problems, who had lived through their parents divorcing, who had been abused (both physically and sexually), and who were just unhappy in their current situations. The book shows just what a range of readers enjoy Blume's books, and it also shows the positive effects that Blume's writing had on its readers. The letters are positive and emotional; they share events and issues with Blume, letting her know just how much her writing touched their own lives.

Reasons for Judy Blume’s Success

The reasons for Judy Blume's success are not a secret, but they are hard to reproduce. The realism in her fiction and her ability to write for whatever age group she desires to write for are talents that few other writers share. However, it is also this realism that has won her awards and criticism. Whatever readers think of Blume, she is still considered to be one of the most popular young adult writers in America, and she will continue to hold that title for as long as her books are in print.

Works Cited

Blume, Judy. Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. Englewood Cliffs: Bradbury Press, 1970.

---. Deenie. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1973.

---. Double Fudge. New York: Puffin Books, 2002.

---. Forever…. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1975.

---. Freckle Juice. Illus. Sonia O. Lisker. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971.

---. Fudge-a-mania. New York: Puffin Books, 1990.

---. Here's to You, Rachel Robinson. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1993.

---. Iggie's House. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1970.

---. It's Not the End of the World. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1972.

---. Judy Blume's Home Base. 10 December 2006. <//http:www.judyblume.com>>

---. Just As Long as We're Together. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1987.

---. Letters to Judy. New York: Putnam, 1986.

---. The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. Illus. Irene Triva. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1991.

---. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. New York: Puffin Books, 1972.

---. The Pain and the Great One. Illus. Irene Triva. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1974.

---. Smart Women. New York: Pocket Books, 1983.

---. Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1977.

---. Summer Sisters. New York: Dell, 1998.

---. Superfudge. New York: Puffin Books, 1980.

---. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. New York: Puffin Books, 1972.

---. Then Again, Maybe I Won't. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1971.

---. Tiger Eyes. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1981.

---. Wifey. New York: Pocket Books, 1979.

Blume, Judy, ed. Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2001.

Wedit, Maryann. Presenting Judy Blume. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1991.

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    • WeeCatCreations1 profile image

      Susan Caplan McCarthy 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      When I took a children's literature class years ago, Judy Blume's books were a favorite among the adult students.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 23 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      I've read Judy Blume books when I was in school, years ago. It's amazing how she continues to write to this day. Voted up!

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