At the Festival of Books: A Conversation with Judy Blume

In her conversation with Los Angeles Times columnist Mary McNamara at the 2012 Festival of Books, Judy Blume noted that YA literature “didn’t really exist” at the time she began writing it. If that’s true, she helped bring it into existence. I have pretty clear memories of frequenting the young-adult sections of my local library and bookstores during my middle- and high-school years–they may not have been very large compared to YA collections now, but the books in them were clearly stocked and identified for that age group. (And I graduated from high school thirty years ago this June, so I was reading YA before some of y’all were even born.)

"A Conversation with Judy Blume" LA Times Festival of Books

Judy Blume turned to writing as a creative outlet as a young wife with two small children after her first “career”–making felt cutouts for children’s rooms–was forced to an end when she developed an allergy to Elmer’s glue. She began writing rhyming picture books in the tradition of Dr. Seuss, and found her first publisher the old-fashioned way; without an agent, she just sent out her book hopeful that it would be fished out of the “slush pile” and read by someone who’d support it. She got lucky, and told the audience at her talk that she’s continued to be lucky in the publishers and editors she’s worked with; with their support, she’s had the opportunity to write for readers of all ages, from preschoolers to adults, over the course of her long career. She’s currently at work on a novel about three teens growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950s; she’s enjoying the research for it, but has been amused by people’s inquiries about it being “historical fiction.” (Since the early ‘50s was her own era, she prefers to think it isn’t.)

Even though she started with picture books, Judy knew she wanted to write the kind of books she couldn’t find when she was growing up–books in which kids would recognize themselves, their families, and their experiences; books about siblings and divorced parents and the everyday traumas of growing up. She’s done that, with Fudge, and Blubber, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Girls are still coming of age with ...Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (and variations on its title have become catchphrases). And as I discovered on a re-read a couple of years ago, Forever still holds up (no “Ralph” puns intended). 

Judy Blume LAT Festival of Books 2012
Judy mentioned that readers seem to be coming to her books younger these days. In fact, several of her most popular books featuring early-teen characters are officially filed under “middle-grade fiction” now. There may not have been a place in “young adult” for her books when she started out, but there have been so many changes in the market since then that it seems like not many are there now, either.

Still, even if it’s not always clear where they’ll find them, people are still finding and reading Judy Blume’s books–and some want to share their own youthful favorites with their kids. Judy offered a couple of suggestions to parents whose kids might seem less than receptive:

“”First, invest in one with a new cover,” she said. “Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don’t give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: ‘Oh no, you’re not reading that — you’re not ready for it yet.'”

Reverse psychology is a tried-and-true parenting technique…and Judy Blume is a tried-and-true literary friend to kids of all ages. It’s hard to imagine growing up without her; for more than four decades now, no one’s had to, and I hope that stays true for decades to come.

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