Seven Impossible Interviews Before
Breakfast #78: Judy Blume

h1 December 10th, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

Jules: So, Eisha, JUDY BLUME IS HERE! I know you’re as excited as I am that she’s stopped by 7-Imp for a short interview. It really is a kick to be a part of her blog tour, isn’t it? (The previous stops—and one remaining one—on her tour are listed at the bottom of this post for those who want to read further.)

And that would be because she was such an integral part of my childhood and the childhood of many readers our age(ish). Her engaging writing—which addressed questions we had about life and love and relationships in an honest and open manner—as well as her willingness to tackle matters in children’s lit deemed taboo by many other authors have made her not just a luminary of children’s literature, but also a household name. (To have your books be so entrenched into popular culture that they can be the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit goes a long way toward illustrating that latter point. This happened just this past weekend in “The Lost Works of Judy Blume” with guest host John Malkovich. If any of our readers missed it, have a similarly warped sense of humor, and want to see it, it’s posted here.)

Judy’s written over twenty-five novels for children and teens, and her book sales have exceeded approximately seven SKERJILLION. (Just slight hyperbole there. Her Wikipedia entry says 80 million.) She also has been awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; has been selected by the American Library Association for its Margaret A. Edwards Award for her contributions to young adult literature; and has received the Library of Congress Living Legends award in the “Writers and Artists” category for her significant contributions to America’s cultural heritage. Impressive, to say the very least.

But, really, she’s just so…well, so flippin’ cool as the trailblazing, pioneering author she’s been over the years. She’s written books that have stayed with readers like us for most of our lives. As I’ve written before here at 7-Imp, she possesses a spot-on ability to nail the embarrassments, tensions, worries, headaches, and even joys of growing up and, in particular, sibling relationships — and with humor and sensitivity. And she’s still writing great books.

For those reasons, I’m humbled and flattered and even nervous that she’s here today. Does that make sense, Eisha, or do I sound like the total goober fan that I am?

the old-skool cover very close to our mid-30-year-old heartsnew covereisha: Dude, I am right there with you in goober-fandom. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say Judy Blume changed my life. Some of her “controversial” books — Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Deenie; Blubber; and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself — were a few years old when I first read them, but they still seemed remarkably edgy and real, unlike anything else I had been exposed to at that point. She really gets the way kids think and interact, the way they want so badly to be grown-up, the way their imaginations fill in the blanks for the gaps in their understanding. Her characters question organized religion, deal with bullies and racists, and — bless their misguided hearts — can’t wait to get their first periods. Also, they’re funny. I got hooked in a big way, and spent quite a few weeks’ allowance on her paperbacks in the ol’ Scholastic Book Club.

Also, did you hear her on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me? Awesome. She’s totally my hero.

You’re right, it’s an honor to be a stop on the illustrious Judy Blume’s blog tour.

Jules: Last year, Random House’s Delacorte Books for Young Readers released Judy’s Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One, seven new stories about the brother-and-sister pair that appeared in her 1984 picture book, The Pain and the Great One (the latter included illustrations by Irene Trivas, but this new title included illustrations from James Stevenson). This May, Judy brought us the second book in this Pain & the Great One series, Cool Zone with the Pain & the Great One, followed by Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain & the Great One this past August. And next May will bring us Friend or Fiend? with the Pain & the Great One (all books in the series published by Random House). You can read all about the series—as well as about her other books and writing, her prolific career, her efforts to fight censorship, and much more—at her website. (She also blogs, and she’s still opionated as ever. Amen.)

Well, let’s get right to it. We were given the opportunity to ask Judy five questions today, and we can deliver on four. And that’s because we wanted to post this photo, very possibly THE COOLEST PHOTO EVER, EVER TAKEN, here in this interview and ask Judy to tell us about that day. Yes, you’re seeing Judy, Seuss, and Sendak in 1978. Is that not a fabulous photograph? Turns out that Judy couldn’t give us permission to reprint the photo here, as it belongs to Jill Krementz. But at least we can link to it, and she also wrote all about that day here at her blog, if you’re so inclined to read it.

So, below are our four questions to Judy, and we thank her heartily for her time.

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Tell us all about the new Pain and the Great One title, Going, Going, Gone! And can you tell us about the fourth book in the series? Will there still be four chapter books in the series — or more, by chance?

Judy: Going, Going, Gone! is the third chapter book in the series. I had fun with this one! Two of the stories were inspired by my grandson, Elliot, who only wanted to ride the Gravitron at the “Ag Fair” on Martha’s Vineyard. He’d go as many times as I’d let him. I was really curious about the ride and asked the guy in charge to let me see the inside. But I wasn’t brave enough to actually take the ride. Like Aunt Diana in the story, I get vertigo from amusement park rides. Elliot was disappointed in me, but that didn’t stop him!

Jake and Abigail’s visit to Grandpa Pete’s was inspired by a trip I took with my husband, George. We spent a week camping out and canoeing in the Florida Everglades. The night before we started, I read a book about snakes and alligators and how they can’t bite through leather (or maybe it was just one of them that can’t bite through leather). Either way, I decided I’d wear my leather boots the whole time. Problem was, they were my city boots. I had them with me because I’d been at a convention the week before. For seven days and seven nights I never took off my boots. Nothing George could say would get me to change my mind. I slept in my boots, I portaged through thigh-high muck in them, I….well, you get the idea. At the end of the seven days, my boots were so smelly and disgusting there was no hope for them. Abigail’s favorite cowboy boots meet a similar fate. Oh — we did get to see alligators! And so do Jake and Abigail.

I’m crazy for James Stevenson’s funny illustrations in this book. He gave Grandpa Pete a walrus moustache, just like his.

Friend or Fiend? is the fourth book. The stories in this are about friendship and loyalty. It’s hard sometimes to know who you can trust. And it hurts when someone who you thought was your friend betrays you. At the end of this book, we find out the truth about Fluzzy. But I don’t want to spoil the fun. It will be published in May ’09. Right now, that’s it! I’m ready for something new.

7-Imp: You have been writing for over thirty-five years, and many of your books have been challenged by censors. We know you work tirelessly in support of intellectual freedom. You write at your web site: “{B}ooks that don’t hit the reader over the head with moral lessons are considered dangerous.” How do you think today’s atmosphere of intellectual freedom compares to, say, twenty years ago?

Judy: There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that schools and libraries (for the most part) now have their policies in place so, if a parent rushes into school waving a book, demanding its immediate removal, she/he has to go through a formal challenge. Teachers, librarians, and school principals aren’t as easily intimidated as they once were.

More good news is that students are writing papers on the First Amendment. Every young person should learn about his/her First Amendment rights. (You can find much more info on judyblume.com/censorship.)

The bad news is it’s still happening. The most banned book of the last two years is And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about penguins based on a true story. (I wrote about this on my blog just after Banned Books Week.)

I think we’re better off than we were twenty years ago (actually, it was following the presidential election of 1980 that the censors crawled out of the woodwork). Better off because we’re aware. We’re organized and determined now, the way the censors were then. (Check out ncac.org and judyblume.com/censorship for more info.)

7-Imp: You recently issued updated versions of some of your best-loved books, such as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, removing references to obsolete items, such as mimeograph machines and sanitary napkin belts. What motivated you to make these changes, and what has the reaction been?

Judy: I don’t think of them as updated versions. The books are exactly the same, but—in the case of Margaret—she buys and tries out pads that stick to your underpants. These pads replaced belts and pins just months after I wrote the book. Girls today, who read it as a contemporary story, would have to go to their grandmothers to find out about belts. And pretty soon even their grandmas won’t remember. Actually, I made these changes in the book fifteen or twenty years ago.

The Fudge books were written over many years -– from the early ’70s to 2002, yet the action takes Peter from fourth grade (in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing) to fifth and sixth (in Superfudge) to the summer following sixth grade in Fudge-a-mania to seventh grade in Double Fudge. The electronics had to reflect that. And that’s the only change. I found a way to keep the ancient mimeograph machine in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (we had mimeograph machines when I was in school), because it was important to the story. These changes were my idea, and I’m glad I made them, even though my earliest readers have sometimes expressed outrage. (Sorry, early readers — you’re very important to me.) If the books were historical fiction, it would be one thing, but today’s kids read them as if they were just written (unless Mom or Dad tells them otherwise).

7-Imp: It’s probably considered rather cliché to ask an author what her advice to aspiring writers is, but you’re….well, JUDY BLUME. So, we’re extra curious to know: What would be your advice to them?

Judy: It’s hard to give advice. There are no rules when it comes to writing. Whatever works for you, go for it! I’d just add, write from deep inside, write without fear (fear of the critic, fear of the censor) –- don’t think about anything except your characters and tell their story as well, and as honestly, as you can. Remember, every editor is looking for an original voice. As a reader, so am I.

* * * * * * *

Previous stops on Judy’s current blog tour:

Remaining stop:

And don’t forget last year’s Winter Blog Blast Tour interview at not your mother’s bookclub.

* * * * * * *

For fun: You can go here to hear Kerri Miller’s Summer ’08 interview with Judy at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and the Loft Literary Center.

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21 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before
Breakfast #78: Judy Blume”

  1. “Write without fear”. Easier said than done, but excellent advice nonetheless.


  2. Wonderful. Am anxious to read the new series!!


  3. Jules. Eisha. 7-Imp. Holy freaking cow — JUDY BLUME…!

    What I know about her books, I know only from two sisters and a niece. Which is why I can say… Holy freaking cow — JUDY BLUME!

    But what she’s done on behalf of writers everywhere in her anti-censorship activities makes her a real hero to me.

    Jules, that SNL bit was a stitch… “by the 3rd month it wasn’t so bad”: ha!

    (Holy freaking cow — JUDY BLUME…!)


  4. JES, I will admit: Eisha and I, privately and ever since we were offered this interview, have been referring to her as “Judy Freakin’ Blume,” said with the utmost respect, as in we just couldn’t believe we had the opportunity to interview such a ….well, she’s a living legend (though I hate to use that phrase, as it makes me think of old, sedentary people, but holy freaking cow, she’s still a babe and totally not slowing down).

    But we figured that calling her that or putting “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #78: Judy Freakin’ Blume” just might come across as inadvertently disrespectful.

    I tried and tried to get the Pivot questions answered, too, but alas and alack, it didn’t work. But that’s okay. Four questions with Judy Blume are better than none at all.

    That skit makes me laugh, too. They really nailed the girl’s bedroom of the early ’70s, too (well, not all girls of course, but you know what I mean).

    How about that photo at her blog — her and Sendak and Seuss? Coolest thing EVER.


  5. Great interview! We’re fans too.


  6. Judy Blume played a huge part in my childhood and adolescence – yes, she was (and hopefully still is) a wildly popular author in the UK. Congrats on a great interview. Nice one.


  7. I still have my Judy Blume Diary from fifth grade and in it I wrote (along with the embarrassment of my suddenly see-through swimsuit): I WILL NEVER BE ANYWHERE NEAR AS COOL A WRITER AS JUDY BLUME. I HAVE DECIDED TO BE A HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER INSTEAD. MY BROTHER SAID THAT WAS STUPID.

    I still think I will never be anywhere near as cool a writer as Judy Blume, but it is so much fun trying.

    Thanks for such a great interview.


  8. I have to go on record that I’m kinda glad she updated Are You There God because when I read that bit about the belt back before I got my period, I was like, “BELT?!? WHAT BELT?!?” It was really alarming because I had never heard of such a thing. The rest of the book was, clearly, awesome. I must have read it (and most of her other books) a dozen times at least.


  9. Judy is not only a mensch and a truly lovely person, a mentor to many writers, and loyal to her many fans, I have it on good authority that she is a dynamite jacks player.

    Good authority?

    Well, at the SCBWI 25th anniversary conference in LA, she and Paula Danziger, and I played jacks on the floor of the hotel while the conference-goers lined up for dinner around us.

    Of course, Paula beat the pants off of both of us. I mean, we should have realized–she had her OWN jacks in a sparkly carry bag that she brought to the conference as well as loaner bags for Judy and me. Of course she was shark.

    I ground my teeth. I am not a good loser. But Judy’s smile never wavered.

    Jane


  10. Go 7-Imp!


  11. Thanks, all, for sharing the Judy love. Can I just share a little anecdote my husband told me last night when I was telling him about our interview with Judy Freakin’ Blume?

    His elementary school had lots of her books, of course, but BOYS weren’t allowed to check out Are You There God?… until 5th grade. He said the first day of 5th grade, all four copies were snapped up instantly, and stayed that way – all the boys read it. He even read it himself. Which is hilarious to me, because most 5th grade boys I’ve known would never have picked up such a girly book in the first place. Just goes to show what censorship does – it makes the book irresistable.


  12. I remember reading “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” in second grade or so. Fourth graders seemed so mature and sophisticated back then!


  13. Wow, wow, wow! Love this interview. Thank you!


  14. OMG. Judy Blume!!! I learned a lot from this post.

    And I envy you, Jules and Eisha. :o)


  15. Congratulations on doing the interview with Judy Blume! I enjoyed reading it.


  16. Eisha, that story is hilarious!

    Re the updating of the books, although it’s minor I still feel a bit sad that the belts etc are gone. Because it’s nice to read a book that’s set in the past and realise that the feelings and situations were so similar in generations before you.


  17. [...] for a Judy Blume [...]


  18. [...] phase ended, I read few middle-grade chapter books. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Judy Blume book. As soon as I could, I moved straight to fantasy and sci-fi [...]


  19. Judy my nine Daughter loves the Fudge book’s.


  20. you are the best author i love your book there so good specially the one that is Judy blume the the fourth grade nothing.


  21. [...] Blume interview over at 7 Impossible [...]


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