Everything I learned from Judy Blume books

June 14, 2015

Who read Judy Blume books when they were growing up? More to the point, who didn’t read them? Never found on any official school reading list, her books – from Starring Sally J Freedman and Superfudge, through to Blubber, Tiger Eyes, Deenie and Forever – were instead passed down from person to person, like the most effective word of mouth campaign ever. They were essential reading for all girls of a certain age.

Judy Blume books - essential reading for teenagers?

I read last week that Judy Blume has written her first new novel in years, and that same day I found a box of my favourite childhood reads in our loft while looking for my summer clothes. At the top of the pile were all my well thumbed, dog eared copies of her books. It was like opening a Pandora’s box of pre-teen Proustian rushes.

Judy Blume books - the back

Along with my love of Just17 magazine, these books were the ones that pretty much shaped my early adolescence. While 1980’s America didn’t have a lot in common with the suburban Shropshire of my own childhood, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that instead of the amazing sounding ‘mall’ you had the boring old Telford Shopping Centre, or that you were never going to be taken to prom by the high school heartthrob that had secretly been in love with you all along, because you didn’t have a prom and all the boys at school were just bleh and you had frizzy hair and braces, because the books transcended all cultural boundaries.

Years before the pick-n-mix an issue of Hollyoaks and ages before you ever probably did anything, they dealt with a whole range of early teen topics, from friendship and bullying (Blubber), to bras and periods (Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret) and the massive ones of death (Tiger Eyes), snogging (Here’s to you, Rachel Robinson) and the one that made you get out the dictionary (Deanie, with her scoliosis). Although they might have appeared daring and slightly risqué to an adult, to us they were always perfectly pitched, and were how girls of my pre-Google era learned things, along with problem pages, school yard chat and the More! Magazine Position of Week the you all once saw and were secretly really shocked by.

Flicking through them now it struck me how eternal the issues all are, and how much I really did learn from Judy Blume…

Everything I learned about…friendship
Friendship is such a huge issue in your tween / early teen years, isn’t it? You have your girl gang, but then these platonic relationships were always so all-consumingly complicated, especially when it all goes slightly awry. Judy Blume captured this friend-angst perfectly, and this is the one theme that’s pretty much across all of her books, especially the friendship triangle of Rachel, Alison and Stephanie in Just as Long as We’re Together. And pre-Spice Girls, Judy Blume spread the message that boys are all well and good, but friendship is what it’s all about.

Everything I learned about…being a grown-up
Margaret (Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret) was the hero for all girls who are super curious about growing up and not yet quite there. It’s perfect stake in that stage when you wanted a bra more than anything, and when periods seemed womanly and exotic, shortly before you realise they really are just a pain (also, wasn’t it a bit of a disappointment when you realised sanitary towels didn’t come in separate boxes with belts and clips and all the 1950’s paraphernalia? What was all that about?)

Everything I learned about…sex, baby
While Deanie dealt with that touchy subject of teen masturbation, Forever was the big one, wasn’t it? I’m sure every friendship group across the world had one copy that was passed around and around (ours was bought innocently for my friend my her grandmother, would you believe, and was so ‘well loved’ that it was missing a front cover and the first six pages). While Forever was pretty tame compared to those other teen faves, the bonkers bonk-fests of Riders and Shirley Conran’s Lace which both had much more actual sex in them, it was still a thrilling read. I don’t actually have a copy as it fell apart years ago, but with adult hindsight I’m pretty sure it had sensible overarching ideas about waiting to do it, safe sex and not being too committed too young,

Forever is also the reason why, years later, you laugh in the face of hispster baby name lists that suggest ‘Ralph’ as a moniker for your child (no smirking at the back there).

I’m still so consumed by the baby days at the moment that it’s slightly alien to think that far ahead about my two daughters being teenagers. Will the issues still be relevant? Absolutely. Will they read these books? I might hang on to my copies, just in case…x

Judy Blume books

(Just noticed that this one is actually covered in stickers from my Just17 yearbook…)

More: 10 signs Sundays have dramatically changedrelics of an end of the century childhood and 25 inevitable events from the first six months.

A Baby on Board is a finalist in the MAD Blog Awards for best pregnancy blog. Read nine things about my blog and pregnancy and if you’d like to vote for us you can do so here – thank you so much! x

23 Comments

  • Carie

    June 14, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    I don’t think I had any but I remember borrowing them from the library – it’s a real testament to Judy Blume that they’ve been childhood classics for so many generations isn’t it!

  • Charlene

    June 14, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    I loved Judy Blume, she didn’t talk down to us. My favourite was Blubber. She got all the subtle nuances of friendship and status and wanting to belong, without making the message too forced.

  • Alison Perry

    June 15, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Oh my GOODNESS you have no idea how many memories just looking at these photos of the books has brought back to me. I loved Judy Blume books. I do remember being a bit confused by some of the American words (like ‘retainer’) and I seem to remember one book describing the character wearing a sanitary towel that attached to a belt which TERRIFIED me – it all sounded so complicated. But overall, these books were so supportive and so important for girls to read.

  • Alison Perry

    June 15, 2015 at 8:09 am

    PS high five for the mention of More magazine. Sob. RIP More 😉

  • fritha

    June 15, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    I feel awful but I don’t think I’ve read any Judy Blume books!! I know ‘are you there god it’s me Margaret’ is a famous one but I honestly don’t remember seeing it as a child or teenager, and I did read books honest! I forgot you grew up near me, Oh Telford shopping centre, the place of dreams. I remember when they first put up that frog clock with bubbles and it being really exciting! x

    1. Sarah

      June 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      The frog clock was broken down over half term, eldest daughter was a bit sad!

  • Caroline

    June 15, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Every time you write one of these nostalgic posts, I find myself nodding along in agreement! I loved all of these books, and actually re-read a couple when I discovered them fairly recently! I read an interview once where Judy Blume stated that one of her children asked her to write a book about teenagers having sex where nothing bad happened, and the result was Forever. Obviously I don’t have a daughter, but perhaps I’ll read Superfudge with Thomas when he’s older!

  • Kiran

    June 16, 2015 at 5:42 am

    Oh Gill, this is all spot on! We passed around our copies at school and they too were dog-eared but loved. I still snigger at the name Ralph! I think you are right too, the sensible, practical and measured approach taught us all so much. I hope these books are passes around my kids’ classroom one day. I don’t know if the boys ever read them but they should! I ‘m jealous you have your own copies. I longed for mine! X

  • Liane

    June 16, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    I LOVED(!!!) Judy Blume as a teenager! I wish I had kept all my copies of her books.. I’m tempted to go onto Amazon and see if I can buy some on there lol

  • Sarah

    June 16, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Haha, I was sorting out my parents loft the other week, and also stumbled upon my hoard of Judy Blumes! I don’t think I owned Deanie though, I think I took it out of the library a few times though! And funnily enough I am also from Shropshire 😀

    Keeping them for my daughters when they are old enough. Quite excited, hope she enjoys them!

  • Kathryn (@KatGotTheCream)

    June 16, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    I want to read them all over again now. I remember buying my own copy of Forever and then my sister (7 years older) found it in my drawer and dobbed me in to my mum, who reckoned I wasn’t old enough to be reading about stuff like that! Oh the shame!! Great read, thanks xx

  • Adele @ Circus Queen

    June 16, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    I loved reading this post, Gillian. I know other girls were reading them back when I was at school but I would’ve had to sneak them into my house probably! Maybe I should read them now?

  • laura redburn

    June 16, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    ahh, i used to love sitting in the library (that was next to our house!) and reading judy blume books. nostalgia!

  • Mel G

    June 16, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Oh my goodness. I downloaded a number of Judy Blume’s books to get me through my maternity leave and the early hour feeds late last year. I love them. Just as long as we’re together was always my favourite and re-reading it brought back a myriad of emotions. I’m currently reading Forever! Judy Blume was my favourite author.

  • Jemma

    June 16, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    This post was complete nostalgia! I Ioved Judy Blume! Looking at those covers brought back the best memories! Do you think our girls will read them or will they be too dated?!

  • Molly

    June 17, 2015 at 5:16 am

    SO many memories brought back here. Judy Blume, J17, More’s “position of the week” (did anyone ever really try those?!)… I was transported back to the teen years just then. Brilliant post!

  • Jess @ Along Came Cherry

    June 17, 2015 at 6:23 am

    I loved ‘Are you there God, it’s me Margaret’! Read it so many times and as a result I was obsessed with periods, I actually looked forward to starting mine! I can’t even really remember what it was about, I must re-read it! x

  • kate

    June 17, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Gillian, so spot on! You’ve just given me flashbacks of getting on the one bus every hour to Telford town centre with my girl gang to browse tammy girl for crop top bras and popper-at-the-crotch bodysuits! Didn’t know you were a Shropshire girl- you hide it well!!!

  • pauli

    June 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I totally loved Judy Blume books and I’m ancient. Born in ’62 and brought up in Canada my favourite was ‘are you there god it’s me margaret’ . My daughter devoured them as well .Sadly I’m not so sure they’ll be as popular with todays girls who have so much information at their fingertips. Hope I’m wrong .

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  • Chloe (Sorry About The Mess)

    June 22, 2015 at 10:49 am

    I discovered Judy Blume through the Fudge books when I was around 10, then went on to devour all of her other books throughout my early teens. A few years ago, I tried and failed to relocate all my old copies, so I ended up buying a load of them from Ebay and having a good old nostalgic read. Serious love for Judy.

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