Allison's Book Bag

Judy Blume’s Story by Besty Lee

Posted on: December 31, 2014

When Judy Blume began her career, she wanted to write the kind of books she could have enjoyed reading when she was young–books about kids as real people.

JudyBlumeThe above statement comes from Judy Blume’s Story, an official biography written by Bestsy Lee in 1981. It describes the inspiration behind Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Blume completed the first draft of Margaret in only six weeks. While critics praised Margaret, not everyone liked it. Schools for example wouldn’t allow it because it dealt with menstruation. Young people read it anyway and the fan mail began. Margaret’s success turned out to be the turning point in Blume’s writing career.

To usher in the new year, tomorrow I’ll review Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret? Then on Friday I’ll return to talk about a tribute book to Blume, Everything I Learned About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by Jennifer O’Connell. Save the dates: January 1-2!

EARLY CHILDHOOD

In the first chapter of Judy Blume’s Story, Lee writes that Blume grew up in New Jersey, where she was an imaginative child. On rainy days, Blume would play with her dolls and lose herself in a fantasy world. Each of her dolls had their own personalities. Sometimes too she would creep up to the attic to play and imagine a host of dangers that lurked in the nooks and crannies there. Blume also made up adventure stories, mysteries, romances, like those which she listened to on the radio.

Did you know that Blume grew up during World War II? Her memories of the war blur, but she remembers when it ended in 1945. The family were spending their vacation at a boarding house in Bradly Beach. Blume sat in the kitchen in her bathing suit eating a jelly sandwich. Her mother and grandmother were listening to Bing Crosby on the radio. Suddenly his singing stopped. “We interrupt this program to bring a bulletin from our newsroom,” the announcer said. “The war is over.”

Chapter two states that to everyone around her, Blume was a timid little girl with curly brown hair and wide, dark eyes. But inside she was a very different person. She dreamed of being an ace detective called in by the chief of police to solve a murder mystery, a prizefighter, a ballerina… Her greatest fantasy was to become a movie star and she kept waiting patiently for a Hollywood producer to discover her.

On her website, Blume elaborates: “I was small, skinny, a late developer. At first, very shy and fearful. Then, around fourth grade, much more outgoing. I can’t explain the change. I enjoyed drama, dancing, singing, painting and performing. I loved to roller skate (we didn’t have roller blades then) and to ride my bike. I also loved going to the movies, and browsing at the public library. I was always reading something.”

Regards the latter, Lee reveals that the Blume house was filled with books, from the living room to the bedroom to the sun room. Not only was Blume’s mother a great reader, but she was also a great library patron. Blume’s favorite book was Madeleine, one which she stashed in a drawer with her playthings rather than return to the library. Even one of her aunts, a grade school principal, loved books. She would hold Blume on her lap and read to her. Her aunt was the only person Blume knew who had more books than her mother. Blume vowed that someday she would also have a collection of books like her aunt. Yet even at this early age, Blume found something missing in those books. Where she wondered were all the books about real kids with real feelings?

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

I’ll miss you, Dooey-Bird

The above statement was made by Blume to her father in third grade. All of the family except her father were going to spend the year in Florida. The family had rented an apartment in Miami Beach for the winter. Blume’s brother had been sick with a kidney infection and needed a warm climate to get better. It could be good for Blume too, because maybe then she wouldn’t get so many sore throats in winter. Her father, however, couldn’t leave his dental practice. He promised to visit on holidays.

At first, Blume hated Miami Beach. The apartment was ugly and bare without curtains and rugs. Blume and her brother no longer had their own bedrooms but had to sleep on couches in the living room. She missed her friends and her dad. At first too, she was shy and quiet. Little by little, Blume began to make friends with girls from their apartment building. There was also so much to do outdoors: play hopscotch, rode bicycles, swim at the beach, and stay out late. After Christmas vacation, Blume had the opportunity to stage a ballet show for the people in her apartment. Best of all, when the year ended, Blume realized that her worst fears hadn’t come true. Other uncles had died at age forty-two and Blume worried something terrible would happen to her dad. But they didn’t. He lived to see his forty-third birthday! Thirty years later, Blume even wrote a book about her experiences at Miami Beach called Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself.

Chapter four is titled “Almost a Woman”. In it, Lee talks about Blume’s first party where her parents allowed her to invite boys. Her mother served sauerkraut and hot dogs. Her father took home movies. And her brother took charge of the entertainment. He built carnival booths and thought up lots of different games. Lee also talks about how in sixth grade, Blume belonged to a secret club. All of her best friends were in the club. They called themselves the Pre-Teen Kittens and met after school at each other’s houses. Sipping soft drinks and munching cookies, they would talk about the boys they best liked and about their changing bodies. Blume shares how she wanted her period so badly, she once put a pin in her finger to draw blood, smeared it on a pad, and wore the pad to see what it felt like. On a shopping spree with friends, she also bought her first bra. Again, Blume later wrote a book about these experiences.

JUNIOR HIGH

It occurred to her that the worst thing about being a teenager was feeling completely alone.

The above statement comes from chapter six of Judy Blume’s Story. It refers to the change which happened to Blume during her adolescence. In eighth grade, Blume was trying all sorts of new things. She tried painting, drawing, weaving, designing, and music. Regards the latter, her father taught her to appreciate fine music by playing his records for her in the evenings. Sometimes they would even talk about philosophers, but the time had ended when Blume would share private concerns. Her brother had also graduated high school and left for college. As for her mother, Blume shared only the positive. For her mother’s sake, Blume wanted to be the prettiest, most popular, and best-dressed girl in school. Even with her friends, whom Blume once talked with about everything, she no longer felt comfortable being herself. They all seemed to interested in boys and sports to talk about anything else.

The next chapter mostly revolves around Blume’s camp experiences. Summer camp was an important part of her adolescent life. She liked spending summers away from home. For eight weeks she was free and had no one to answer to. It was at camp she learned the right way to swim. In Miami Blume had taught herself to stay afloat and to treat water, but it took Camp Kenwood to learn how to swim with her face under water. Later, Blume would write about the fear and triumphs of her summer camp experiences in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. However, camp weren’t always fun. When she was fifteen, she developed a rash while helping a theater crew with construction, got hit in the face by a fly ball while playing baseball, and lost her best friend to the popular crowd. Moreover, it was also this summer that Blume received the news that her grandmother had died.

SENIOR HIGH

JudyBlume2Chapter seven is titled, “Friends”. It highlights Blume’s high school life. Lee writes that Blume was in the thick of things. She worked on the newspaper, sang in the chorus, and attended modern dance. With her best friend, Blume attended the latest plays in New York. They even fancied themselves as actresses. Lunchtime at school was one of Blume’s favorite times. It was crowded and noisy and when everybody got together after separate classes. After school, friends gathered at a local soda shop. They also attended many, many, many parties. Blume fell in and out of love many times too. With her friends, Blume would talk about how many times a boy kissed her, but no one openly discussed sex. Through her high school dates, Blume also encountered her first religious prejudice. When her date found out that Blume was Jewish, he became cold and standoffish.

Finally, the chapter talks about Blume began to test her writing skills. She was recommended for the journalism class by her ninth grade English teacher. This is how she came to work on the newspaper. After two years as a reporter, she was named for feature editor. In this position, she dreamed up story ideas and assigned them to students. Her favorite was called, “People Resemble Animals”.

ADULTHOOD

When I grew up, my need for story telling didn’t go away. So when my own two children started pre-school I began to write and I’ve been writing ever since! My

The above statement comes from Blume’s website. If you wish to know more about how Blume established herself as an author, you’ll find some answers in Judy Blume’s Story. The last four chapters cover Blume’s college and adult life. Chapter eight talks about the death of her father, around the time of what otherwise should have been the happiest day of her life, when Blume got married. Chapter nine through eleven talk about her marriage and her growing restlessness, which led her to write songs, create colorful felt banners for children’s room, and finally to try her hand at writing for children.

You’ll also find more info about Blume at her website. I left out some details from each chapter, choosing to focus on highlights. What I have shared, however, should provide plenty of biographical info for any interested in Judy Blume. My chapter summaries will also hopefully inspire you to seek out her story.

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