Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Notes For February 12th, 2020

This Day In Literary History

On February 12th, 1938, the famous American writer Judy Blume was born. She was born Judith Sussman in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a little girl, she recalled, "I spent most of my childhood making up stories inside of my head."

In 1961, she graduated New York University with a Bachelor's degree in education. Two years earlier, she married her first husband, John Blume, with whom she had two sons. They divorced in 1976; though Judy retained John's surname, she described their marriage as "suffocating."

Not long after her divorce in 1976, Blume married physicist Thomas Kitchens. The marriage ended two years later. She described it as "A disaster, a total disaster. After a couple years, I got out. I cried every day. Anyone who thinks my life is cupcakes is all wrong."

It wouldn't be until 1987 that Judy found her soul mate in George Cooper, a law professor turned nonfiction writer, and married him.

Judy Blume had been working as a teacher in 1969 when her first book was published, a funny picture book called The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo. Her children were in preschool at the time.

The following year, Blume established herself as one of the best young adult novelists of her time with two poignant and provocative novels, Iggie's House and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Iggie's House told the story of Winnie Barringer, a young tomboy who is devastated when her best friend Iggie moves away. The Garbers, an African-American family, move into Iggie's old house and Winnie makes friends with the kids - Glenn, Herbie, and Tina.

Winnie soon learns an unforgettable lesson in the evils of racism when another neighbor, Mrs. Landon, a virulent bigot, determines to drive the Garbers out of the neighborhood. Winnie also observes the effects of Mrs. Landon's racism on her daughter, Clarice.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a memorable coming of age story centered on 12-year-old Margaret Simon. Margaret is the child of an interfaith marriage - her father is Jewish, her mother Christian.

Though her grandparents seem to accept her parents' marriage on the surface, Margaret's maternal grandparents are determined that she be raised a Christian, while her paternal grandmother calls her "my Jewish girl" and drags her to temple.

Caught in the religious crossfire, Margaret tries to decide what one religion she believes in - or if she believes in God at all. She must also cope with the onset of puberty, including feelings for boys, having to wear a bra, and getting her period.

Freckle Juice (1971) is another funny children's picture book about a young boy named Andrew who wants freckles like his friend Nicky has. Sharon, a girl in Andrew's class, sells him a recipe for "Freckle Juice" for 50 cents.

Andrew makes a batch of Freckle Juice - which contains disgusting ingredients - and drinks it, but no freckles appear. He's been swindled. Meanwhile, Nicky, who hates his freckles, buys a recipe from Sharon that's guaranteed to remove them!

Other memorable Judy Blume young adult novels include It's Not the End of the World and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, both published in 1972. In It's Not the End of the World, sixth grader Karen finds her life suddenly turned upside down.

Karen is overjoyed when her teacher turns out to be Mrs. Singer, the very nice teacher she desperately wanted. Unfortunately, Mrs. Singer, who got married over the summer, now acts like a total witch.

Meanwhile, Karen's parents' marriage disintegrates. They fight constantly and seem to really hate each other. When Karen's father announces his plans to file for divorce, her mother is finally happy - until Karen's angry teenage brother Jeff blows up at Mom and runs away from home.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first in a series of memorable novels featuring the Hatcher family. Peter Hatcher is a smart yet naive nine-year-old boy in the fourth grade. His 2-year-old little brother Farley, known by his nickname Fudge, is a holy terror.

The irrepressible Fudge wreaks all sorts of havoc around the house and out in public, and always gets away with it - while Peter is expected to be his brother's well behaved keeper. When Fudge gets into trouble, Peter gets the blame. Angry and resentful, he still loves his brother.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing would be followed by Superfudge (1980), Fudge-a-Mania (1990), and Double Fudge (2002). A spinoff of the Fudge series, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, was published in 1972.

This memorable novel featured Peter Hatcher's annoying classmate and sort-of friend Sheila Tubman in her own coming of age story. Though she has an abrasive, self-confident personality, Sheila suffers from several crippling phobias - fears of spiders, dogs, and water - which are the source of her secret shame.

When Sheila's family stays at a big house in Tarrytown, New York for the summer, she goes to camp and strikes up a friendship with Merle "Mouse" Ellis, an easygoing, tomboyish girl her age whose genuine courage inspires Sheila to conquer her fears.

In addition to her young adult novels, Judy Blume has also written novels for teenage and adult readers, which remain controversial to this day. Her novels for teenagers, beginning with Deenie (1973), dealt honestly with teen sexuality, including masturbation.

For this reason, disgruntled individuals and conservative groups have often tried to ban Blume's teen novels from high school library shelves. Her first novel geared toward adult readers, Wifey (1978), also drew criticism.

Wifey was set in the time of its publication - the 1970s. The main character, Sandy Pressman, is a bored New Jersey housewife who decides to bring life to her stagnant existence by having a passionate affair with her old high school boyfriend.

This was a time when conservative social mores gave way to liberalism and couples began openly experimenting with swinging and open marriages. Sandy soon discovers evidence that her husband is having an affair of his own...

Blume was sharply criticized for publishing Wifey under her own name instead of using a pseudonym. Even though the book was subtitled "An Adult Novel by Judy Blume," the author's young readers - especially her adolescent readers - took an interest in it.

Depsite the controversy, Wifey and Blume's other adult oriented novels Smart Women (1983) and Summer Sisters (1998) all became critical and commercial successes. To date, her works have won over 90 literary awards.

Her most recent book, In The Unlikely Event, was published in June of 2015. Set in the early 1950s, it tells the story of Miri Ammerman, a fifteen year old girl struggling to deal with both adolescence and the three plane crashes that take place in her New Jersey hometown within a three month period.

The novel was based on actual events in Judy Blume's life. Three plane crashes took place in her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey, from late 1951 through early 1952, claiming a total of 118 lives. Her father, a dentist, was called on to help identify the remains.

Quote Of The Day

"Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear." - Judy Blume

Vanguard Video

Today's video features Judy Blume discussing her most recent novel, In The Unlikely Event, live at the Politics & Prose bookstore and coffeehouse. Enjoy!

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