Happy Banned Books Week! Judy Blume
Today (September 27) starts Banned Book Week. The annual event, was created by the American Library Association in 1982, to celebrate and defend our Freedom To Read whatever we want. This year’s focus is on the Young Adult genre. You’d be surprised how many YA books– both recent bestsellers and all-time classics– have been banned or challenged over the years. I’d like to share one of my own childhood memories on this topic.
My first exposure to literary censorship happened when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Having read Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and loved it, I was eager to read more from this author. I browsed through the titles in her section on the YA shelves, and selected what I thought was the most interesting one. Its title: Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.
First published in 1971, Then Again was the male equivalent of Margaret, published a year earlier. Both books dealt with puberty, in intimate detail. Margaret worried about her lack of physical development, as compared to her friends, asking God (Margaret isn’t sure about Him, either, being born to Jewish/ Catholic parents) to give her breasts and to start her period. Very easy for a girl, of the age I was at the time, to relate to, and not a topic I would have felt comfortable talking to my Mom about.
When I approached the circulation desk to check out my newest acquisition, there was… I guess you could almost call it a scuffle. Two Library Ladies got into an argument about whether or not I should be allowed to check out the book! Here is an approximation of the heated conversation that took place:
Library Lady 1: “She can’t check that out!”
Library Lady 2: “Why not?!?”
LL1: “That book is for BOYS!”
LL2: “Books are for everybody.”
LL1: “No! Why, you wouldn’t let a boy check out Margaret, would you?”
LL2: “Books are for everybody.”
LL1: “But, it’s… DIRTY!”
LL2: “She. Can. Read. It.”
I felt like I was getting away with some kind of crime, as LL1 simmered and seethed in the background, while LL2 smugly stamped the back of my book with its due date. I now wanted to read this book EVEN MORE!!!
Before long, I understood LL1’s concern over a girl reading Then Again. While I could relate 100% to Margaret, the character of Tony presented me with terms I had never heard of before, such as “masturbation” and “wet dream.” It was shocking, but educational. Nothing my bashful Mom would’ve told me, and nothing that would’ve been taught in health class in Junior High health class. (At least not in 1984/5, the approximate time I read this book.)
Recently, I was surprised to discover how many of Judy Blume’s books– besides the two I’ve just mentioned– have been banned over the years. Here’s a list…
Blubber: Because the bullies in this story go unpunished. It’s told from the point of view of Jill, one of the bullies, as they torment an overweight girl in their fifth grade class named Linda.
Deenie: Because it mentions masturbation and sexuality, although the main story is about a girl with scoliosis, and Deenie’s realization that her mother’s dream for her future (modeling) is not what she wants to do with her life.
Forever: Because the teenagers in this book have sex… and nothing bad happens to them as a result. Judy wrote the book at the request of her then-teenaged daughter, who noticed that every book she read where teenage characters slept together, ended up with them either being punished or dying.
Tiger Eyes: Not sure why this one’s been challenged… Anyone?!?
So what are Judy’s own thoughts on the situation? Here is what she told The Guardian in a 2014 interview.
“When I started, in the 70s, it was a good time for children’s book writers. Children’s reading was much freer than in the 80s, when censorship started; when we elected Ronald Reagan and the conservatives decided that they would decide not just what their children would read but what all children would read, it went crazy. My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don’t have censorship… We don’t ban books. But then they did.”*
Judy is a member of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
What are your thoughts on the topics of censorship? Do you agree with Judy’s viewpoint? Or, just share your favorite Judy Blume book!
*To be fair, censorship did not start with Ronald Reagan. Plenty of books were banned and challenged prior to 1980.