Monday, December 01, 2008

Interview with Judy Blume

We all have role models. We all have heroes. But, it's not often we get the chance to talk with one of our heroes, is it?

I was on the road when I received an e-mail about Judy Blume's blog tour. And, you'd better believe that I found the nearest internet cafe, in the middle of the night, to send in my questions.

I've admired Judy Blume since I was in the third grade and checked out Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret from the school library. After Margaret, I read everything available to me as a child growing up in the 70s: Blubber, Deenie, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. And, let's not forget Forever, an honest book about teen love and sex that was restricted in (at least) my school library.

I love and respect Judy Blume's work for its truth, and its soul-shaking honesty, for its clarity and its pitch-perfect dialogue. And, now as an adult, I see that her work for younger children is equally as strong.

Judy Blume is on tour because her latest The Pain & the Great One title has just been released--Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain & the Great One. Most of my questions concern this fantastic series for newly-emergent readers. (Here are my reviews of Soupy Saturdays with the Pain & the Great One and Cool Zone with the Pain & the Great One.)

Here we go...

Kelly: Where do you get your ideas? No, just kidding! My first question really concerns writing for different age groups. I suspect the story you want to tell leads you to your audience. But…is writing for one particular audience more difficult than writing for another? I've always imaged that writing for the newly-emergent reader as you do with The Pain & the Great One series is more difficult than writing for the Superfudge audience. What do you think?

Judy Blume: I find writing for any audience hard! Really hard, especially during the first draft. I dread first drafts. Second and third drafts are easier. After that it's usually fun. Doesn't matter what age group I'm writing for – it's equally difficult for me. I'm not a natural short story writer (though I enjoy writing episodic fiction) and I had to come up with 28 stories for the Pain & the Great One books over a couple of years. This was a real challenge. But publishing is like giving birth – once the baby is born you forget the pain and struggle. Okay, so that's not always true – I vowed after Summer Sisters I was never writing another book. The pain! The struggle! But looking back, I'm so glad I wrote it, and probably I will do it again.

KH: While you've written for audiences of all ages, you've always remained in real life writing realistic fiction. Do you read fantasy or science fiction?

JB: Good question. Actually I think we tend to write what we like to read and I like realistic fiction. I've never been drawn to fantasy or science fiction (though I did read all the Oz books when I was 8 or 9).

KH: The Pain or the Great One--who is your favorite? Really, I do want to know, because I can't tell when reading The Pain and the Great One stories!

JB: Well, that's good! I mean, I'm glad you can’t tell which character I prefer. I don't think I prefer one over the other. I'm like a mother – I try to see both sides.

[Editorial note: I was so The Great One as a child. And my sister was the Pain. We even called each other by these names. Thanks, Free to Be...You and Me and Judy.]

KH: One of my favorite stories in Soupy Saturdays with the Pain & the Great One concerns Abigail (The Great One) and her inability to ride a bike. I love the chapter "The Great Pretender" (told from the Pain's point of view) when the Pain learns he has something over his sister. Not only can he ride a bike and he's 2 years younger than the Great One, but she's been lying to her friends about her bike and why she can't ride it! Then when the Great One tells her tale of finally learning to ride on her own in "Weirdo on Wheels," we're all on her side, cheering her on. Even the Pain (Jake) shows his admiration or, at least, Abigail thinks he does. Hmmm...where's my question? Okay, here it is: What's interesting about Abigail's learning to ride a bike is that it takes a new member of the family--a new Uncle--to teach her. Mom couldn't teach her, Dad couldn't teach her--only Uncle Mitchell could. I found this scenario to be so true. Why do you think children find it easier to learn from near strangers?

JB: Sure, I think it's easier to learn from someone you're not trying to please, or from someone who won't be judgmental. That's why we have Driver's Ed, isn't it? There's so much else going on in the parent/child relationship. Kids don't want to disappoint. Parents' expectations can get in the way. That's why so many kids write to me about their problems. I'm safe. They don't have to get up the next morning and face me at the breakfast table. Parents shouldn't feel threatened by this. It's good for kids to have other adults in their lives – parents of friends, teachers, and yes, uncles like Mitch, who can teach a reluctant learner how to ride a bike.

KH: In Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One, the Pain is victim to a bully and the Great One leaps to his defense, tackling the bully after he steals the Pain's brand new Science Center magnifying glass from grandma. Then the kids learn from Mom and Dad that it isn't always best to confront a bully on your own. The next time the bully attacks--worms on the Great One's head--Jacob tells his teacher and his sister's teacher about the incident. The teachers are remarkably respectful and responsive to this situation. What would you say to children who aren't so lucky with adult authority figures?

JB: This is a tough question, one I asked my best friend, Mary, who's a first grade teacher. She says the child should always tell his/her teacher, and parents. If that doesn't work, the parent can go to the principal or the school counselor (if there is one) to discuss the situation. There are some non-fiction books on bullying written for parents. And Pat Scales, educator extraordinaire did a guide for adults and older kids, available free from Random House. In it, she and I do a Q&A about bullying based on my book Blubber which takes place in 5th grade.

Other sites recommended on Pat's guide:, Bullying: What to do about it?

KH: Thank you, Judy, for speaking with me today. You can catch the rest of Judy Blume's tour at the following fantastic blogs over the next two weeks:

2/2 : Bildungsroman
12/4: Jen Robinson’s Book Page
12/9 : The Well-Read Child
12/10 : Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
12/12 : A Patchwork of Books