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April 3, 2011

Gab Bag: Are You There, Judy Blume? We're Still Reading . . .

Tales of a Fourth Grade NothingJoëlle Anthony and Eileen Cook are both transplanted American writers, living in British Columbia, Canada. They first met when Eileen’s agent published a bit of Eileen’s adult book, Unpredictable, on her website and Joëlle found it so funny she had to track Eileen down. That was six years ago, and they’ve been fast friends ever since. Being the same age (okay, yeah, Joëlle’s a year older, but who’s keeping track?), they grew up listening to that great eighties pop music, cutting their hair short on one side and letting their bangs hang in their face, and reading a lot of the same books. While they’re happy to forget the music and haircuts, they will never forget what they read. 

Today, they reminisce about growing up when author, Judy Blume, first took the book world by storm.

Joëlle Anthony
Joëlle: Being writers of a certain age, we both grew up on Judy Blume. When you were a kid, what made her books so special to you? How were they different from everything else that was out there already?

Eileen Cook

Eileen: I love that you called us "writers of a certain age" which sounds so much nicer than old.  I was always a huge reader. The highlight of my week was going to the library. All those books! That they let you take! For free!! I would be practically giddy as I dragged my huge stack of books to the counter.  What I find interesting is that even though that was a long time ago (a very long time ago as you pointed out) and I've read thousands of books since that time, I can still remember Ms. Blume's books. While I may have forgotten a detail here or there, I can still recall the general plots of books like Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, Deenie, Blubber, and Forever.  There are books I read last week that I can't remember.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.I believe that what made them different was that Ms. Blume approached her characters with such honesty. Characters weren't good or bad, they were real.  The situations her characters were in and the choices they made reflected the world as I saw it.  It seemed as if Ms. Blume actually understood what was going on inside of me and instead of wanting to sweep it under the rug, or telling me not to worry that it would all get better, she seemed to embrace all that confusion as normal and okay.

BlubberJoëlle: I too can remember the general plots of many of her books, and I’m sure it was the writing, but I also think it was because I read each of them so many times! But, of course, I read them multiple times because of the writing, right? My favourites were probably Forever and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. One of the girls in fourth grade was reading Forever, but only sharing the “sexy” bits, and when all the moms found out they freaked. Not my mom. She went out and bought me a copy and said, “You can only read it if you read the whole thing.” Which I did. Many, many times. And the older I got, the more I understood! She did nix Wifey, but of course, I read it anyway. Didn’t understand most of it. What about you? Did your parents censor any of your Judy Blume reading?

Forever . . .Eileen: Ah Forever, I remember it well.  It was passed around in our Catholic school on the sly from one girl to the other.  The book fell open to all the sexy bits automatically- I don't think that was by accident. My parents never censored anything I read.  At a really early age I was taking books out of the adult section of the library. I can remember a librarian who didn't want to let me check out a copy of Stephen King's Salem's Lot. She said it was "nasty" which instantly made me want to read it more.  My mom looked over the book, warned me it was scary, but then said I could read it if I wanted too. Personally, I think reading opens so many opportunities for parents and teens to talk. It feels much safer to say "what do you think of Katherine and Michael's relationship" versus "so any questions about how sex can impact a relationship?"

Joëlle: Writers like Judy Blume and Paula Danziger really put a new face on YA literature. They touched on subjects not many, if any, mainstream writers had previously broached – divorce, sex, menstruation, relationships, weight, and all the other things that make kids feel different or awkward. I know you were as voracious of a reader as I was, but I wasn’t ready to move up to adult books. Were you? I ended up supplementing their books with a lot of teen romances (and Trixie Belden!), which made their writing even more important to me. What else did you read? Did any of it influence what you’re doing now with…oh, say…your brand new (and hilarious) book, The Education of Hailey Kendrick?

The Education of Hailey KendrickEileen: I was the very definition of awkward in my teen years. I'm shocked there wasn't a picture of me in the dictionary next to the word. It always seemed that Judy Blume seemed to understand. I used to have this elaborate fantasy where she would show up and announce that I was her long lost daughter and then take me back to her castle by the sea where we would drink hot chocolate and talk about books all day.  I don't think she actually lived in a castle, but it seemed like she should. She never did show up, but I would still love to drink hot chocolate and talk about books with her.

I absolutely believe that everything I've read (both good and bad) has influenced my writing. (And thanks for your comments about The Education of Hailey Kendrick!)  I know many readers prefer to stick to a particular genre, but I read everything and have since I was young. I love fiction and non-fiction. I love mysteries, horror novels, romances, historicals, classics...all of it.  I've always admired writers who were able to weave humor into their books. It doesn't matter the genre- I think just about every book could be a bit better with a touch of funny.

Joëlle: Thanks Eileen, this has been great talking with you. Since we’re on the subject of humour, let’s end on that note. My funny memory actually has to do with my brother. He has never been a big reader, but he loved to be read aloud to. I remember my mother reading him Carlson on the Roof over and over again, and at the part where Carlson (someone?) and Ruffy see a ghost, he is so scared he accidentally yells out, “Guffy! A roast!” and no matter how many times she read it aloud, my brother would giggle until he practically fell out of bed laughing. All anyone has to say to me is, “Guffy! A roast!” and it brings a smile to my face, thinking of my brother. Do you have a funny book memory to end with? Or a funny book you want everyone to read?

Eileen: One of my favorite books was The Phantom Tollbooth.  There is a dog in the book that has a giant watch in his stomach, he's a watchdog. Anytime I heard someone use the term watchdog I would always think of that book and smile.  I still do it actually.   Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends still makes me laugh too.

Thanks for having me!

Joëlle: It’s been great talking with you. Thanks for joining me here, and thanks to Bookshop Talk for having us!

Fourth Grade FairyEileen Cook is the author of books for adults, teens, and younger kids. Look for her latest YA, The Education of Hailey Kendrick, out now, and the first book in her new Middle Grade series, Fourth Grade Fairy, available April 19th. Visit her website at

Restoring HarmonyJoëlle Anthony is the author of the young adult novel, Restoring Harmony (available now), and the 2012 release The Right & the Real. Stop by her website and say hello at

Learn more about Judy Bloom and her books at


Amy Finnegan {} said...

This was a really fun idea! Thank you so much, Eileen and Joelle!

I grew up reading (most) of Judy Blume. Some of it was a little too mature for me, even when I was in high school, but I'll never forget Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. And it was fun to hear that my daughter had started reading it at school recently.

Oh, the questions she had . . . :)

Alix said...

I loved this back and forth, you should do one on the Betsy-Tacy books Joelle!

I loved Judy Blume too and I love that you still see her books featured prominently in the bookstores and on lists - she;s timeless :)

Eileen's Dad said...

And I thought the ONLY thing you were allowed to read was "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm".

Anonymous said...

I love Judy Blume! :) This was such a fun conversation. Thanks for letting us listen in!

Valette M. said...

I feel guilty, but I have never actually read Judy Blume book. This will be rectified shortly.
"I want to win a book."