Monday, November 19, 2007

Five From Judy Blume

It's always interesting to see which authors, and which books, consistently remain popular over time. It's also interesting-and unfortunate-that certain authors are labeled for one gender or another, or for one age group or another.

Judy Blume definitely fits within this category. She's known for her teen angst novels. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. Deenie. Blubber. Forever. But she's also known for her books for younger readers. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (and its sequels). Freckle Juice. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (involving a minor character in the Hatcher books). The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.

When reading through her books, I'm fascinated by the themes that undoubtedly have remained true and consistent. For this first entry, I read the following books:

-Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
-Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
-Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

I then divided the books into age categories. Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret?, Blubber, and Deenie were put in the 6 grade category. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself were put in the 5th grade and lower category, although Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself really straddles the two categories.

Out of the 6th grade category, I found that Deenie was the most dated, followed by Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Blubber, with only a few details, did not feel dated.

Except for a few details, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great did not feel very dated. Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself is historical fiction, so "datedness" need not apply.

Why did I find Deenie to be the most dated? Mainly because a diagnosis of scoliosis is not as uncommon among preteens and teens as it was, and primarily because the method of treating scoliosis has changed.

However, a sudden life-altering diagnosis in a seemingly healthy preteen/teenager is still shocking and devastating, so Deenie's reactions to her new fate is not dated at all. It's also not uncommon for one parent to be in denial about the diagnosis, as is Deenie's mother (a prima stage mother).

A few details in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret make the book seem dated, but Margaret's spiritual questionings remain real and relevant.

Blubber was the least dated in this category. The clique mentality and cruelty of middle school girl culture was nothing new when Queen Bees and Wannabes was published (the inspiration for the movie Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey and starring Lindsay Lohan). Blume also expertly demonstrates how fluid the clique mentality is, with members and outcasts changing by the day.

Readers familiar with the Peter and Fudge Hatcher books (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Fudge-A-Mania, Double Fudge) are familiar with Sheila Tubman, Peter's sworn enemy (she hates his dog) and Fudge's one time babysitter. In Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, the Tubman family leave Manhattan for the summer and vacation in a nearby town. Sheila isn't thrilled, but her new friends and day camp adventures make the summer pass quickly and enjoyably. This book is great for third grade and up-Sheila is a fun and realistic character.

The one dated detail? Parents and teachers might need to explain what a mimeograph is!

The Freedman family (minus the father, who remains to work in New Jersey and visits when he can) is spending the winter in Florida. World War II has just ended. Sally has quite an imagination, between imagining herself in movies (usually involving capturing Hitler) and writing unsent letters to a mysterious neighbor whom she is sure is Hitler, escaped from Germany. The Freedmans are wintering in Florida because of her brother's health (recovering from a kidney infection); although Douglas has recovered, Mrs. Freedman is perpetually worried about his health and finds it difficult to relax in most situations. As the winter progresses, Sally makes friends, kisses her first boy, thinks about her relatives murdered at Dachau, and dreams of new stories. There are many vignettes in the story; there's no one main overarching event that stands out. Judy Blume considers this her most autobiographical book; it's a sweet and funny story about a young girl growing up.

This will be my last post for the week! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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