Lit Counts: Judy Blume is the Real Deal

By Kellye Crocker

The first time I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in elementary school, I skimmed the God stuff to get right to the good stuff—periods, bras, boys. My response was visceral, the jolt of recognizing truth on the page.

Judy Blume’s 1970 classic was nothing like other novels I’d enjoyed, such as Little Women and the Little House series. (Did women in the olden days even have periods?) But historical stories weren’t the only ones sidestepping personal topics. Many contemporary novels felt off kilter, as if peering at kids and families through a soft-focus lens. Mothers in those books seemed ever-present, eager to provide after-school snacks and loving advice. My mom was a teacher. Starting at age 8, I let myself into my house with the key I wore on a ribbon around my neck.

As Blume’s story opens, Margaret Simon is almost 12 and about to start sixth grade at a new school. New friend Nancy warns Margaret to wear loafers without socks the first day. “Otherwise you’ll look like a baby.”

But when the big day arrives, Mom worries Margaret will get blisters. Blume writes:

“Well, then, I’ll just have to suffer.”

“But why suffer? Wear socks!”

Now that’s my point about my mother. I mean, if she understands so much about me, why couldn’t she understand that I had to wear loafers without socks?

My mother was as clueless as Margaret’s. It was the mid-1970s, and I was one of the last girls in sixth grade to wear a bra. I’d begged her for a so-called training bra. (Training what, exactly?) She said I didn’t need one. True, I hadn’t yet “bloomed,” but the little buds on my chest gave me hope. They also poked out, which was as embarrassing as it was surprising, given their small size. The whole situation seemed to call for added coverage. Also: Yes, if all my friends jumped off a mountain, I’d want to do it, too. But we lived in Iowa. My friends weren’t jumping off things. They were wearing bras.


It took a classmate’s crude joke to motivate my mother to take me bra-shopping. The jokester was popular—not the class clown nor a bully—with enviable feathered-blond hair. Even though I never really interacted with him, he drew a portrait of me wearing a tank top, complete with two strategically placed dots. He passed it around.

In the book, Margaret’s mother is more reasonable when Margaret asks for a bra. What Margaret doesn’t tell her: Wearing a bra is a membership requirement for Nancy’s secret club. Another rule compels members to share the details when they get their first period. Margaret and her friends are desperate for information. But when the girls in their class are separated from the boys to watch a hokey puberty movie, they’re disappointed. They already knew menstruation basics, Margaret says. “But it didn’t tell us how it feels...Also, it didn’t really show a girl getting it. It just said how wonderful nature was and how we would soon become women and all of that.”

Blume’s take on male puberty, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, was published a year after Margaret and provided my first education about what my male classmates apparently were experiencing, including something called “wet dreams.” When I was a little older, my friends and I devoured Blume’s Forever, a love story about a teenager who loses her virginity and—shockingly—doesn’t end up pregnant, married or dead.

These topics may seem relatively mild for today’s readers, but Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was “ground-breaking” and “taboo-trampling,” according to Time magazine, which named it one of the 100 best novels—for children or adults—published since 1923, when the magazine started. Moreover, adults continue to try to ban it from school and public libraries across the country. The American Library Association ranks Blume as one of the nation’s most-challenged authors.

[caption id="attachment_9026" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Judy_Blume_Thumbnail_RightSize Judy Blume[/caption]

Blume respects her readers by telling them the truth. Toward the end of Margaret, the protagonist frets as her friends get their periods, but she still hasn’t. “If you don’t start by the time you’re fourteen I’ll take you to the doctor,” her mother says. “Now stop worrying!”

“How can I stop worrying when I don’t know if I’m going to turn out normal?”

“I promise, you’ll turn out normal.”

It’s an important—and powerful—message for kids. I’m grateful they can find it in books.

This post is part of our annual Lit Counts series, in which writers and readers express why supporting and elevating literary arts—the mission of Lighthouse Writers Workshop— is important to them. If you agree, consider supporting Lighthouse on Colorado Gives Day. Mark your calendar for December 6 or schedule your gift now. Thank you!

Kellye Crocker, a longtime journalist who’s revising a middle grade novel, is psyched to teach youth writing classes at Lighthouse this spring. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.