Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 07/30/2009

The Books I’ll Never Forget

Judy Blume: the mother of teen fiction

Judy Blume: the mother of teen fiction

Over at Salon, they’re talking about Lizzie Skurnick’s new book “Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading.” And it really got me thinking about the books I read as a kid (relatively speaking as I am 16) and how they really stick with you.  I know Judy Blume is basically the goddess of my Mom’s generation and whenever her name comes up they all share a knowing smile. All I ever read was Blubber, which I personally kind of found upsetting, but apparently Judy Bloome introduced millions of girls to their period, which in a way is cute that millions of women have this shared experience.

this book stole my innocence

this book stole my innocence

I found out a much less fun way – a family friend gave me the American Girl book “The Care and Keeping of You.” for my 9th or 10th birthday. I read the section on “menstruation” and very distinctly remember sort of looking up at the heavens and whispering under my breath, “Oh, so this is how it’s going to be, hm? WELL I’M NOT HAVING IT.” Yeah. Fighting my body didn’t really go so well for me.     

Anyway. I also read a lot of Paula Danziger. Not because she was relevant to my generation – she started writing in the 70’s. But because when I was in 3rd and 4th grade we had “library class” once a week, where we had to go to the library and pick out two books to check out. In 3rd and 4th grade most kids were into Junie B. Jones, but I was really over that, so I went for the teen section — which evidently as of 2002 hadn’t really been updated in a while. I read classics like The Cate Ate My Gymsuit, The Pistachio Prescription, and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? like it was nobody’s business. 

Jerry Spinelli was also the man – I found Maniac Magee delightful. Harriet the Spy, a classic, inspired me to start taking notes on people. I was an epic failure though – I wrote one observation about my then babysitter, which was something along the lines of, “She has brown hair and doesn’t look like she wants to be here.” Groundbreaking. Lois Lowry, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Madeline L’Engle, Sharon Creech, E.L. Konigsburg: all just some of the greats I read through lower and middle school.

They all had such great characters and stories that really meant something. It just makes me sad that girls are now growing up with books like “The Clique” and “Gossip Girl” and “The A-List.” It’s not even that they’re not written that well – it’s that they literally are devoid of meaning.

the title. the cover. sweet jesus.

the title. the cover. sweet jesus.

They don’t teach girls anything – if anything the spoiled brats who live without consequences these books portray are only doing harm. To some extent you expect T.V. to be a little trashy — but I never would have guessed that this is what books for kids would come to.   

Of course there are still great books out there for younger girls, and girls can still always read the books of past generations. But these trashtastic books are sadly popular, and girls are sadly reading them. I know I work at an after-school care program for K-6 graders, and I’m always shoving one of these classics into their hands, trying to counter act whatever else is permeating their little worlds. I think the “coolness” of a teenager giving them a book counteracts the “coolness” of the trash they would be reading.  I hope all the book lovers out there are doing the same and keeping the love alive!


This reminded me that Will Arnett ( of Arrested Development fame – the best show EVER) just read a little bit of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” on Light Night with Jimmy Fallon. He makes her sound a bit like a serial killer, but nevertheless. It’s relevant. 

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  • Brenna @ at 11:51 am, July 30th, 2009

    That video made me laugh so hard. I remember my friends and I being all over the Margaret Peterson Haddix books in sixth grade, and Sharon Creech was really popular, too.

    And you saying that you give books to the kids you work with reminded me of when I was in daycare and one of the employees gave me a Sweet Valley High book.

  • Paul S @ at 2:08 pm, July 30th, 2009

    I used to love The Boxcar Children, Roald Dahl, and The Bailey School Kids back in the second grade. Then the Redwall series,the Chronicles of Narnia and all of L’Engle’s Time Quartet.

  • Brianna @ at 5:16 pm, July 30th, 2009

    I have “The Care and Keeping of You”! I remember being so terrified of the page with the graphic illustration of the tampons! And I loved “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret”. My mom told me to read it because she had read it when she was younger, but I think I shocked her when I asked her what a period was when she had company over.

  • Vannah @ at 6:59 pm, July 30th, 2009

    My innocence was also stolen by “The Care and Keeping of You”!

  • RebJ @ at 8:19 pm, July 30th, 2009

    My favorite book when I was little was Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; I still go back to it sometimes. Probably one of the first feminist heroines I read about (having been fed fairy tales and Disney movies all my life)

    Another book I will never forget is “I capture the castle” by Dodie smith. Now that’s what I call great “teen literature” (if that is even a genre, books can be read and appreciated by all ages after all). It saddens me that the “teen literature” of today is such horrible junk.

  • Grace @ at 10:08 pm, July 30th, 2009

    I recently tried to list every book I’d ever read. I got up to four hundred titles, but I wasn’t satisfied because I knew there were more that I couldn’t remember. I cursed myself for starting the list after I’d sold a good hundred books to a used bookshop.

    Some special favorites from my younger years are the Baby-sitters’ Club series, the Little House books, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

  • Becca @ at 12:13 am, July 31st, 2009

    Growing up in a household where both grandmothers had been active in the women’s lib movement, I was basically only allowed to read books that portrayed strong women.

    In fourth grade we started having required reading, and I remember being annoyed that the book I was assigned to read had a boy as the narrator: I was used to girls solving all the problems!

    I must have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 5 times between sixth and seventh grade, not quite understanding everything but still loving Francie and her surroundings.

    That and a whole host of Arthur Ransom sailing books got me through early adolescence.

  • Tea @ at 11:07 am, July 31st, 2009

    I’ve read all of the ones you’ve mentioned. Lois Lowry always reminds me that children’s literature is anything but light.

    I also loved Half Magic, and everything else by Edward Eager, and Eva Ibbotson will always hold a special place in my heart.

  • Becca @ at 2:50 pm, July 31st, 2009

    Oh, I’m so glad someone else mentioned Ella Enchanted! I first read that book in elementary school, and still have the same battered copy.

    This is an issue I struggle with daily. As an English teacher not much older than her students, I’m not sure how much impact I have on them, though that certainly never stops me from trying. I’ve never bought into the “at least they’re reading’ rhetoric– there’s a lot of great literature out there for young adults, we don’t need to settle!

  • Karlyn @ at 1:29 am, August 1st, 2009

    I just had to part with a lot of my books today (I’m getting ready to move to college) and I found my old copy of Ella Enchanted! It was so torn and was missing about half of the pages.. I sure did love that book.

    I remember reading the Judy Blume books my mom gave me and I had the American Doll book as well.. the pictures of the boobs freaked me out, they were all so nonchalantly blow-drying their hair naked.. haha
    It makes me so sad that my little sister, who’s six years younger than me, enjoys Gossip Girl and the Clique more than any of those amazing classics.. I tried to get her to read Judy Blume but she just wasn’t having it. It wasn’t cool enough..

  • Drewsie @ at 8:32 pm, August 1st, 2009

    i used to love the babysitters club! they were so cool. i tried to read the A-List going into 7th grade because lots of girls were, but i couldn’t do it. it was so bad. just swearing drunk girls.

  • kat @ at 5:44 pm, August 2nd, 2009

    I love Will Arnett and Arrested Development. This clip was hilarious!

    As for books, I remember loving L’Engle, Little House, Harry Potter, and anything by Gail Levine. I was fortunate enough to have her as a writing teacher when I was in fifth grade. I’m 20 now, but I still read these books sometimes!

  • Audra @ at 8:18 pm, August 4th, 2009

    I definitely still have The Care and Keeping Of You and still referred to it until I was about 15 (that’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but whatever). I read so much Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary as a kid. When I go back and read Forever by Cleary I find so mamy racy things that flew over my head. I didn’t even notice the masturbation in Deenie by Bloom until a year or two ago. As a young teenager I read the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series over and over again. I still do. They are still the most hilarious books I have ever read. I’m just really glad my mother handed me Bloom and Cleary when I was 12 years old. I feel bad for the poor pre-teens who find their solace in the Twilight series. It is just so sad.
    As for Will Arnett, he is a FOX. And Arrested Development will forever be the best show.

  • Audra @ at 8:20 pm, August 4th, 2009

    I mean’t Blume instead of Bloom. Honest mistake. I also read Ronald Dahl and Shel Silverstein as a child. Being surrounded by such imaginative writers helped me develop a creative mind.

  • Katie @ at 11:15 pm, August 14th, 2009

    I loved Dahl, Silverstien, and Lowery. I also loved Z for Zachariah, Remembering the Good Times, and pretty much everything else my English teachers or friends handed me.

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