For most of us, the name Judy Blume is synonymous with growing up. Her 23 books, including Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Forever; Deenie; and It's Not the End of the World, are renowned for capturing the feelings that children and teens have about family, school, friendships, puberty, divorce, and sex.
It's because of her honest approach to addressing children's emotions, stripped of judgment or commentary, that Blume's books have long been successful -- they've sold 75 million copies in 26 languages worldwide -- and have generated controversy. Many have been banned from school and public libraries.
After a hiatus of 12 years, Blume has written a new Fudge book for her young readers, inspired by her grandchild, 11-year-old Elliot. (She has three grown children.) Double Fudge, the fifth in the series, finds 5-year-old Farley Drexel "Fudge" Hatcher obsessed with money, making life a drag for his 12-year-old brother Peter, and competing for attention with a long-lost younger cousin who, to Fudge's complete horror, shares his name.
Blume recently spoke to Child and shared the story behind Double Fudge, as well as her thoughts on what children really want and how she connects with her readers.
When did you begin writing Double Fudge?
I started it in Key West during the winter of 2000 and planned to finish in the fall of 2001. Then September 11 happened and I couldn't think, let alone write. As a fiction writer I thought, "Who cares? I'm never going to finish another book." But about two months later, I started to listen to the kids in the park and read the letters they wrote to the firefighters and I realized, "Wait. Kids still need books. They still need to laugh."
I was very lucky to be able to go down to Key West last December and hide. My husband rented me a room in an inn because he knew that if I was in our house, I'd get nothing done. I like to make little nests. It was nothing but me, my computer, and a bagged lunch, so I really worked. For me it felt like the most focused work I've done in years. I finished on February 12 -- my birthday.
Did the story change at all?
Well, I always do a million drafts. But one draft from the summer of 2001 was very creepy. I had all these chapters about the FBI and the Most Wanted. Fudge, in his quest for money, decided that he would find the Most Wanted. The most wanted at the time was Osama bin Laden. The name wasn't actually in the draft -- it didn't mean much then. But I did have Peter trying to explain to Fudge that the Most Wanted criminals aren't bank robbers, they're terrorists, and what they do is blow up buildings. I knew immediately that I had to take it out.
What did Elliot think of the book?
He's not a big talker, so I watched him read it and he was smiling a lot. I also knew he liked it because I'd hear him chuckling. When I said, "So? What'd you think?" he said, "Good."
He did very carefully edit the dedication. It originally read something like, "To Elliot, who lights up my life, from a grandmother who..." and it went on. He changed it to "To Elliot, who lights up my life." Which I think is a great change. And I'm surprised he even let me say that much.
How much censorship do you face today, in a time when children are often exposed to sex and violence at younger ages?
When it comes to children's books, censorship isn't universal. It's mostly done by groups that don't want kids to think. And of course the best books are the ones that make you think. If a child puts a book down and has no thoughts about what he's just read, well, what's the point?
The New York State Board of Regents [which is responsible for the supervision of all educational activities] had been writing tests using excerpts from literature, wonderful literature, but they'd been censoring them totally so that nothing was left except the most bland passages. It had to pass some "sensitivity test" so that anything that made it worth reading -- any detail about race, religion, God, sex -- the PC police removed it. The Board of Regents has since changed its policy so the authors' words won't be changed. But there's certainly censorship today.
How many readers do you hear from in a typical month?
E-mail has changed everything. I've heard from thousands of readers through my Web site (www.judyblume.com). There's something about the immediacy of e-mail that I like. Snail mail, which we still get, comes through my publisher, so it can be up to a month before I receive it. I think when someone's going to tell you something very, very private they write it by hand and mail it.
Then again, I just heard from a girl overseas via e-mail. She was writing to me about sexual abuse in her family. I was able to get back to her that day and we went back and forth a few times, which was wonderful. But it's always difficult. You have to advise a child to tell about the abuse. So I say, "If you want me to help you tell someone I will." I'm not legally required to report anything but I take this very seriously.
Have you ever had to intervene?
I've worked with a suicide prevention hotline about one girl -- that hotline saved her life. We all worked together on that. I'm happy to say she's now married and a young mother and seems to be in good shape.
Copyright © 2002 Child.com.