Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Judy Blume: FOREVER Banned, Forever Censored

Beloved young adult, middle grade, and adult author, Judy Blume, is no stranger to censorship. Throughout her career, Blume's books such as Forever, Blubber, and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret have been banned from schools and libraries all over the country due to controversial material.

Blume spoke to NPR in recent weeks regarding banned reading, and books with real life topics like sexuality, smoking, and abuse. "[Censorship] is contagious, the desire to control everything in your children's lives, including what they read," Blume says. "But I think it's more than that. It's what we don't want our children to know, what we don't want to talk to our children about, and if they read it, they'll know it, or they'll question it."

The author published her first book, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969. Since then, Blume has been named one of the most banned children's authors in the United States by the American Library Association, and the author has faced controversy over content related to body image, religion, divorce, rape, and many other topics.

Her 1973 novel Deenie describes a seventh grader's scary scoliosis diagnosis and the way Deenie copes with her medical issue, including whether or not her crush will find her new back brace repulsive. Among other things, the novel contains conversations regarding intimacy, masturbation, and menstruation. In 2004, Spring Hill Elementary in Brooksville, FL removed Deenie from public use. Many parents were outraged by the novel. A mother complained that "such content is not appropriate, in any form" at a middle school. Students were only able to check out Blume's book from the library with a written note of parental consent.

Are You There God? It's Me, Maragaret (1970) is one of Blume's most banned novels. The book follows sixth grader, Margaret, while she journeys to find a suitable a religion (with a Christian mother and Jewish father). Along the way, the narrator purchases her first bra, experiences her first period, and debates whether or not she should speak up to her friends with her different, independent opinion. Shortly after the book was published, an irate woman phone Blume and asked if she was a Communist, then hung up the phone. "I never did figure out if she equated Communism with menstruation or religion," Blume says on her website.

After surviving several literary confrontations, Blume joined the National Coalition Against Censorship, which was founded in 1974. The organization combines the efforts of over 50 non-profit arts, literary, and educational groups, as well as many individuals, in the fight to "promote freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression and oppose censorship it all its forms." NCAC has tackled controversy regarding hate speech, music, science, visual art, youth, the LGBT community and many other issues. Much of the time, the NCAC deals with book censorship among middle grades and elementary schools, and often Blume is a part of it.

As an author, Judy Blume continues to write about characters going through puberty, getting married, or simply trying to survive. Many of her books have been banned, but she remains an advocate for free speech, and even offers tips to kids, teachers, librarians, and writers about what to do if they face censorship. When it comes down to it, Blume is hopeful for change - the author notes on her website that censors might feel differently about her books if they read letters young adults had sent her. One of Blume's favorites:

Dear Judy,
I don't know where I stand in the world. I don't know who I am.
That's why I read, to find myself.
Elizabeth, age 13

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