Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was the first book I bought with my own money. Later, Judy signed it for me at a meet-and-greet at Eeyore’s, the iconic and sadly, now defunct children’s bookstore on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
“To Melissa,” she inscribed. “Love, Judy Blume.” Yes, Judy had written “Love” in my book. This was more valuable than my collection of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers and Wacky Packages combined.
Margaret: The OG
I read Margaret obsessively, for months. Soon, my once-pristine paperback felt apart (above, left) and I retired it to my bookshelf, only to be brought out for special occasions, like birthdays, or to impress my friends. I purchased a new Margaret (this time, my mom paid for it), and when that copy fell apart, I bought another. And another. And then another…
I Must… I Must… I Must Increase My…
As a voracious reader with an underdeveloped body and an overactive imagination, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret—which was published in 1970, when books weren’t banned for using words like “menstruation,” “masturbation,” and “wet dreams”—had an enormous impact on me. I could relate to Margaret’s yearning for breasts, and for her period, and for her desire to impress the girls in Nancy Wheeler’s secret club, the Four PTS’s. And who could begrudge Margaret’s crush on Philip Leroy? Sure, Jay Hassler was nicer, and he had clean fingernails, but Philip Leroy was hot.
Margaret Simon, Movie Star
With that in mind, you can imagine my reluctance to see the movie version of Margaret. I knew it couldn’t possibly be as good as the book, but I was too curious not to go. Plus, my 23-year-old daughter, an avid Margaret fan too, gamely agreed to go with me. So, off we went.
I was grateful to see how closely the movie hewed to the book, especially its 1970s setting, updated and enhanced by a more inclusive and diverse cast. Abby Ryder Fortson, the 15-year-old star, brings Margaret to life, with a perfect combination of moxie and self-reflection, and Kathy Bates, whose incomparable comic timing makes Margaret’s grandma, Sylvia Simon, sparkle like a Swarovski crystal, gives a standout performance as well. Other notables include Elle Graham as alpha girl Nancy Wheeler; Isol Young, as the misunderstood Laura Danker; and Amari Alexis Price as Margaret’s effervescent pal, Janie.
But the best part of the movie…?
The cameo of Judy Blume walking her dog, along with real-life husband, George Cooper. I could have watched that all day. 😀 (For more on Melissa’s admiration for Judy Blume, check Are You There Judy? It’s Me Melissa.)
Kidlit Authors ❤️ Judy Blume
I asked MUF contributors and other children’s authors—including bestselling author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who illustrated the fabulous Simon & Schuster Judy Blume book-cover reissues (see above, and below)—to share their admiration for the Queen of Kidlit. Here’s what they had to say…
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
“While I was growing up, reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one thinking these crazy thoughts, and that everything was going to be okay.”
–Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of the Simon & Schuster Judy Blume book-cover reissues and award-winning author and illustrator. Learn more about Debbie on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
(For more on Debbie’s experience illustrating the Judy Blume cover reissues, click here.)
“I saw the movie with a group of friends, and we agreed it felt like a surreal trippy visit to the 1970s that felt faithful to the book. I had completely forgotten about the religious exploration part of the book, which reminded me how much that resonated with my young self. I grew up in a very small, very Christian town and I was a weirdo transplant from New York City who was raised in a non-religious household.
Looking back now, I release how strange it was to identify as ‘not’ something, rather than as something, and how often I was called upon to defend my lack of religious affiliation in this community. Most middle-grade authors I’ve met have, at some point, felt like they were on the outside looking in, and this was certainly my experience around religion when I was young.”
–Beth McMullen, MUF member and author of the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series, Lola Benko: Treasure Hunter series, Secret of the Storm series, and others. Find Beth on LinkTree and check out the Writers with Wrinkles podcast, which she co-hosts with MUF member Lisa Schmid.
Tonya Duncan Ellis
“Judy Blume was like that Big Sis who knew everyone’s secrets. I’ve read all of her books for tweens and teens, and they definitely influenced me as I wrote The Snitch and other books in my Sophie Washington series. Beloved characters like Fudge, Margaret, and Sheila the Great stay with me as an adult and played a huge role in making me a reader and book lover!”
“Like most kidlit writers, when I hear the name Judy Blume–I smile. I also think of Blubber, and the sharp white curves of the lettering on the cover. I watched that book spin on the fifth-grade book carousel while Mrs. Goldberg taught us math problems. I wanted to read it but was told the subject matter was a little ‘too much’ for me. But one day, I tucked it beneath The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. I Immediately identified with Linda [aka ‘Blubber,’ the character bullied for her weight] for her demeanor and size, and the truthful and brave way Blume wrote this story. I felt like it had been written for me.
Whenever I read any of Judy Blume’s books, I still feel connected to Blubber. In my deepest writerly dreams, I hope that I can write books like this–with honest, memorable characters whose focused and relational stories are as intimate as a Sunday afternoon with friends, and as universal as the questions they make us ask about ourselves.”
Heather Murphy Capps
“I can’t understate the influence Judy Blume had on my life as a young person. My BFF in grades 3-7 was Michelle, and we read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret together– multiple times. Feeling deeply connected with Margaret’s narrative, we helped each other figure out how to use maxi pads, monitored our (seemingly slow-motion) progression toward puberty, and cheered each other on as we checked off those all-important development milestones. (“We must, we must, we must increase our bust!”) I think Margaret contributed to the foundation of that friendship, which was a fundamentally important part of my life during those years. (Sadly, we lost touch.)
As a writer, Judy Blume’s work serves as mentor text—a running tutorial every time I craft or edit character arc and emotional resonance. Blume’s work is timeless, and her influence on the MG space is one I will always appreciate, honor, and hope to emulate.”
Sally J. Pla
“So many girls identify with Margaret. Me, I identified with Judy. My first book was Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You, and Newsweek once called me a “Teen Dear Abby.” But I didn’t want to be Dear Abby, I wanted to be Judy Blume. I wanted to write fiction. I was over 40 when I finally made the leap.Did it help that I heard Judy speak at Marymount College? I think so. Her beloved father, like mine, had died too young, and she choked up talking about her grief. Getting rejections was hard too, but she persevered. She was so real and so radiant. So generous. I was starstruck. Still am.
Mindy Alyse Weiss
“I remember how much I LOVED Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and how relatable yet shocking it was, in the best possible way. Judy really changed kidlit! The novel that made the biggest impact on me as a kid was Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Later, while getting my degree in elementary education, I saw the magic of reading it aloud—and of course I read it to my daughters. My oldest was in kindergarten, the youngest in preschool, and they sat, mesmerized, begging me to read another chapter or two before stopping for the night.”
“I enjoyed reading Judy Blume’s book growing up, because I felt like she spoke to me. I actually met her in Key West, at her bookstore. She was so nice, and took a whole bunch of pictures with me and then signed her new book, which I bought for my wife. As far as the documentary, I couldn’t stop watching it, and I plan to watch it again. The most striking takeaway was that no matter how famous she got, or how much her life changed, Judy always took the time to connect with children—her readers—and put them first.”
“Judy Blume has had a tremendous impact on me, both as a lifelong reader and writer. She told the truth to young people. That’s powerful and an incredible gift. Many of novels I read as a kid painted a false, saccharine picture of what life was supposed to look like, so I distinctly remember the shock I felt at reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Here were girls like me, worrying about periods, boys, fitting in, and existential questions like: ‘Does God exist?’ and ‘Will I ever need a bra?’ (My mom refused to take me shopping for one until a boy in my fifth-grade class drew a picture of me with two dots on my chest. Deeply mortifying! But I’m…fine… Really! Um…I mean, mostly.)
Judy Blume’s books are funny and entertaining, and I devoured them all. But they were so much more. Validating. Informative. It was as if Judy showed us a secret world that other adults pretended didn’t exist—like what happens to boys during puberty. (No one told me!) I still remember someone’s well-loved copy of Forever being passed around the middle-school bus—with certain passages marked, of course. (They didn’t tell me about that, either!)
Judy was one of the first authors to write truly realistic fiction for and about young people, and she paved the way for other authors, and for me. She’s also fought tirelessly against censorship and the folks who believe they have the right to decide what other people’s kids should read. Judy Blume is a national treasure!”
Wendy McLeod Macknight
“I was in grade six—small for my age and two years away from getting my period—when I heard rumblings about a BOOK. And not just any book, a book written by a female author who KNEW what it meant to be twelve years old and feeling less than. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret was being passed from girl to girl like a sacred text, but I couldn’t wait: I used my savings to buy my own copy and devoured it in one sitting. Then promptly reread it. It was the first book I’d ever read that addressed the inner lives of young girls. Judy Blume got us. She KNEW. She UNDERSTOOD. We were no longer alone.
She became my patron saint, her work a beacon of safety and understanding as I navigated the choppy seas of middle school. I’m not sure Judy Blume made me want to be a writer, but I do know this: Judy Blume made me believe things would be okay. And honestly? That was everything.”
“I saw a preview of the movie a few weeks ago, and I was really touched by it. I was happily surprised to see that they kept the early Seventies setting. Even nicer to see all the glory and agony of girl friendships played out so beautifully, without cellphones, cyber bullying, or the continuous drumbeat of gun menace that children face today.”
—Rosanne Parry, Mixed-Up Files contributor and New York Times bestselling author of A Wolf Called Wander, A Whale of the Wild, and the upcoming A Horse Named Sky. Learn more about Rosanne via her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.