From periods to religion, Judy Blume guided kids through the uncertainty of growing up


The Current23:09New documentary looks at the fearless writing of Judy Blume

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Davina Pardo can still remember where she sat as a kid, in Toronto, reading Judy Blume’s books.

“We had a chair, a reading chair on a landing in the house. And instead of sitting on the chair, I would sit in the crevice between the chair and the wall because it was just like there was a perfect, cosy spot to be curled up with a Judy Blume book,” Pardo told The Current host Matt Galloway. 

“I don’t remember which one I read first, but I remember them always being part of my life. I remember the characters feeling like friends.”

Pardo, along with Leah Wolchok, directed the new documentary Judy Blume Forever about the celebrated author. Blume’s books often focused on the experiences — and challenges — of growing up as a young girl.

She’s best known for the novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, written in 1970. That book has been made into a movie starring Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Forston and Kathy Bates, and premieres in Canada on April 27. 

It tells the story of a sixth grade girl who is trying to grapple with religion, her changing body, and growing up.

Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok directed the documentary Judy Blume Forever. (Amazon Prime Video)

Pardo credits that book, and the rest of Blume’s collection, for getting her through some of the most challenging parts of childhood.

“To open up a book like Margaret, and be inside the head of a girl who wanted to get her period, who wanted desperately this thing that I hated and [that] felt so secretive for me and I didn’t have a lot of people to discuss it with, was just the ultimate comfort,” said Pardo.

Connecting with children

Wolchok says that growing up, Blume felt adults were keeping secrets from her. She wasn’t getting the answers to the questions she was struggling with. 

So by the time Blume started writing, all those questions started mixing with her imagination — and she started writing furiously. 

“I grew up as a good girl with a bad girl lurking inside, so by the time I started to write, I really had a lot to get out,” Blume said in the documentary. 

But early on, the author faced a lot of rejection. She was sending manuscripts to every publisher she could. Wolchok said one letter basically told Blume to stop trying, because she couldn’t write. 

“I think it was that letter that really got her fired up, that got her really activated,” said Wolchok.

A woman reads a letter at a desk.
Blume reads old letters in a scene from the new documentary. (Amazon Prime Video)

Blume pushed through. Now, she’s an award-winning author, and her books continue to resonate with young readers — despite calls over the years for some of her titles to be banned because of their content.

Wolchok says the themes Blume explored in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and other books like it still very much resonate with children today.

“The feelings kids have, the feelings kids have about their bodies, [like] am I normal? Am I allowed to hate my sister right now? Am I allowed to be afraid of my parents getting a divorce? Am I allowed to be touching myself and feeling pleasure in my own body? Those feelings, they never go away,” said Wolchok.

Children were so infatuated with Blume’s stories that many sent her letters upon letters. Pardo said there was a time when Blume would receive about a thousand letters a week. And Blume would write back. 

“I’ve always been emotional about their letters, that they would pour their hearts out in this way,” Blume said in the documentary. 

“Kids opened up to me in a way that I think they felt they couldn’t to their parents.”

LISTEN | Author Judy Blume on her taboo-busting teen book:

Q20:13Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at 50: author Judy Blume on the taboo-busting teen book

Inspiring a genre

Mabel’s Fables, a children’s book store in Toronto, is making sure it has stocked extra copies of Blume’s best-seller ahead of the movie’s release date. But Elizabeth Ferguson, who manages the store, says people are always looking for Blume’s books. 

“Especially people who are now moms and grandmothers remember those books, and they come into the store and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I remember reading Judy Blume,'” said Ferguson.

A woman stands in front of a full book shelf and holds up two books by Judy Blume.
Elizabeth Ferguson, manager of Mabel’s Fables in Toronto, says Blume’s books inspired other authors to tackle similar, challenging topics. (Philip Drost/CBC)

And while the books have been inspiring for young girls, Ferguson says Blume has also had a major influence on the genre. 

“I think at the time that she originally wrote the book, there were very few, if any, books that even had [the word] ‘period’ in it, or anything like that. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore,” said Ferguson. 

“There are so many more titles like that now that are out there, that are all fantastic.”

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