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Mon June 17, 2013

This Blumesday Celebrates Judy, Not Joyce

Originally published on Mon June 17, 2013 12:31 pm

Today is Blumesday. Not the Bloomsday where readers celebrate James Joyce's novel Ulysses — that was Sunday. Today's Blumesday is also a holiday for literature lovers, but of a different sort.

Blumesday creators Joanna Miller and Heather Larimer are writers, and they're pretty well-read. But they were never huge fans of Ulysses. "We sort of self-deprecatingly said, 'Well, the only way we could participate in Bloomsday was if it were Judy Blumesday.' And then the joke turned into, 'Wait, why aren't we doing this?' " Miller explains.

"We realized that there is a whole community around this writer that feels just as impassioned about her work as people feel about the work of James Joyce," Larimer adds.

So a few years ago, Larimer and Miller pulled this community together, for a new kind of Blumesday: one that celebrates author Judy Blume's young adult fiction.

In addition to Judy Blume-inspired musical performances, these Blumesday celebrations have featured a video chat with the author herself and many dramatic readings from her work.

For Larimer and Miller, part of the appeal is that Blume's writing is just really funny — even for adults — but also it takes you back to those middle school days.

"I think that people treat it like puberty is some sort of threshold that you pass over, and one day you're a kid and one day you're a woman," Larimer says. "That transition takes years and is really awkward and painful."

Miller says Blume's topics — being bullied, getting your period, having your parents divorce — are timeless issues. And they're issues that young readers today are still dealing with.

"But there's not a lot of focus on the things that happen every day and how we process those," says Quinn Sanford, a librarian at King public school in Portland, Ore.

Sanford says that for all of the Hunger Games and Vampire Diaries, books like Blume's still have a place helping kids sort out daily dramas. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret is about menstruation, and it was published in 1970, back when sanitary napkins clipped into elastic belts. Details like those have been updated, and the book speaks to kids today just as much as it did kids 40 years ago.

"When I read [Are You There God? It's Me Margaret] ... it was before I had matured," says eighth-grader Nichele Wilson. "So then I knew what I had to do before it actually happened."

Sanford says that with Blume's books, it's always personal. "When you feel like you've stumbled on a best friend, I think that's a very powerful moment in your reading development," she says.

And Sanford believes that Blume's ability to drop you right in the middle of the adolescent experience — and to do it well — is timeless. "You can always go back to your book, and you always have that same friend there," she says.

High-schoolers still lose their virginity, relationships still fall apart and fourth-graders still feel like they're nothing — and sometimes, so do grown-ups.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today is Blumesday. No, not the Bloomsday, B-L-O-O-M, where readers celebrate James Joyce's novel Ulysses; that was yesterday. Today's Blumesday, B-L-U-M-E, is also a celebration for literature lovers, but of a different sort.

From Portland, Ore., Deena Prichep has the story.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Like most writers, Joanna Miller and Heather Larimer are fairly well-read. But they were never huge fans of "Ulysses."

JOANNA MILLER: We sort of self-deprecatingly said, well, the only way we could participate in Bloomsday is if it were Judy Blumesday. And then the joke turned into wait, why aren't we doing this?

HEATHER LARIMER: We realized that there is a whole community around this writer that feels just as impassioned about her work as people feel about the work of James Joyce.

PRICHEP: So a few years ago, Larimer and Miller pulled this community together for a new kind of Blumesday: one that celebrates author Judy Blume's young adult fiction.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) Dry your sweet Judy Blume eyes. Love is only a teen reverie.

PRICHEP: In addition to Judy Blume-inspired musical performances, these Blumesday celebrations have featured a video chat with the author herself, and many dramatic readings from her work.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He's going to kiss me, I thought. He's going to kiss me and I don't know what to do.

(LAUGHTER)

PRICHEP: For Blumesday founders Heather Larimer and Joanna Miller, part of the appeal is that Blume's writing is just really funny. Even for adults. But it also takes you back to those middle school days.

LARIMER: I think that people treat it like puberty is some sort of threshold that you pass over, and one day you're a kid and one day you're a woman. And that transition takes years and is really awkward and painful.

MILLER: I mean these are timeless issues: getting your period, being bullied, having your parents divorce.

PRICHEP: And they're issues that young readers today are still dealing with.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)

QUINN SANFORD: They have a ton of knowledge of, you know, like stranger danger and like, big, scary things that happen in the world.

PRICHEP: Quinn Sanford is a librarian at King Public School in Portland.

SANFORD: But there's not a lot of focus on the things that happen every day and how we process those.

PRICHEP: Sanford says that for all of the "Hunger Games" and "Vampire Diaries," books like Judy Blume's still have a place helping kids sort out daily dramas.

Eighth grader Nichele Wilson read them with her mother.

NICHELE WILSON: She told me that she writes really good books. And to prove it, she got "Freckle Juice" and she got "God Are You There, It's Me, Margaret."

PRICHEP: "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret" is about menstruation and it was published in 1970, back when sanitary napkins clipped into elastic belts. Details like those have been updated. And the book speaks to kids like Nichele just as much as it did to kids 40 years ago.

WILSON: When I read the "Margaret" one, it was before I had matured. So then I knew what I had to do before it actually happened.

SANFORD: When you feel like you've stumbled on a best friend, I think that's a very powerful moment in your reading development.

PRICHEP: School librarian Quinn Sanford says that Blume's ability to drop you right in the middle of the adolescent experience, and to do it well, is timeless.

SANFORD: You can always go back to your book and you always have that same friend there.

PRICHEP: Because high schoolers still lose their virginity, relationships still fall apart, and fourth graders still feel like they're nothing. And sometimes, so do grown-ups.

For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep, in Portland, Oregon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.