If you didn’t read them yourself, you probably saw copies of Judy Blume’s books being passed surreptitiously around your junior-high classroom, their dog-eared pages brimming with some of the raciest passages known to preteen eyes. But many kids got hooked on Blume’s work way before they discovered the R-rated stuff. From Freckle Juice to Forever, no other author has captivated young readers like Blume, with her relatable characters and coming-of-age stories that kids devour and their parents remember fondly.
In her latest book, Soupy Saturdays (Random House, $12.99), Blume resurrects sassy siblings Jake and Abigail (a.k.a. the Pain and the Great One from her 1984 picture book) in seven short stories that make up the first of four new paperbacks for early chapter-book readers. We caught up with Blume to talk about her new book and how it feels to influence multiple generations of readers.
Of all your characters, why did you decide to revisit the Pain and the Great One?
I wanted to write something for younger readers—books they could read before the Fudge books [like Superfudge]. Books with lots of dialogue—my favorite part of writing—and wry, laugh-aloud illustrations. When I sat down to write, I realized I was writing about the brother and sister from the original picture book. But this time Jake and Abigail took on their own lives.
What made you decide to compile them into your first collection of short stories?
I’ve never written short stories but I’ve always enjoyed writing humorous episodic books. Between novels, I’d write Fudge books. This time, when that first short story came out, I just went with it. I knew from the start this wouldn’t be just one book, but a group of four about the same characters.
How do you manage to continue to relate to kids so well after all this time?
I’ve always connected with kids—long before I had my own, and still today. We just look at each other—the kids and me—and it’s there, that connection. I can’t explain it. It would be there even if I’d never had kids of my own. Maybe it’s the kid inside me. Maybe it’s that I remember so well.
The world has changed a lot since you started writing kids’ books. Do kids today identify with the same things, or have you had to change the way you write for them?
The way we live may have changed. But what’s inside hasn’t changed. Family, friends, school are still what’s most important to kids. I have a teenaged grandson. I have a son and husband who are very tuned in to the high-tech world. And I have a lot of younger friends. I listen. I observe. I browse on the Web. And maybe some of that finds its way into my books. But not deliberately.
An entire generation grew up reading your books and are now parents themselves. How do you feel about influencing two generations?
It’s a thrill for me to see my twenty-, thirty- and forty-something readers with their kids at book signings. Sometimes I warn them: Don’t make a big deal out of how these were your favorite books—you’ll risk turning them off. But there are so many wonderful stories about parents sharing my books with their kids. What could be better? I’ve always been inspired by my readers. I have a lot to thank them for—like everything!