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For over 50 years, Judy Blume’s books have been a beacon for young readers, offering guidance through the endlessly confusing experience of growing up. Blume, considered by many to be the patron saint of YA narratives, has written more than 25 books for young readers since she made her debut with The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo in 1969. Over the course of her career, Blume’s trailblazing books have set new standards for what literature for kids and teens can look like. Her work has become beloved for its forthright honesty—and garnered plenty of controversy for its refusal to gloss over topics like sex and periods. A long-awaited film adaptation of her most famous novel, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.—which follows an 11-year-old girl as she navigates a move, a new school, and her changing sense of self—will premiere on April 28.
Blume may be best known for her books for and about girls on the brink of puberty, but she has long written for a diverse readership, giving people of all ages a chance to see themselves in her stories. For the youngest of readers, Blume has published picture books like The Pain and the Great One, which addresses the tensions of sibling rivalry with humor and heart. Her grade-school novels like Blubber and Iggie’s House give readers the chance to explore tough topics like bullying and racism. In her YA books, from Deenie to Tiger Eyes, Blume writes frankly about menstruation and masturbation while also tackling big experiences like the loss of a parent. And, in her handful of books for adults, Blume takes a straight look at the complexities of life and love.
From picture books to adult novels, here are the best Judy Blume books to read at every age.
The Pain and the Great One
In this playful picture book, Blume tackles the all-too-relatable issue of sibling rivalry with warmth and humor. Centering on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the “Great One,” a strong-willed 8-year-old sister and the “Pain,” her pesky 6-year-old little brother, the book is a clever story about the trying (and sometimes tender) relationship between siblings who are determined to find out which kid is more beloved by their parents.
Read More: 10 Questions with Judy Blume
For Andrew, a second grader, there’s nothing more attractive than the prospect of having freckles, a seeming solution to never having to wash his face. Andrew’s desire for freckles is so great that he pays his sly classmate for a recipe for “freckle juice,” a nasty concoction of fruit juice and condiments. The potion does not give him freckles, but it does teach him an important lesson about being happy in the skin you’re in—a message that’s as valuable for adults as it is for kids.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Blume returns to the ever-relevant topic of sibling rivalry with the Hatcher brothers—9-year-old Peter and his precocious 3-year-old brother, Farley, who’s affectionately nicknamed “Fudge.” Fudge’s irrepressible antics are by turns endearing and infuriating to good-hearted Peter, who feels that his brother’s outrageous mischief makes him, by comparison, a “fourth grade nothing.”
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
In this spin-off of the “Fudge” series, the Hatchers’ 10-year-old neighbor Sheila must summon all the courage she can when her father’s job takes her family away from the city for a summer. In the suburbs, Sheila’s sense of self is tested. She likes to think of herself as fearless, but soon she’s confronted with her own limitations, from cynophobia (fear of dogs) to aquaphobia (fear of water)—and Sheila has to figure out which version of herself she wants to be.
In Iggie’s House, Blume doesn’t shy away from having a tough conversation about race. The book centers on Winnie, a soon-to-be sixth grader who develops her own values and discernment after observing the racism that her next-door neighbors, a Black family, face after moving into her all-white neighborhood. Through addressing white flight and prejudice, Blume offers young readers an approachable way to begin discussing privilege and discrimination.
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
The spunky, imaginative protagonist of this novel is insatiably curious—and, Blume says, the closest of her characters to herself. In Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Sally, the youngest daughter of a rowdy, loving family, has endless questions about the world and the people around her as she navigates a temporary but seismic move from New Jersey to Florida after her brother gets sick. Blume offers an endearing story about a girl whose greatest adventures involve seeking out answers for herself.
Blume provides a clear-eyed take on the problem of bullying with Blubber, a cautionary tale told from the perspective of a would-be mean girl. Fifth-grader Jill joins in when the powerful and popular Wendy and her band of followers begin tormenting another student, Linda, about her weight. While Jill isn’t the instigator of Linda’s abuse, she becomes a willing participant, preferring to pile on the cruelty rather than to defy Wendy. But soon the tables turn. Jill discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of bullying, and learns hard but important lessons about friendship and respect.
Read More: The 100 Best YA Books of All Time
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
There may be no other text as roundly associated with puberty as Blume’s beloved Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The seminal book centers on 11-year-old Margaret, whose life is upended by her family’s move from New York City to suburban New Jersey right before she starts sixth grade. In suburbia, aided and abetted by her new friends, including the precocious Nancy, Margaret is consumed by uncertainties. She’s ambivalent about religion and anxious about getting her first period, her first bra, and her first crush. In writing Margaret, Blume created an infinitely relatable heroine for any girl on the brink of puberty, validating the confusion, hopes, and fears of generations of pre-teens.
Growing up is rarely easy, and with Deenie, Blume explores coming-of-age with vulnerability, telling the tale of a young girl who discovers who she wants to be and what her future can look like after an unexpected medical diagnosis. For 13-year-old Deenie, the future is far from a priority, even though her overbearing mother is hyperfocused on ensuring that she becomes a model. Deenie’s far more interested in being a normal seventh grader and making the cheerleading squad. All of that changes, however, when she’s diagnosed with scoliosis and instructed to wear a body brace for the next four years. As Deenie adjusts to her new normal, she becomes increasingly aware of the world around her and how she might move through it as an adult.
Blume addresses grief with a tender and nuanced touch in Tiger Eyes, a novel that centers on 15-year-old Davey as she reels from the shocking death of her father. Davey’s dad was shot in a holdup at his convenience store in New Jersey. After her grief-stricken mother moves the family to New Mexico to stay for a few months with relatives, Davey struggles to adjust to the new realities of her life, finding unexpected comfort and insight in new friendships.
Blume’s most controversial book, Forever…, is also one of her most realistic, depicting the heady, bittersweet feelings of first love. High school senior Katherine is preparing for college when she meets and begins dating her classmate Michael, and they swiftly fall for one another. Their whirlwind romance leads to Katherine having sex for the first time and getting on birth control—a plotline that led to Forever… becoming one of the most-banned books in the U.S. Blume’s frank representation of love and physical intimacy was groundbreaking, offering young-adult readers a clear example of empowered sexuality.
Blume confronts the challenges of modern love with Smart Women, her second novel for adults, which centers on friends Margo and B.B., two divorcées looking for love after failed marriages. The friends find comfort in commiserating with each other about their bad dates and strange bedfellows, much to the chagrin of their respective teenage daughters. But, while both women are hopeful for fresh starts, things get complicated when Margo falls for B.B.’s ex-husband.
Though Summer Sisters is chock full of romantic affairs and sexual escapades, the true love story of the novel is between the two main characters, best friends Caitlin and Vix. The two meet in a sixth-grade classroom and become “summer sisters” after a season spent together at Martha’s Vineyard, leading to an annual vacation tradition. Though they come from disparate backgrounds, they develop a deep and complex relationship that weathers life changes, love affairs, marriages, and children, until a shocking love triangle threatens to rock the foundation of their decades-long friendship.
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