Friday, June 22, 2012

When Judy Blume kissed Mark Twain

A picture of Mark Twain at the peak of his eyebrow-intensive Twaininess graced the Clemens Lecture stage before the lecturer or her interviewer entered. "I think I'd be intimidated by that," I said to my friends. "Even if I were Judy Blume." But when Judy came onstage, the first thing she did was plant one on him. He has the lipstick stain to prove it.

Judy talked a lot about telling the truth, and the truth was that she felt a literary affection for Mark Twain. Intimidating or not, she expressed that. The truth is that kids wonder how babies end up inside their mothers, that girls get their periods, that boys have wet dreams. Those things are part of real kids' stories, so they're part of hers. Many of those real kids have written to her about their questions and their experiences, because as she said, it's easier to discuss certain things with a stranger you don't have to face at the breakfast table. Being that (near) stranger has put her in the position of "supportive friend" in many cases, and in a few, she and her assistant have stepped in and called social services for a letter writer's benefit. Which is a pretty amazing example of taking kids seriously.

The audience was an amazing mix. The oldest men and women there could easily have read Judy's earliest books to their children (or over their shoulders) when those books were new. The youngest person I spotted was a boy around three whose mom  had to repeat his question: "Did you ever have a bat mitzvah?" (No; very few girls did when Judy was twelve or thirteen.)

There were lots of chances to awwwwww, starting when a boy around six came in wearing a sign on which he'd hand-written, "I am a fan of Fudge Hatcher." Just as she does with her readers and correspondents, Judy took every one of her questioners seriously. My favorite set of questions came from a girl around eight: "Are you going to write any more books about Fudge?... Did you ever read The Hunger Games?"

The answers: a) Probably not, but her grandson convinced her to write Double Fudge, so I say there's hope. b) Yes, via audiobook. And yes, the girl who asked the question has also read The Hunger Games. "Two of my favorite authors," she told me in the signing line.

Now that's a discerning reader.

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