The luminous, illustrious, industrious Judy Blume was at the LA Times Festival of Books recently. She signed books for at least two hours, but prior to wearing out her writing hand, she spoke to a packed house about her writing career, a child's first books and how she danced with Ernie the mailman across the front lawn when she got her first acceptance.
Moderator Mary McNamara spoke for so many of us in expressing an almost worshipful appreciation of the life-saving properties of Blume's Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. She's ready to pass the book on to her preteen daughter. Blume had some advice for her and the eager parents in the audience about kids and reading.
1. As great as you think those nostalgic old book covers are, get your kids the new editions. The covers will draw them in. They want the new stuff. (Maybe I'm naive, but I think she meant it. I don't think she was just trying to sell books.)
2. Don't tell them how the book changed your life (or at least wait until after they've read it and have had their lives changed). Remember how a parental recommendation was the kiss of death when you were a kid? That hasn't changed -- no matter how well-deserved the kudos are.
3. Before you give your child the beloved book, leave it lying around the house, preferably on your nightstand. Then, when your daughter asks about the book, tell her that you picked it up for her, but now you're not sure she's old enough for it.
4. E-readers are okay by JB. While she never wants to lose books, she said that using an e-reader is reading and that's what counts. She even uses one while traveling.
5. Try not to be judgmental of what your child is reading. (This one is hard for me. Early on in motherhood, I banned books that were based on television shows. The first book I bought for my three-week-old daughter was Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling. It's a chapter book about Harriet Tubman.)
6. Don't censor their book selection. -She said that she hates it when books list what age reader the book is for. She remembers pulling an illustrated copy of Lysistrata off the shelves when she was about 12. She was very curious about the adult world and books gave her a look into that world.
7. Go to libraries and independent bookstores to pass on the fine art of browsing.
When I told friends and family I was going to hear Judy Blume give a talk, everyone had the same reaction -- "Really? Wow. I just love her. I read all of her books. I must have read Are You There God? It's Me Margaret at least five times."
I know. Me too. Just don't tell my kids, okay?