Deb Joanne discusses Banned Books Week

It’s banned books week.  Most of you know what that means (if you don’t, check out the link) and I can’t really add to what other smart writers, librarians, and book lovers have already said about the crappiness that is censorship (and I certainly can’t say it any better than Judy Blume), so I’m going to talk about one of the most banned and challenged books out there, written by the amazing Judy herself:


Who didn’t love this book? The real and honest coming of age story of a girl as she navigates her way through puberty, including menstroooation, boys, changing bodies and her questions about God and faith. I loved this book so much as a kid that I remember reading it and re-reading it until it was tattered and dog-eared.  I understood everything that Margaret was going through because so much of it was the same as what I was going through.  There was nothing shocking to me about this book when I read it, I just thought it was a great book about a regular girl, a girl just like me.

So color me surprised when I saw that it’s on lists of most-banned books.  Some people apparently think it’s inappropriate for kids to read about STUFF THAT HAPPENS TO KIDS and STUFF THAT KIDS THINK ABOUT. Huh? Maybe I was sheltered from this book-banning business (ironic, no?) because as a kid, I was given books to read, and then, when I was older, I was taken into the bookstore and allowed to pick my own books.  My mom, an avid reader herself, would be off on the other side of the store getting books by Danielle Steel, Norah Roberts and Jackie Collins, and I would be picking out my own books that I thought looked interesting.  It was never an issue in our home.  I somehow managed to pick books that were appropriate for me and no matter what I read, I was never scarred or harmed psychologically** and in the end, turned out to be a reasonably normal human who works and contributes to society, in what I hope is a positive way.

When I started writing books for a middle grade audience, I turned to MARGARET and read the book critically as an adult as research. And you know what? The book still holds up years, no decades later and I know that what makes it special and so relevant is its honesty. 

I think it’s this honesty about the human condition that makes some people freak out and want to ban books. Or maybe it’s the fear that if people read about stuff, they’ll want to do it, you know, like how so many people read about Hannibal Lecter and want to go out and kill and eat people with a nice chianti. Either way, I think it’s a bad idea to run from honesty.  Even if it’s not our own honesty, we can still learn from other people’s lives, even if they’re fictional, can’t we? Isn’t that what makes us able to sympathize with people different than us? Isn’t that what makes us human?

I know everyone reading this post is a book-lover, so please, this week more than ever, make sure you go out and read a book, ANY book you like, and be conscious and thankful that you have the freedom to do so.

And I`d love to hear about YOUR favorite banned or challenged book.  Please share!


**Later, as a young adult, I was scarred and harmed psychologically by Stephen King’s Misery, but that’s a different story.

24 Replies to “Deb Joanne discusses Banned Books Week”

  1. I too was lucky enough to grow up in a home where I was trusted to make my own reading decisions. (Of course, there are those who might hold me up as a horrible example of what happens when you don’t censor reading, but really, I don’t think I’ve left too dark a smudge on society. Yet. *grin*)

    LOVE Judy Blume, and especially ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET. 🙂

  2. Sr. Barbara gave each of the 7 (yes 7) girls in my 7th grade class Are You There God to read. This was in 1976 in a tiny Catholic school in Massachusetts. My parents let me read any and all books. I even snuck many looks at “Everything you Wanted to Know About Sex” and “Last Tango in Paris” in the guest room/study at my auntie’s house in Miami. Now THAT was an education! 🙂

  3. On a family vacation to Mexico in the late 1980s, I got my period unexpectedly. The only maxi pads available in the hotel gift shop looked weird – no adhesive on the bottom, and these weird flaps at either end.

    I asked my mother what was going on with these strange devices and she said, “Oh!” in the most surprised way and explained that they were the kind of maxi pads that were meant to be worn with belts.

    I’m sure they’ve revised Margaret at this point to omit the belt references, but I will forever be grateful for that book because as soon as my mother mentioned belts, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

    The genius of really great writers for children is that they haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be children – the things that worry them and make them happy or sad. I think the sadness of folks who want to ban books is that maybe they have forgotten and don’t remember how important a book that addresses exactly what you’re feeling right then can be.

    1. Eleanor, I heart this story so much that I just want to jump through my computer and hug you. Thanks for sharing it with us. By the time I read Margaret, the belts were still in the book but were obsolete and I was a little confused by it, but if I’d ever encountered those belted pads, like you, I’d know what to do.

      Incidentally, when I went back to read MARGARET for research, they had edited out the belts and I thought I was losing it because I was SURE when I read the book as a kid, there were belts. But after some Googling, I discovered that more recent editions had been edited to include more modern feminine hygiene products.

      1. You have not lived until you have had maxipads safety-pinned to your underwear for a week. In Mexico.

        I understand why they updated it, but part of that makes me a little sad! I like knowing that little piece of history.

  4. I am always so blown away by “the list” when I read it. Seriously, almost every book on it is so pivotal in its own way. And all the reasons for its proposed bans are the very things I drew from it, not just as a writer, but as a growing, forming human being.

    But again, this is coming from someone whose Grandmother took her to see Oh, Calcutta on Broadway at twelve.

    1. Isn’t that just it about what makes books controversial – those are the things that are pivotal and important and what readers learn from most. Some people just don’t like to think, I guess, and don’t want anyone else to, either.

      p.s. I love your Grandmother, Erika – that is so awesome. We used to listen to the soundtrack to Hair in our Cordoba on the 8 track. I learned so many new things.

  5. Oh wow, how that brings me back. I too LOVED Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? In fact, thank you for the reminder as I will now track down a copy for my daughters to read. Banning books is a curious business for sure. I guess there are a lot of stuffed shirts out there with nothing better to do than sit on their thrones and decide what is safe and “good” for others in the world. Hey maybe thats why we occasionally run into problems with tainted water supplies, life threatening side effects of medications, etc…because all those noble do gooders are just so darn busy SAVING us from the likes of evil Judy Blume. Sheesh.

  6. I agree with all the Deb’s who have written in this morning.

    As Joanne said, books were never banned in our home (some movies maybe.)

    It is ironic how years change, when I was growing up in my Bubby’s house (Grandmother) certain topics were a no no, books oh no you can not read that, T.V. when we finally got one you could watch cartoons and that was it.

    Finally as a teenager I got to read Judy Blume and all the other books that were so called banned in the opinion of my Bubby, Mother, Aunt, etc. (yes everybody lived together).

    As a Bubby I buy books for my grandchildren (with Joannes help) and let their parents decide when it is appropriate for them to read.

    Reading is so very important for everyone no matter your age.

  7. Hi Mom!
    Well I think your Bubby was a little stricter with ALL things than you ever were! But at least it was her call (and not the government’s or some over-zealous parents’) what you read. I think in Canada (at least our part of Canada) we’re a bit more liberal than some parts fo the States. But that said, let me officially thank you here for encouraging me to read whatever I wanted – look where it’s taken me!

  8. Oh gosh, and remember Forever? Talk about scandalous. I loved–and still love–Judy Blume. She just knows how to get through to kids. My husband and I have a little brother through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, and I recently heard him talk excitedly about a book for the first time. And, no surprise, it was Superfudge by Judy Blume. My little 10-year-old brother, who has had a really hard go at life and is a 4th grader with serious reading trouble, was so enamored with the book–especially the part where Peter threatens to run away from home. Probably because he could relate. Blume’s writing speaks to young girls AND boys, and makes little kids who otherwise say they hate to read excited about stories.

    So naturally we should ban her.

    1. Oh, THE GIVER is on my TBR list – I’ve heard so many good things about it, but just haven’t foudn the time to read yet. I think I need to bump it up.

      And I loved Blubber, too! Thanks for sharing, Jen.

  9. Oh….I just started following Judy Blume on Twitter. She is a real person, isn’t she.I remember “Forever” like I read it yesterday. (deep sigh).

    I grew up in the deep south. Sex is forbidden unless you are going to make a baby. You sure as hell aren’t supposed to read about it. With that being said, my mom let me read whatever. She was a voracious reader and I attribute my love of reading to her.

    None the less, when I was in the elementary school library and came across a book about sex (who knows what the title was–I just remember it being graphic), I turned it in to the librarian. I was such a goody two shoes then. My children won’t have a banned list except for I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. I can’t stand the thought of their minds being destroyed like that.

  10. I was one of the lucky ones, too, who pretty much read whatever I wanted. (This might explain reading Stephen King’s books waaaaay too early – I believe I read MISERY in one sitting!)

    Judy Blume books were the best. I loved them all, esp BLUBBER and MARGARET. Oh, and DEENIE! And what about THEN AGAIN MAYBE I WON’T, like MARGARET but more from the boy’s pov? Hmmm, has that one ever been banned, I wonder?

    1. I think THEN AGAIN was banned – I’d have to check, but I think I saw it on the list. I loved that one, too – I STILL love reading books that are from the male POV.

      And you know what I’m talking about with MISERY. *shiver*

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