11 Best Judy Blume Books for Every Stage of Life
The best stories make us feel seen and safe, no matter what we're dealing with—and the gentle truths found in these Judy Blume books have resonated and stayed with us through time
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Judy Blume books for every occasion
Not every author has been bestselling, beloved and banned, but that’s Judy Blume for you. For over half a century, Judy Blume books have marked milestones for young readers, especially girls who, like many of her characters, stand on the cusp of womanhood. Considered the originator of the young adult (YA) novel, Blume has been writing realistic fiction about the messy but wonderful world we live in since her 1969 debut kids’ book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo. She’s written for readers of all ages, backgrounds and life stages—have I mentioned her rather steamy story for adults, Wifey? In fact, her most recent book, 2015’s In the Unlikely Event, is another adult novel.
More than 50 years on, Judy Blume books still resonate today with new and longtime audiences because she gives her readers an impression of being seen and known, a sense of belonging, a sort of homecoming and that wonderful “it’s not just me” feeling. Her witty, frank and empathetic stories weave in the good, the bad and the ugly while fearlessly tackling real matters that arise throughout life, including bullying, racism, death, sex, religion, puberty, friendship, love, fear and more.
Now, with the release of the long-awaited film adaptation of perhaps her most famous book, 1970’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, it’s time to pick up or revisit some standout Judy Blume books. Whether you’re looking for children’s books, teen novels, classic books, books for women or simply some of the best books out there, check out these best-of books for different stages in life.
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When you’re struggling with being the middle child
The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo
Age range: Early elementary
Sometimes life as a middle child can feel unbearable—and I would know. Life in the middle can be rough, which is precisely the experience young Freddy struggles with in this warmly written 1969 story about the second-grade boy who has begun to feel like “a great big middle nothing.” He has two problems, as far as he can tell: his big brother and his little sister. So what does a kid like him need to do to feel—or be—special? Will acting in a school play make a difference?
I wish The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo had been in my house when I was a kid and wondering the same things as Freddy, especially since I liked acting too! If you like this story about the importance of being seen and included, you might also want to check out these children’s books about diversity.
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When sibling rivalry is getting to you
The Pain and the Great One
Age range: Elementary
All’s fair in love and war—and siblings are well acquainted with both. Blume’s adorable The Pain and the Great One, first published in 1974, centers on a third-grade sister and her first-grade brother, each of whom has plenty to say about the other and about the child their parents love best. The short story—a quick 48 pages, or about nine minutes in audio format—gives each sibling the opportunity to state just how much of a pain the other is or how “great” they think they are. Of course, in building their rather hilarious cases, they also point out some very lovable things about each other. If you like this tale of two siblings and the series it launched, you might also want to check out the sibling adventures in the Magic Tree House books.
When your little sibling ruins everything
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Age range: Elementary
Fourth-grader Peter’s life would be good, no question, if it weren’t for his 2-year-old brother, Fudge, who has a penchant for ruining everything. How can one little brother do so much damage? And even if he is rather cute when he sleeps, how can Peter love him when he’s awake, wreaking havoc on Peter’s hopes and dreams?
Whether you have little siblings or not, this cute and funny story of brotherly love (with a side of argh!) will have you smiling, chuckling and nodding your head as Peter figures out how to deal with his pesky-but-lovable little brother. Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been compared to this witty tale from 1972, so if you or a kid in your life enjoyed Peter’s story, consider adding that series to your must-read list too.
When you’re feeling afraid and don’t want to own it
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
Age range: Elementary
Like the titular character of Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, I felt scared a lot as a kid. But unlike her, I didn’t put on a brave face to fool all my friends into thinking I was not afraid at all. This charming story will have you alternately cringing and chuckling as Sheila (“the Great”) navigates with bravado and bluster a big, scary summer in a new house and new place and among new friends—and creatures. Can you learn to swim when you’re afraid of water? Why do ghosts and dogs sound the same at night? Can you make friends and keep them even if they find out your weaknesses?
This 1972 spin-off book from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing falls right at the edge of a coming-of-age story as Sheila faces some challenging truths about herself, braves a summer that maybe isn’t so bad after all and grows up just a little bit. If you’re road-tripping with kids and in the market for family-friendly audiobooks, you may enjoy listening to this one (read aloud by Judy Blume) as much as I did.
When it’s a matter of bullying
Age range: Upper elementary and middle school
When I say that Judy Blume books tackle the messy and the difficult, I mean it. And Blubber is one of those books. Blume penned the story in 1974 in response to a bullying incident in her daughter’s class and has since stated that she wanted to write about “school-bus culture in the language of that culture.”
Rather than talking about bullying, Blubber shows bullying in an almost flipped-script style, with one primary character actively participating in the bullying, although she isn’t the worst bully in her class. Though the book is, at times, funny, the chuckles quickly fade into cringes, flinches and painfully uncomfortable feelings as the story of bullying and its consequences unfolds. Whether you want to help someone being bullied or are an educator or parent looking to address bullying behavior, this book is a great resource. It is also a good reminder of how reading is important for building empathy and understanding.
When you aren’t happy in your own skin
Age range: Elementary
This adorable tale from 1971 centers around a boy named Andrew, who dreams of having a freckled face like his classmate, Nicky. If he could have freckles, life would be better. Since Nicky can’t share any of his more than 86 freckles, their classmate, Sharon, makes Andrew a deal: For 50 cents, she’ll give him a special freckle juice recipe, which she guarantees will help him get freckles too. Just what lengths is he willing to go to for some freckles—and will he be happy when he finally gets them?
A funny and heart-squeezing story, Freckle Juice is sure to amuse and reassure kids they’re perfect just the way they are: freckled, unfreckled or anything else. Be sure to include it in your book recommendations for any children who need reminding that we can spend our time wishing we looked just like someone who, in turn, is secretly wishing they looked like us.
When a new baby is on the way
Age range: Elementary and middle school
Peter from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is back and a few years older in Superfudge, the classic story about a kid who not only still has his annoying (though lovable) younger brother underfoot but now has to prepare for the intrusion—I mean, arrival—of a new baby in the house. Worse still, he and his kid brother will be attending the same school. Is there no escape? And what happens to Fudge, the baby of the house, when their new sibling is born?
This 1980 story, the third in the Fudge series of Judy Blume books, is a load of laughs, pure delight and so much heart as it explores family dynamics, feelings of place and displacement, identity and the sibling experience. If you like that there is more than one story about Peter, Fudge and their friends, you may want to get lost in one of these grown-up book series.
When you’re hitting puberty
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Age range: Middle school and young adult
I wasn’t fortunate enough to have read this powerful story when I was the same age as the titular character. But when I ask female friends about it, they immediately launch into the book’s bosom-boosting exercise chant and indulge in a massive dose of nostalgia. With the novel’s film adaptation finally on the big screen—53 years after the book’s 1970 publication—there’s no better time to read the classic novel.
Though beloved by many, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has also been the target of book bans over the years for its frank and unapologetic exploration of young girls becoming young women. It casually tosses around scenes devoted to periods and bras and attraction with the same excitement as a gaggle of preteen and young teen girls hanging out at a sleepover or using a public bathroom en masse. The freedom of Margaret, a young girl, to choose a religion for herself or follow in her parents’ nonreligious footsteps is another contentious aspect of the book, though equally realistic in its examination.
When you’re in love for the first time
Age range: Young adult
Judy Blume books have made their share of appearances on banned books lists, and Forever is no exception. The offense? The sexual exploration of the characters through the unfolding story, which sees protagonist Katherine falling in love for the first time, “doing it” for the first time and navigating a world that includes topics like birth control, abortion, choice, responsibility and more.
Katharine is a senior in high school and falls for a classmate, but even as they profess a love that seems like it will last forever, they are forced to separate for a time and must figure out what love is (or isn’t) for them after all. Published in 1975, it comes from a time when books featuring teen sex seemed to either have the girl punished for acting on her sexuality or one or both of the romantic partners behaving irresponsibly. Blume noted that she simply wanted to write a teenage love story in which “two seniors in high school fall in love, decide together to have sex and act responsibly.”
When you’re married but unsatisfied
Age range: Adult
What do you do when you checked all the right boxes but end up unhappily married despite it all? That’s the dilemma facing Sandy, the protagonist of Wifey. A conventional 1970s housewife from New Jersey, she starts to feel trapped and bored in the constraints of her married life and suffocated by the traditional expectations of her husband. So naturally, instead of taking the more conventional approach and joining a social club or going golfing, she spices up her life with some wild and dreamy fantasizing. But where will the fantasies take her, and what might she discover about herself—and life with her husband—along the way?
Sandy is delightfully “bad” in the best way possible, giving Blume yet another opportunity to write about tough situations and challenging matters with a deft, witty and empathetic hand. Published in 1978, Wifey was the author’s first novel for adults—and if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to bump it to the top of your TBR list.
When you’re looking for love (again)
Age range: Adult
Smart Women may not be your typical romance novel, but like a perfect glass of red wine, it is beautiful and complex. A 1983 book about friendship, family and life after marriage, it uses the story of two divorced women to explore the sexual desires of men and women in their forties and, on occasion, contrast it with their teenage daughters’ experiences with young love. It also probes into matters of loyalty, death, grief, mental health, feminism, autonomy and independence. In turns funny, sassy, melancholy, gut-wrenching, savage and compassionate, Smart Women is one of my favorites among Judy Blume books. If you also love stories like this, try some of these feminist books next.