‘What Is It about This Book That Scares You?’

Author Judy Blume on book bans and being a supportive adult

June 23, 2023

Judy Blume at the Opening Session of the American Library Association's 2023 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago on June 23.
Judy Blume at the Opening Session of the American Library Association's 2023 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago on June 23. Photo: EPNAC

For author Judy Blume, whose prolific body of work includes such books as Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. and Forever, the concept of censorship isn’t new. Her titles have appeared on most-challenged books lists for decades.

“When I wrote [Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.] in 1970, I gave three copies to my children’s elementary school,” she said. “The male principal took them off the shelf. I think he gave them back to me. And he said, ‘We can’t have these books here.’”

Blume recalled such attempts throughout her career and discussed the current wave of book challenges during the Opening General Session of the American Library Association’s 2023 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago on June 23.

When book banning was on the rise in the 1980s, Blume’s work was primarily targeted for covering topics centered on female sexuality. Session moderator and Simon & Schuster Senior Vice President and Publisher Justin Chanda asked Blume why she thinks her books were challenged then and are still being challenged now. 

“I don’t know,” Blume said. 

“They apparently don’t like bras,” Chanda joked.

“Or menstruation,” Blume added.

Blume explained that when Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was recently adapted into a film, she didn’t have much to do outside of teaching the actresses “how to do the exercise.” She then demonstrated the movements, referring to the iconic scene where Margaret and her friends chant, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!”

Blume also talked about another frequently challenged title that she recently reread: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, a children’s picture book about two male penguins that start a family. The book is currently at the center of a lawsuit after it was banned by Florida schools.

“[The book] was so charming and wonderful,” she said, “and you just want to say, ‘What is it about this book that scares you? What [do] you think will happen to a kindergartener who we read this book to?’”

In the documentary Judy Blume Forever, released in April, Blume’s fans share how they wrote letters to the author thanking her for her work, but also seeking counsel and guidance.

“It was an incredible feeling, one of overwhelming responsibility,” Blume recalled. She said she corresponded with fans for about three years and, as a result, wasn’t able to write during that period. “I could not save kids, it wasn’t my job. But I learned through a professional who helped me that I could be a supportive adult in their life.” 

Fans and tourists who visit her bookstore, Books & Books at The Studios of Key West in Florida, often share with Blume how much her work still means to them today. “The women who come to the bookstore [are] in their 40s and 50s—I think it ends there—and they remember [the books] so well. It’s their childhood.”


A graphic of Chicago with text reading "2023 Annual Conference Preview."

2023 Annual Conference Preview

Chicago | June 22–27


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