Dear Judy Blume,
My son started asking me some hard-to-answer questions recently. While I did my best to share what I thought was important for him to know—and maybe over-shared because that’s who I am, I also offered him books. “I can get you some books? You can read those, and then ask me any questions those don’t answer. Would that help?” Because our household reads like it is a tenet of faith, he jumped on that. Several dozen recommendations later, I picked the four books I thought would most benefit him.
Three were non-fiction books to deal with the facts, the diagrams, and the medical terminology. One was, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. To deal with the human elements of growth and curiosity. The facts-of-life need the human element, like faith needs works.
I believe in books. I believe in the magic of sliding into someone else’s skin through words. I believe in the power of the fable. I believe in the transformative properties of a well-constructed narrative.
I met Tony Miglione when I was in elementary school—the new kid in the 3rd Grade classroom. Some of what he had to say was way above my head, and it was years before I understood all he was talking about, but a few things really stuck with me. I remembered the lesson he learned about treating waitstaff with respect. I remembered the lesson he learned about maintaining his own principles. I remembered how he struggled as the new kid, but managed to make his own way. And, I remembered how his family’s maid treated the situation when Tony found out about nocturnal emissions. I also always remembered that I should learn to pronounce someone’s full name. Tony Miglione taught me a lot.
I met Margaret Simon a few months later, and she was my friend through a winter break at a daycare, where I spent my time pouring over her worries about religion, relatives, and her period. I remember reading slowly, hoping I could make the book last longer. I remember a grown-up marveling that I was so focused. Margaret gave me an idea of how to deal with insecurity. She helped me understand that we are all on our own timelines, and that is okay. She helped me feel better about my own family’s weird relationship with religion, and inspired me to seek.
Over the course of the next two years, I would meet Katherine Danziger, Jill Brenner, Deenie Fenner, and Davey Wexler, adding them to my close friendships with Peter Hatcher, and Sheila Tubman. I’d known Peter and Sheila for much longer—they were more like cousins. Older cousins, who would tell you things. Every one of those friends taught me about how to treat people, how to accept and appreciate myself, how to forgive, how to strive, and how to live closer to my own moral code. They also made me laugh, made me cry, and showed me how to hope.
My son met Peter and Sheila a long time ago. I was excited to introduce him to Tony, but I downplayed it. They needed to make their own love connection. It was disastrous when I tried to make him fall in love with Peter Pevensie. I think it’s going to work out between them because he’s been carrying the book everywhere he goes. He doesn’t want to miss a second with his new friend.
I’m looking forward to him discovering all my old friends. He’s a conscientious kid. I think he’ll hear what they have to say.
I wanted to thank you for giving Tony, and Margaret, and Peter, and Sheila, and Katherine, and Jill (Jill and I were total BFFs when I was in 4th Grade), and Deenie, and Davey voices.
Thank you for giving me those friends.
Thank you for giving them to my son.