All I’m saying is give peace a chance.

Blubber, by Judy Blume (1974)

This was one of the books scheduled for “Controversy” week in Children’s Lit (along with Tango Makes Three and The Clique). For those of you who haven’t read this one, the one sentence summary goes like this: Jill is part of a group of girls that finds it funny to pick on fellow fifth-grader Linda, taunting her, calling her “Blubber” incessantly, until the tables turn and Jill becomes the one being bullied. Pretty straightforward middle-grade narrative. And upon initial reading of this one, I felt like it was all right, not great, and probably would have given it a 0.5/1 star on my rating scale.

But as I closed the book after finishing, and took another look at the cover, wondering why it’s been on the 100 Most Challenged Books List each decade since it was written, it struck me. These kids are young. Look at that cover image. Although it’s not a great cover (I would never have picked up a book with this cover), it does drive home the point that Jill and her gang are ten years old. Ten. And they are capable of terrible, terrible things. Like making Linda say “I am Blubber, the whale of class 206” before she eats her lunch or goes to the bathroom. Or lifting up her skirt to  show the whole class her underwear during recess. Or getting the whole class to go silent during one word of the music assembly so Linda’s the only one who sings “breast.”

And I suddenly realized why this is constantly challenged and why it left me feeling really unsettled: it’s terrifying for adults. We would never raise children so cruel, we think. We would never allow our classes to get so out of hand. And yet, it’s happening, whether we like it or not. Now those taunts have taken to cyberspace, but it’s still the same. Even though 37 years have passed since Blume wrote this book, it’s as real today as it ever was. And I have no idea how I’m going to handle it.

1.5 stars, because it’s scarier than anything I’ve read in a while.

Building friendship through lizarding-catching

  Minn and Jake, by Janet S. Wong (2003)

This week is poetry week in Children’s Lit! I was excited to see an atypical selection on the reading list, a novel written in verse. While this format has been made famous in the YA section with books like those in the Crank series by Ellen Hopkins, I haven’t seen much of this for younger readers yet. (Granted, Minn and Jake is 8 years old, so maybe I’m just unaware.)

Here is a story of two ten year olds, one girl who’s way too tall and one boy who’s way too short, both of whom are struggling to find someone to trust amidst their gossipy fifth grade class.  More than anything, Minn loves catching and observing lizards at The Screep, and while Jake just wishes he could move back to L.A. where he has friends who don’t stare at him or mock him for his height. When Minn and Jake get shoved together at the hands of their parents, the city-boy and the lizard-girl seem to be the last two people to form a friendship. But lo and behold, they find that each can teach the other something new, and maybe even save each other from loneliness.

I can imagine what this book would be like as a classic prose novel, and I don’t think it would carry as much charm and authenticity as it does in its current state. It brought me straight back to life in the fifth grade, and all the joy, fear, bonding, fascination, and isolation that accompanies it.

2 stars.