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Reading Group Guide
Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume
Edited by Jennifer O'Connell
Like the young girls and grown women characters in Judy Blume's novels, real women love gossiping about their lives. So here's the skinny on some of your favorite writers from this collection, in their own words!
1. What was your first kiss like?
2. Name three of your oddest jobs.
3. What is your favorite color and why?
4. How many BFFs have you had?
5. What does your kinkiest pair of underwear look like?
6. Name your three biggest fears.
7. Briefly describe a happy memory involving the opposite sex.
8. What was your favorite prank call (that you made or that someone made to you)?
9. Was your teen bedroom a disaster area or clean and pristine? What's your room like now?
10. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
11. How has your relationship with your mother changed from girlhood, to adolescence, to adulthood?
12. Which sibling got the most attention in your house?
13. Briefly describe the best date you've ever had.
14. Briefly describe the worst date you've ever had.
15. Name your three favorite movies.
16. When you first noticed boys, how long did you think it would be before you got married?
17. What's your funniest bra/breast story?
18. What is the most humiliating thing that happened to you as a child?
19. Were you the bully, or did you get picked on as a child?
20. Who's more neurotic about her children -- you, or your mother?
21. Did you ever get caught masturbating?
22. Did you believe in God when you were a teenager? Why or why not?
23. What are your three favorite things to do with your girlfriends?
24. Where is the most unusual place you've had sex?
Use the following opportunities to discuss some of Judy Blume's most popular themes with the members of your Book Club.
1. In essays like "Then. Now. Forever." by Megan McCafferty, "The M Word" by Lara Zeises, and "Do Adults Really Do That?" by Laura Caldwell, the authors remember learning about and discussing sex for the first time. Sometimes it's traumatic, sometimes it's funny, but however it happens, it's always memorable. Share the story of how your parents first brought up the "birds & bees," or the time that your class was separated into groups of boys and girls to watch informational films on this biological imperative.
2. Many of the essays in this book, including "Forever...Again" by Stacey Ballis, cite the deep impact that Judy Blume's most banned and celebrated book, Forever, had on their early ideas about love and sex. What was your first experience with love like? Why do you think that attitudes about teen sex have or haven't changed since Forever was first published?
3. Young girls universally struggle through puberty, which often leaves in its wake identity crises and a scramble to label and be labeled as girls seek to order their chaotic, changing worlds. "Boys Like Shiny Things" by Laura Ruby, "Cry, Linda, Cry" by Meg Cabot, and "Freaks, Geeks, and Adolescent Revenge Fantasies" by Shanna Swendson describe the authors' own stories of battered and, ultimately, triumphant self-esteem. What labels were you given as a child? How did these affect your sense of identity and the way you related to others? What, if anything, did you do to shed or strengthen these identities?
4. Sometimes it seems like the female half of the species are burdened with a rebellious and uncooperative body from the moment we become self-aware until...well, it never ends! After reading "The One That Got Away" by Stephanie Lessing, "I Am" by Erica Orloff, "Vitamin K, Judy Blume, and the Great Big Bruise" by Julie Kenner, "The Importance of ABCs" by Kayla Perrin, and "Are You There, Margaret?" by Alison Pace, what body image issues from your past came back to haunt you? What physical attributes do you still battle for control?
5. Women's magazines and evening news channels have made much ado about "friend dates" and other ways that friendships follow patterns similar to romantic relationships. Authors Megan Crane and Lynda Curnyn explore these similarities -- particularly the equally dramatic breakups -- in their essays "A Long Time Ago, We Used to Be Friends" and "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do -- Especially with Your BFF." Have you ever had to break up with a friend? If so, why, and at happened? If not, why do you think your relationships with women have remained unscathed?
6. Moving and making new friends can be a child's worst nightmare -- Tony Miglione of Judy Blume's Then Again, Maybe I Won't certainly thought so. So did Berta Platas ("The Wienie Girls' Guide to Making Friends") and Melissa Senate ("Then Again, Maybe I..."). What was it like for you making friends as a child? How has your approach to adjusting to new environments and making new friends changed as an adult?
7. "Are You Available God? My Family Needs Counseling" by Kyra Davis and "It Wasn't the End of the World" by Kristin Harmel touchingly revisit the difficulties inherent in what were once considered "unusual" family circumstances, such as divorced parents and religious intermarriage. Davis writes, "Let's face it, all our families are at least a little dysfunctional." Do you think this is true? If so, in what ways do you think your own family was dysfunctional? What Judy Blume books did help or might have helped you to make sense of the tension broiling around you?
8. In her essay "Superfudged," Cara Lockwood compares her tortured childhood relationship with her younger brother to that of Judy Blume's Peter Hatcher and his brother, Fudge. Do you have any siblings? If so, how has your relationship to each other changed since you were children? If not, how do you think being an only child affected how you related to others in your early years?
9. Children often feel that the world of adults is mysterious and incomprehensible, sometimes because their parents purposefully make it that way! "A Different Kind of Diary" by Elise Juska, "Mother of All Balancing Acts" by Beth Kendrick, and "Brave New Kid" by Diana Peterfreund all share insights about the complexities of child-adult relations. Did you find it difficult to navigate the transformation from child to young adult to adult with respect to your parents' treatment of you? What similarities did you find between these women's stories and your own relationships with your parents? How are your stories different?
10. Jennifer Coburn revisits one of Judy Blume's more serious social topics -- racism -- in her essay "Guilty's House." Can you relate to the described feelings of "white guilt?" Why or why not? If you are a member of an ethnic minority, what was your response to reading this blunt portrayal of one girl's struggle with political correctness?
11. In her essay, "We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming for a Judy Blume Moment," Jennifer O'Connell defines certain poignant moments she believes we all experience as "Judy Blume Moments." Some of these moments include those that "make a girl feel like a princess in a blue cotton nightgown" and "realizing that even as we get older...we'll always be the girls who play in the waves and giggle with our friends." Describe some of your own Judy Blume moments.
What did you learn about being a girl from Judy Blume?
Have each member of your Book Club bring a highlighted passage from her favorite Judy Blume book to read out loud to the group. Then, take turns answering the following questions:
1. Why was this book your favorite Judy Blume book?
2. When you re-read the book, what were your reactions? Did you find that the story, the characters, and the feelings it evoked were the same as what you remembered?
3. Which Judy Blume characters did you most identify with in childhood?
4. Which characters do you most identify with now?
5. Do you think Judy Blume's characters and the issues they face are timeless, or would they seem dated today?
6. Why do you think Judy Blume's books had such an impact on their young readers when they were first published?
7. Of the essays in Everything, which one did you most identify with and why?
Enhance Your Book Club Experience
For extra fun, make photocopies of the author survey questions to pass around to members of your Book Club, or forward it around via email. You can respond anonymously, or share your answers openly.
When you get together to discuss Everything, have each member bring a snack -- specifically, her favorite junk food from the age she became a Judy Blume fan!
Judy Blume tackles many universally challenging topics in her books, including the sometimes strained relationships between mothers and daughters. Designate a Book Club meeting to which everyone is invited to bring either her mother or her daughter. Before the meeting, each member should share her favorite Judy Blume book with her guest. When you're all gathered together, go around the room and share which parts of the book reminded you of each other, helped you to better understand each other's point of view, or generally made you feel closer.
Several of Judy Blume's books have been scrutinized, challenged, attacked, and otherwise fought by censors, including Blubber; Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Forever; Deenie; and Tiger Eyes. Visit the link below to view a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 and also the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2005. How many of these books have you or your children read? How do you feel about the efforts to restrict access to these books?