In an interview published by Variety last week, celebrated author Judy Blume spoke out against attempts to ban books and highlighted the importance of reading.
Blume, who has seen several of her books challenged over the years, including Forever... and Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, criticized the increasing number of attempts to challenge literary materials in schools and public libraries. According to a report from the American Library Association, these attempts reached a record high in 2022.
She argued that today’s efforts to ban books are different from those in the past, citing the enactment of laws that could result in a librarian going to prison for "having pornography on their shelves."
She also referred to politician-led attempts to challenge books as “the real danger.”
Blume commented that although Ronald Reagan's politics may have given courage to the groups that aimed to ban her books—Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret angered conservatives who felt it was inappropriate for girls to read about menstruation—that trend is not comparable to the current state of the issue.
“It was bad in the ’80s, but it wasn’t coming from the government. Today, there are laws being enacted where a librarian can go to prison if she or he is found guilty of having pornography on their shelves. Try and define pornography today and you’ll find that it’s everything.”
Blume mentioned a favorite picture book of hers called Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, in which a young boy enjoys dressing up in fancy clothes and has a supportive grandmother who provides him with beads and feathers.
She compared this to Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, a picture book that was widely banned in the 1980s but is now considered important for representing families with same-sex parents.
Blume noted that some legislatures today consider such books pornographic, despite the fact that they are essential for children with non-traditional families to see themselves represented in literature.
“This is the real danger. That a governor can appoint someone to the legislature who’s thinking this way because he’s thinking this way, and getting laws about this. We should have laws on the other side!"
"That’s why organizations that work to protect the freedom to read widely and freely are so important.”
Blume also expressed her opinion on the recent controversy surrounding the publication of "updated" editions of Roald Dahl's books, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, by Puffin Books.
While acknowledging that Dahl has been accused of various forms of bigotry, Blume believes that his books should be left untouched and that children still "love them the way he wrote them." She does not agree with the publishers and Dahl's estate revising his works based on current cultural sensitivities.
Many praised Blume for speaking out.
Blume went on to challenge the claim made by Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that efforts to remove books from state classrooms only impact “pornographic and inappropriate” materials. She emphasized protecting children means "educating them and arming them with knowledge," not shielding them from different perspectives and experiences.
She praised books for offering insight into lives other than our own, highlighting the frequently-challenged memoir Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe as a particularly impactful read.
In reading it, she said she "learned a lot, and became even more empathetic," which is "what books are all about."