Publisher: Atheneum Books, Simon & Schuster, 1970
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12
Note: To celebrate Banned Book Week, I have posted several review blogs on some of the most challenged children’s books or children’s authors. Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret is listed at #62 on the top 100 challenged books published by the American Library Association. Released in 1970 the book wasn’t actually challenged until 1980’s.
This week I selected to review several classic children’s books which had been frequently banned or challenged. I began with Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins. Next, I selected Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. And I am concluding the week with Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I wish I could say that these were the only books challenged by each of these authors but unfortunately, each one had several challenged novels with the honor for the greatest number of challenged books going to Blume.
In Blume’s book, eleven year old Margaret Simon struggles with body angst and religious confusion. The book opens with Margaret’s family moving from New York City to New Jersey. Margaret meets Nancy who together forms a secret club with two other girls, Gretchen and Janie. Blume uses the friendship between the four girls as a vehicle to explore the emotional ups and downs of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. This coming of age story has Margaret wondering when she would fill out her training bra or get her first period. At the same time, Margaret who comes from a mixed religious heritage but is being raised without religion, decides that it is time for her to select one. Using Margaret’s prayers which begin with “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”, she seeks God’s help to what she should do and when her body would begin to change and develop. Her religious journey takes her to her grandmother’s temple, her friend’s Presbyterian Church, and also to a Catholic confessional.
Though the story may have been somewhat radical in 1970, for first exploring issues of puberty and religion, Margaret’s questions and experiences continue to be the same ones explored by every pre-teen girl today. As I read the book, I was at times transported back to my own pre-adolescent struggles and questions about life, boys, and my changing body. I found Blume’s willingness to deal with things in a direct manner refreshing and wondered why it had offended so many that it should be challenged as often as it was.
Though ALA’s official Banned Book Week is wrapping up, books continue to be challenged and removed from libraries in the United States. Whether it is a book from 1970 by Judy Blume or a book from 2009 by Ellen Hopkins or Laurie Halse Anderson, just to name a few, people are still challenging the right for children, and teenagers to read books. Read a challenged book, and speak out in support of authors who boldly write about important topics. There are many children and young adults who are transformed by the stories on the pages of these books. May their words be free for all to read.