With the surprising success of a little blog post I wrote about how I spent my summers as a child in the 1970s, I figured I would ride the viral wave a bit longer, and simultaneously resurrect some of the best children’s and young adult fiction that was ever published. In my post, Top Ten Ways To Give Your Kids A 1970s Summer, I proposed that this summer, we all let our kids “play outside, like all day long, and possibly read under a tree.” No brainer, right? But the sentence following that is truly my favorite suggestion of the article. “I hear this lady Judy Blume writes some good stuff.” Oh Judy, little do you know, but you are most assuredly the reason I became a librarian, and also the sole reason I made it out of puberty sane and alive. And then, in a great twist of irony, after spending years devouring stories about the nutty antics of young boys, I ended up giving birth to my own ‘Peter Hatcher,’ and subsequently three ‘Fudges,’ for a grand total of four mischievous little boys. Super. Just Fudgin’ Super. Along with Blume, I should have included in the post all the other wonderful authors who penned some of the most memorable chapter books of that era. Books and stories that I am certain, if you were one of the thousands who enjoyed the original article and the trip down memory lane it gave you, will remember with great fondness. It was these books, a selection of which I will share with you, that kept me reading under shade trees well into the 80s, and ushered in an unprecedented popularity of young adult (YA) fiction that had not been seen before.
In the last decade, YA fiction has evolved with the times, as it should. Themes reflect what our young adults are experiencing today; cyberspace issues, cultural diversity, adolescent sexual identity, and the changing face of what we now define as a ‘family.’ We have also enjoyed a resurgence in YA fantasy, science fiction, and the highly popular dystopian genre. I am not ashamed to declare here that I can one day appreciate Jonathan Franzen, and the next day fancy some good old fashioned teen vampire love, and then the next, revel in some bow and arrow wielding girls trying to kill each other in speculative fiction. (Just call it librarian occupational hazard, or book schizophrenia, but bibliophiles tend to swing a lot of ways.) When I am now asked what I read as a child, there is absolutely no hesitation, no “Oh, well, uh…. I can’t remember back that far.” Rather, I recall those books quickly, and very vividly. I may not be able to remember the title of a novel I read last month, but I can recall the entire plot of a book I read in 1979, and that is really saying something. It is saying they were really amazing books. Just amazing. So this summer, between hose drinking, fried bologna eating, and fort building afternoons, hit your local library, or maybe unpack that box of childhood books sitting in your attic. Then grab your kid, a spot under a shade tree, and share some 70s book love. You never know. In 30 years, your kids may thank you.
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
Remember when just the sheer thought of having to unrobe in front of your peers for gym glass sent shivers down your very underdeveloped bust line? Yea, me too. Nothing seemed worse than having the groping eyes of your classmates on your 13 year old bod, even if it was for like, only three seconds. Oh how I admired Marcy’s gumption, but what I adored most about her is how in the end, she became interested in bibliotherapy. No wonder I loved this book. Go figure.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
I can happily read this over and over again, and dream about someday pulling a Claudia and running away to go live at the Met, or more appropriately for me, the Library of Congress. This Newberry Award winner, first published in 1967 (and set in a time before Google, since the kids could have just Googled the mystery statue…duh!) is still a classic story of tween independence. Claudia and Jamie are the original free-range kids. And oddly enough, it made me really want to live in Connecticut. Huh.
Killing Mr. Griffin, I Know What You Did Last Summer, They Never Came Home
all by Lois Duncan
I would like to personally thank Mrs. Duncan for keeping me up into the wee hours of the morning, curled into a ball, hiding under my sheets with a flashlight, and frantically flipping pages to see whodunit. Also, for being my personal gateway author to the likes of Patricia Cornwell and John LeCarre, and many other suspense and thriller writers that I now frequently devour. Late at night. Under the sheets. With the Kindle backlight on. Whew.
Homecoming, Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt
Oh how I wanted to be as strong and courageous as Dicey, who when faced with abandonment and the task of taking care of her three younger siblings, stands up to the challenge. Both books in this drama series rely heavily on the importance of families (especially non-traditional,) belonging and acceptance, and child/grandparent relationships. Dicey’s trials still haunt me, but in a good way.
Then Again, Maybe I Wont, Deenie, Forever, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, Blubber, Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret all by Judy Blume
All of the above need to be on every young girl’s required reading list. They just should. Toss out the vampires, and pick up these. Blume speaks the language of teen girl angst like nobody’s business. Her novels, coined contemporary fiction in the mid 1970s, are still, 30 plus years later, relevant. Very relevant actually, even without the included conventions of today. Imagine, stories with real person to person dialogue not exchanged via electronics? Yes. Please.
I read Blume’s books over and over and over again. Sadly, as a mom to four boys, I will not be able to share Jill, Sally, Deenie, Sheila, and Margaret with my sons. But that’s ok, as my adventures with Fudge and Peter more than duly prepared me for what I am dealing with today. Dear Judy, I never took the time to send a fan letter to you, to tell you how your words, your books, the pages, all of it, kept me entranced in my favorite place in the world, the library. Today, it is still my favorite place. Hey, maybe I actually just sent you a fan letter. Who would have thought it would be called a blog post?