Judy Blume was the “rock star” of children’s/YA literature when I was growing up in the 80s. I read quite a few of her books, but I don’t recall having read Blubber, published in 1974. I purchased the book for my daughter who, like the young characters in the book, is currently involved in the 5th grade experience.
Let’s take a look at some of the principal characters:
Linda – Although she is not the chunkiest kid in the class, Linda’s classmates bestow upon her the name “Blubber” after one innocent, but ill-fated oral report on whales.
Wendy – The class bully who orchestrates each new plot of terror against “Blubber.”
Jill – The main character of the book that does not seem to necessarily agree with what is happening to Linda, but who would not dare to risk her current social standing by not participating in the harassment…until one day she does take a stand and the tables are swiftly turned in her direction.
Blume does a decent job of showing how arbitrary peer relationships and acts of bullying can be at this age, how the most benign and seemingly simple things can land a child in the midst of horrendous harassment, and how transient and ever-changing friendships and social standings can be. The reader comes away knowing that sometimes these changes can be a positive thing. However, I was disappointed in how the teachers and parents handled the situations of bullying in the book. Granted, their reaction was quite realistic. Most adults tend to shrug this stuff off because they know that life does get better, that in the great scheme of things what happens in middle school hardly matters as an adult, and that children have been picking on each other for hundreds of years in school. Still, I wish just one of them would have really taken a stand. Bullying is a serious matter for the child who is experiencing the pain and humiliation and is not able to stand back and have the same perspective one can have as an adult.
It will be interesting to see how Alexa relates to the book. I know that she will not understand some of the more outdated cultural references in the story like I did, but I think that the theme itself is still extremely relevant today. Perhaps I will share some of her thoughts when she reads it. I really wanted to like this book, but honestly I am on the fence. I guess there just wasn’t enough of an anti-bullying stand.
Most disturbing part of the book: The girls are lined up and sent to the nurse’s office to be publically weighed each fall and spring! Can you imagine? Did this really happen in school in the 70s?
“You can tell a lot about people by staring into their eyes.” – Tracy Wu
“My teacher is Mrs. Minish. I’m not crazy about her. She hardly ever opens the window in our room because she’s afraid of getting a stiff neck.” – Jill Brenner