Blogger Chelsey Roos

Help Me, Judy Blume: In search of puberty stories for young readers

A girl of about eleven or twelve walked up to my desk and asked if I could recommend some books to her. “I really like Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret,” she said.

“Great!” I said. “Do you want more books by Judy Blume, or just other books like that one?”

“Other books like that one,” she confirmed.

We started walking up and down the stacks. I pulled a book off the shelf with a Judy Blume vibe, gave her a brief description, and then watched her face as she tried to keep up a polite smile.

“It’s okay to say no thank you to a book,” I told her. “It won’t hurt my feelings.”

She relaxed a little and started to say no thank you to every book I suggested – which was good, because she was helping me help her, but also tough, because I was obviously missing the mark with every suggestion. I pulled down a number of contemporary, realistic fiction novels, with great female leads, but she kept shaking her head.

“Tell me more about what you liked about Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret,” I said.

She got visibly uncomfortable. “I guess that it’s about, like… growing up,” she said.

Hit me with a stick, I thought, I’m such a dummy. She’s looking for books about periods.

I ran and grabbed Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within, and I got about five words into describing it when her face lit up. Now that I knew what we were looking for, I was sure I was going to be able to find her a bunch of great books.

But after searching, I found there was a real dearth in my library of middle grade novels that include puberty stories. While we had plenty of nonfiction books that gave the facts in various levels of detail and chattiness, this wasn’t what my patron wanted. We had a lot of novels about the “developing romantic feelings for someone” aspect of puberty, and several with off-handed mentions of a character who “really changed over the summer,” but very few about how it actually feels to be going through the body changes. Since then, we’ve added a couple of great books, like Kim Harrington’s Revenge of the Red Club, and Karen Schneemann and Lily William’s graphic novel Go With the Flow, but the pickings are definitely slim. I have Nikki Grimes’ Planet Middle School and Karen Rivers’ A Possibility of Whales on my list to check out next.

I had an even harder time trying to find novels that covered the boy experience. Judy Blume’s Then Again, Maybe I Won’t is sometimes referred to as the guy version of Margaret, and Alan Lawrence Sitomer’s The Downside of Being Up is as frank as the title sounds, but that’s about it for my library.

My patron loved The Moon Within, and I’m grateful that she reminded me how supremely difficult it can be to ask for resources on a topic like that when you’re twelve (or any age!). If you know any great middle grade novels that include periods and other aspects of going through puberty, please leave them in the comments!

Today’s guest blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and was most recently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, and IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials

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