Random House was kind enough to ask me to participate in a blog tour for Judy Blume. Although I very rarely do blog tours, I couldn't turn this one down. In preparation, I read two books from Judy's new The Pain and the Great One series, Soupy Saturday with the Pain and the Great One and Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One. That helped me to come up with questions.
1. What made you turn your attention to early chapter books, after publishing picture book, middle grade, YA, and adult titles? Was it just time for a change for you, or do you think there's a particular need for new books for this early reader age range?
JB: I like challenges. And I never write because I think there's a particular need in the marketplace, although maybe it's foolish not to consider that. I write from someplace deep inside. I can't really explain it. I first wrote about the Pain and the Great One when my kids were six and eight years old. I've always wanted to write about these characters again, but this time in a longer book where I could get to know their family and their friends. I wrote one story a couple of years ago just to see if I could do it. I liked it and thought, "This is going to be fun!" But then other projects got in the way so I had to put the Pain and the Great One aside. Finally, I said, "It's now or never!"
2. In the Pain and the Great One books, you demonstrate a keen understanding of the older sister / younger brother dynamic (this is clear from the very title of the series). I especially loved when The Great One flew to her brother's defense in Cool Zone, after a bully took something from him. Did you have a younger brother, or is your insider knowledge based on something else?
JB: I have a daughter and son, two years apart. Originally, they were the inspiration for the Pain & the Great One. They're grown now and my daughter has a son of her own. The brother and sister duo in these books have taken on their own lives, though some of the story ideas came from memories (don't ask what my son did with his first magnifying glass - ouch!) and others came from spending time with my grandson -- the Gravitron at the Fair, the boogie-board (he was a whiz, like Abigail). But most of the stories and characters are imagined. It is, after all, fiction!
3. What made you decide to alternate first-person chapters between The Pain and The Great One for this series? Was it about expanding the accessibility of the series, or more about showing the sibling relationship from both sides? Or something else?
JB: The original prose poem, which became a picture book, was from both points of view. I never thought of not writing from both points of view in the chapter books. Although you don't get both viewpoints in each story I hope you come away feeling that you know both Abigail and Jake. Each has endearing qualities, each has annoying ones. Hey, that sounds like real life. Did I say I have an older brother? Four years older but five years ahead of me at school. We were definitely not Jake and Abigail.
4. As an author, was it difficult to keep pesky younger brother The Pain distinct in your mind from pesky younger brother Fudge, from your earlier series? I notice that they are both fans of Superman...
JB: Wow…this is something I never thought of while writing. Fudge is an over-the-top little brother, while Jake is rooted in reality. I had no idea until reading your question that they're both fans of Superman. I know Fudge is obsessed by Superman in Superfudge but without going back and reading the 4 Pain&Great One books I can't think of a story in which Jake talks about him, too. Help me out here. But to answer the bigger question - I had no trouble keeping them apart while writing because to me, Fudge is Fudge, and Jake is Jake, and they're very different.
(Editor's note: I had trouble remembering this, too, and I gave away the books already. But I found a review that said that in Cool Zone, when Abigail rescues Jake from a bully, he says that she's like Superman's sister. Scroll to the bottom of the page on the review for the quote.)
5. From your perspective as an author, how do you write books that keep kids eagerly turning the pages, even when you're (sometimes) tackling serious issues? How do you maintain a light touch, and keep the message from overwhelming the story (something that I think is a hallmark of your books)?
JB: I never think in terms of sending messages. I think only of character and story. Plot isn't my strong point so it was hard to come up with 28 stories for the Pain&Great One books. I did it one story at a time, praying another would follow. (I've never been a natural short story writer though I enjoy writing episodic fiction). Humor comes naturally to me. I learned early on it can help you get through life. But if I'm trying to be funny, forget it. Humor comes at unexpected times. You put your characters in tough situations. What are they thinking vs. what are they saying. This is a hard question to answer because I write instinctively and I don't really understand how it works.
Thanks Judy for sharing such great insights! Here's the complete schedule for the tour:
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