In most of my undergrad classes, I always prided myself on being the most prepared, or at least the one with the best ability to come up with things off the top of my head. In most of my classes, I made A’s, so within my department, professors had come to expect a lot out of me. So, it really makes no sense why out of all of the classes that I decided to take within the English major that it was Children’s Literature that I apparently decided to throw the towel, or the novel, in on. The class was unlike most in my major because most of my classes revolved around having to fight for a chance to speak–English majors, regardless of what may happen to use after graduation–like to believe that we are of the elite. We speak in metaphors and approach everything from a feminist of Freudian perspective. The author never means what he or she says, and there’s always something more that needs to be evaluated. The job of a real English major is to challenge everything that is being said until the last minute of class, usually with a sexual connotation.
This class was different though; we shared the room with Child Development majors, people who would one day wade the depths of vomit (from kids like me), tears, and feces to teach the small children of the world what they need to progress into the future. But when you put us in class, things start to become messy. On the first day, we wanted to take Charlotte’s Web and dissect it for its literary value and characterization and plot progression, while the other group wanted to use it as a segue to discuss the anatomy of a spider. We looked around at each other with disgusted looks, eye questioning each other with some pompous, philosophical question like, But what does the spider mean? It was at that point that I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to take the class seriously, and I began to spiral through three major phases: the elitist, the absurdist, and the ignorant.
After Charlotte’s Web, we jumped into The Giver, a book I read for the first time in fifth grade. Looking back, even though I was in the Talented and Gifted program, I wasn’t talented or gifted enough to understand that book, nor the heavy themes that are within it… actually, I’m still probably not talented or gifted enough for it. But as we began discussion, our professor asked what we thought about the end when one Child Development major said, (spoiler alert), Well, I think he and his brother got on a sled and then they rode down to that house with the lights on and they adopted them and then they celebrated Christmas! And being the optimist that I am, I responded, Well, I’m pretty sure they died. Those lights were the end of their lives. They couldn’t live in the world they were in, but they were capable of living in any other world either. You could hear a pin drop. The entire room fell silent.
The girl rebuked, Well, at least they went to Heaven. And being the Christian I am, I responded, No, they didn’t. There was no Heaven. There was no afterlife. There was no God. They just died. And that’s it. At this point, the professor was even looking at me as if I was some kind of ridiculously cold-hearted human. No one really had anything to say, but then through broken words, she asked one final question: Are you an Atheist? I didn’t respond because I felt like maybe I had gone a little too far–I had turned a young adult novel into some kind of institution that puts all Christianity into question, even though I didn’t do any of it seriously. I would expect if you checked any of those now-teacher’s syllabi, The Giver probably did not make the cut.
I was upset with myself for what I had done–some kind of faux-Atheist persona had come out, beaten the Christian majority of myself to death, and released a very cynical view of what that red sled may or may not have meant. I ruined a book for people, and as a half-lit major, that was a giant no-no. I had to win them back because unlike the other English majors, I didn’t look down at these people with disgust or contempt. I just looked at them as people that I could mess around with. So, I spent a good chunk of time figuring out what I could do to get them back on my side, and the day that our professor announced a special guest, I knew exactly how I could do it. As we were leaving class, I pulled some of the Child Development majors aside as they were wondering who the special guest is, and I said:
It’s Judy Blume.
I actually know her. I met her a while back.
My mom actually did some work for her at one point, so she’s coming in to our class as a favor.
I couldn’t stop myself because with every word I said, they got more and more excited. This was the woman who taught us that it’s okay to have your period and talk to God about it. She was perfect–I, however, was not. I actually got the idea from Chelsea Handler, who once told her classmates that she knew Goldie Hawn and had worked with her at one point. But the difference is, Chelsea Handler was like… seven at the time. I was 19. I had no way of getting out of this, but I also had no way of producing Judy Blume. So, I pretty quickly came to terms with the fact that Judy Blume was definitely not going to show up, and I just hoped that everyone would forget.
But they didn’t. They didn’t forget at all. In fact, our class size doubled from the time I told the… not truth… to the time that Judy was supposed to show. Once I saw the class size, I took my professor aside and said, So, I may or may not have told the class that the special guest was Judy Blume. I also may or may not have told me that I knew Judy Blume, personally. The look she gave me will be one that remains engrained in my mind forever. She simply looked back at me and said, Do you actually know Judy Blume? I quickly responded, No. She looked like she was 50% confused, 40% disgusted, and 10% impressed, and she said, I’ll handle it. She went in front of the class and announced, I know you guys were expecting Judy Blume today, but she was unable to make it. She wanted to me to send her apologies, and maybe in the future, she could stop by. Why my professor came to my rescue, I’ll never know, but now there was a class full of people who had been disappointed in Judy, and that wasn’t right.
I didn’t mean to do that Judy… I didn’t mean to do that to anyone. So, naturally, I emailed her and came clean. I apologized for what I had done, without her having any knowledge of it, and explained that maybe it was the influence of Superfudge or Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? that championed such a lie into reality. I needed to confess though because it’s a staple of us Christians, especially us Southern Christians, to be up front and tell people the bad things that we did in some desperate attempt to become clean again. To my surprise, Judy emailed me back. She’s a sprite woman to be her age and apparently still very involved in the literary world, if you were curious. And in the end, she phrased the email in a way that I could pretty much take it into class and back up mine and Professor Coning’s story about her absence. In short, Judy is a hoss, and I think that she saw that my absolute, boldface lie was told with good intentions. I won the other side of the class back, and for insurance, I used my final presentation to show how you can use literature to teach about diversity within the classroom.
But in the end, the lessons I learned in Children’s Lit are probably lessons that I could have learned in elementary school if I hadn’t been talking so much. Don’t disrespect people because it might make them upset and call you and Atheist. Don’t tell people lies, especially about celebrities or about events that are obviously not going to happen. But most of all, when you tell those lies, telling the truth to the right people might actually help perpetuate your lie in a different direction so that you don’t get blamed for it nearly as much as you thought you would when you told it. Judy Blume, thank you for never giving up on teaching me things. Superfudge still is, and always will be, a treasure on my book shelf.