For millions of adoring readers, Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok’s documentary “Judy Blume Forever” will feel like a nostalgic trip to childhood, back when they were eagerly turning the pages of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge or any of Blume’s books that have delighted fans for generations. But for a portion of the American reading population—those of us who weren’t allowed to read her work (“too grown-up” and “too secular” were the reasons it was missing from my school library in Florida) or didn’t know about it—“Judy Blume Forever” is a charming introduction to the author, her life story, and the inspirations behind a number of her books. Fan or not, this lovingly crafted tribute to the author feels as friendly and welcoming as Blume does greeting customers at her bookstore in Key West.
Before Judy Blume was a household name, she was a nervous child growing up in the shadows of a world war. Years later, after settling into her role as a young housewife, she began to write bedtime stories for her two children. Then, a publisher finally gives her a chance, and in a few years, her writing career bloomed. But “Judy Blume Forever” is more than just about the writer herself. It’s also about the social changes in this country, the gender barriers Blume broke through with her books, her struggle to be taken seriously as a professional when others sneered at her kid-friendly literature, and her ongoing fight against conservative efforts to ban books from young readers.
Blume guides her audience through her own story with a gentle narration, recalling anecdotes both funny and tragic, memories of regret and joy, and reading excerpts from her books with a warm enthusiasm that brings these characters and moments to life – often with visual help from animator Angelique Georges and collage artists Andrew Griffin and Martin O’Neill. Pardo and Wolchok expertly use archival footage, like old ads of the era and newsreels, to transport viewers to various times in Judy Blume’s life, which is illustrated by a treasure trove of family photos and home movies. Facing the cameras head-on, Blume is a vulnerable yet powerful storyteller, unafraid to talk about the more painful moments in her story, like her father’s sudden death and her romantic setbacks, just as much as she’s eager to share about the development behind some of her books. Building on Blume’s genial presence, cinematographers Jenni Morello and Emily Topper and music by Lauren Culjack (Kotomi) bring a vibrant and playful energy to the documentary.
Blume’s voice is the most prominent one in the film, but she’s soon joined by an insightful chorus of friends, family and fans. Early on, childhood friends remember the schoolyard hijinks and discussions they shared with Blume that later inspired ideas for some of her books. The documentary also includes interviews with Blume’s children, Randy and Lawrence, and her husband George Cooper for a look at the author’s life away from her writing desk. Other fans, including writers Jacqueline Woodson, Mary H.K. Choi, Tayari Jones, Alex Gino and celebrities like Molly Ringwald, Samantha Bee and Lena Dunham, add further appreciation of her work and explain her enduring appeal. Finally, and most emotionally, we hear from letters written to Blume from children struggling with issues who found solace in the pages of her books. Two of them, Lorrie Kim and Karen Chilstrom, are now grown-up testaments to the positive influence of her work. They found comfort in her books and began writing to Blume as youngsters, and over the years, kept the correspondence going with the writer through major life events and tough times. The role Blume plays in their lives was an impactful one and also speaks to how many untold hours she spent looking after her readers of all ages.
With 25 titles and over 80 million copies sold, there’s no shortage of Judy Blume stories to tell. In “Judy Blume Forever,” Pardo and Wolchok created a warmhearted appreciation of an American literary icon that brings up nostalgic memories, explores the power of the written word, explains the origins behind unforgettable lines, and reminds us how timely Blume’s fight against book censorship still is, especially as her current home state of Florida is on a crusade to bar children from reading not just Blume’s books, but also those of LGBTQ authors and writers of color. At one point in the documentary, Blume says, “through the worst times of my life, I was able to write,” and it was through writing that Blume found her voice. “Judy Blume Forever” is a fitting salute to a life’s work in service to generations of readers who were still growing up and finding their own voices.
Judy Blume Forever (2023)
Judy Blumeas Self
- Davina Pardo
- Leah Wolchok
- Tal Ben-David
Director of Photography
- Emily Topper
- Jenni Morello