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Columbia Spectator Staff

A line of Manhattanites outside Bank Street Bookstore wrapped around 112th Street Saturday, not for a world leader or presidential hopeful, but for long-time author of children's and young adult's books, Judy Blume. Blume, as part of her book tour, stopped at the Bank Street Bookstore to autograph her new book, Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One.

Blume sat in front of the window facing Broadway, not afraid to strike up a conversation with each fan that approached her, despite having signed more than 600 books in Huntington, NY, the previous evening,

"I was never a teacher, and to this day, I wondered if I would have been a good one," Blume said to two Teachers College students at the autographing table. "I think I would have identified too much with the kids and not have been a good teacher."

The line outside Bank Street Bookstore contained readers of all ages. Melanie Nutkis, 8, hoped to delve into Blume's thought process. "I want to know if she did a lot of the things she wrote about when she was young and how she got her ideas," she said. "My teacher also told me that someone actually ate a turtle and that's where she got her idea for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing."

But for many of the parents present, the signing served as a reminder of childhood experiences.

"My mother gave me [Are you there God? It's Me,] Margaret when I was about my daughter's age," said parent Melissa Bachner. "When my parents were getting divorced, she gave me It's Not the End of the World. My mom used Judy Blume's books as a way to approach topics."

Books like Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever were previously censored for touching on topics such as menstruation and teenage sexuality. Since their initial publication in the 1970s, the books have made their way into classrooms across the country and off banned book lists.

"When I first read it [Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret], I remember friends and I used to hide it and pass it around at lunch," said Jennifer Fessler, mother of 11-year-old Erica Dippolito. "We couldn't let teachers see it because it was considered this scandalous book. It's so funny now when I give it to Erica, because it's no longer considered a scandalous thing."

Blume has also made an effort to ensure that her material stays relevant for newer generations. "The equipment for Margaret has changed," she said. "Now it's sticky pads instead of belted napkins. There's this whole Internet exchange going on where people are saying 'Judy's changing her books!' I'm not; I'm just updating equipment."

Blume's newest book doesn't deal with topics as controversial as those in Margaret or Iggie's House. Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One is a short chapter book that discusses the relationship between 8-year-old Abby and her 6-year-old brother, Jake.

"We're big fans," said Isabelle Bleckner, 9, holding a copy. "She's my favorite author."
"Well, one of my favorite authors," jumps in Astrid-Melin Shearer, 9. "J.K. Rowling is my other favorite. We've been reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in my class. It's great that they let us have these books in school. They tell you about what can happen in real life."

For Nutkis, the signing left two mementos. "I have a signature to remember the visit by," she said, "And I found out the turtle story is true!"

Sonya Chandra can be reached at news@columbiaspectator.com.

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