It's no surprise that I’ve been a reader forever. Menus, cereal boxes, adult novels – anything that sat still and had writing on it was fair game for the younger version of me.
Eventually I graduated from reading random items to those explorations of childhood self discovery/middle-grade chapter books by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and one of my all time favorites – Paula Danziger.
She doesn’t have an award named for her like Laura Ingalls Wilder does, her books haven’t been made into movies like Judy Blume and Beverly Clearly… but there is something about Paula’s characters and situations that stayed with me and I loved her quirky style. And when I say characters and situations – I mean hijinks ensue, friendships grow and stay strong, and family crises are explored. I remember enjoying her books because I found them funny, but when I look back now I can’t help but notice how many of them dealt with divorce, illness, or moving on from adolescence (which I think we can all agree was super tricky). I feel like, looking back, these might have been my introduction to young adult books. I mean, I was probably 11 or 12 and not yet ready for The Outsiders... but Paula's books were a pretty great crystal ball into the future and a safe place to explore some preteen feelings. So many feelings, you guys...
So let’s look at some of the greatest hits of Paula Danziger and talk about the really deep topics she explored:
The Pistachio Prescription – Cassie’s parents are fighting all the time, she's running for class president and her asthma is so bad (remember how bad 80s asthma was, you guys?) that she basically is always at risk of being hospitalized. That's a lot of stress for middle school, man. Coping mechanism? Pistachios. Maybe a crush on the new guy.
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit – Marcy is overweight, has a verbally & emotionally abusive dad (I don’t know that I saw it at the time but I sure as heck see it now - what a jerk!), and her only super cool teacher, who is totally brave and awesome, is being threatened by a band of parents who want to ban the books being taught. Its pure 1970s drama and I loved it but its heavier than I remembered!
Remember Me to Harold Square – Kendra’s parents have devised a scavenger hunt for her, her annoying younger brother, and a 15-year-old boy who is the son of their friends staying with them during the summer (he's cute so its awwwwkwwwwardddddd). They visit all kinds of museums and monuments, learn about the effect of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, learn that someone’s parents are getting divorced – you know, just normal, light summer stuff. Well, there is some hand holding…
There are a million other great Danziger titles – Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, The Divorce Express and its sequel It's an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World, This Place Has No Atmosphere... there's really almost too many to mention. I mean, she even has a younger children’s chapter book series about the trials and tribulations of elementary school with Amber Brown. But it’s those middle school dramas, the indignity of trying to find your place in the world while everyone around is trying to find the same thing and make sense of it all. And something to think about when we think kids aren't ready for heavy topics... they are. I mean, we were, right?
So, thanks Paula Danziger.
Have a favorite author from childhood/early adolescence? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear about it!
Check back each Thursday throughout the summer as we re-read and reflect on our old favorites!